The digital revolution has shown us that full-time online teaching in higher education is not only possible but offers a range of benefits to both students and institutions. 

Right now, universities are looking to capitalise on those advantages by creating new offerings with digital features at the heart. We have a new tool in the toolbox and now is the time to see what we can do with it. In doing so, we’ll have to redefine the value of face-to-face interactions in the higher education space.

The broader effects of digital

Whilst we’re all missing the joy of face-to-face interactions, the benefits of digital learning are undeniable. Students love that they can follow along with course content in their own time, rewatching lectures and seminars as many times as they need. That means that face-to-face teaching – once a given – is now an optional value add for many courses. Over the next few years, we expect to see a lot of innovation in terms of how university marketers present and brand the on-campus experience. Remember that in a digital world, compelling students to study on campus may put you at a disadvantage.

Rethinking the degree programme

Organisations tend to adapt faster to administrative changes than they do to technological ones. For that reason, universities will be examining the various ways that the switch to digital might allow for innovation in the style in which they deliver courses. Digital learning has provided us with new opportunities to align study experiences with career outcomes. And these opportunities have come at a time when students are increasingly risk-averse, seeking out courses that offer dependable opportunities for career growth. 

Flexible intakes, blended learning and work-study options are likely to be the innovations that define the next generation of higher education programmes. Universities will first look to use the carousel intake system – popular amongst online programmes before the pandemic – to open up enrolment options across existing courses. There are also signs that the UK’s new degree apprenticeships are stimulating conversations around new ways to combine working and studying. Given recent innovations in digital learning, working domestically whilst studying on an international programme could become the norm. It would be fascinating to see a world in which a student can study at Cambridge whilst earning credits for their course with a company in Melbourne.

The classroom of the future

Digital has revolutionised the way students study. But don’t think for a second that means the innovation is over; the evolution of the digital classroom continues faster than ever. New innovations such as augmented and virtual reality could change the way students interact with their studies and with each other. However, these technologies are unlikely to become commonplace until they offer a commercial benefit that can’t be reached by lower-tech solutions. It’s still going to be a long time until everyone has access to virtual reality hardware in their homes and universities need to play to the lowest common denominator with regards to learning means. However, several institutions have made strides during the pandemic in the search for solutions to practical learning at a distance. 

Is your leadership team exploring innovations in the higher education space? What do you think is going to be the next big change? Feel free to reach out to us – we’re always interested to hear your comments.