It’s clear that the pandemic has given institutions around the world something of a shock. They’ve had to pivot quickly and innovate on existing structures to ensure that doors stay open and students keep learning. Has this trend towards innovation opened new opportunities? Or do institutions just want to get back to their pre-pandemic schedules? Are we really headed for a new normal or is it just the old one all over again?

This week, we’re taking a look at the ways that the switch to digital learning has changed the outlook for higher education. Let’s take a look.

We know studying online is viable…

Sure, distance learning has been around for decades. But for the first time, we’ve discovered that it’s possible at scale. This is a much bigger revelation than perhaps many people give it credit for. There’s a good chance that the campus-learning experience will become an optional, rather than a customary, practice in the space – that’s a huge cultural shift. And it’s one that changes the dynamics of the global higher education marketplace. 

Institutions may find themselves competing internationally for domestic attention. Effectively, we’ve taken proximity out of the university marketing equation. That means universities will need to rely on other markers, such as brand, to differentiate themselves on an international scale.

…and students enjoy it

The evidence is overwhelming; students enjoy studying online. There’s a lot of benefit in students being able to digest learning materials at their own pace, in their own time. Naturally, institutions will look to cater to this broader demand as a point of differentiation. Universities that don’t may well get left behind. There are other implications, too. With greater online access, universities may find themselves needing less in the way of physical spaces for students.

However, students aren’t keen on the idea of missing out on real-world experiences such as lab time, co-working and socialising. And whilst digital collaboration is an important skill to master for today’s graduates, so is face-to-face co-operation. The challenge for universities will be in reframing the value of face-to-face interaction – a process that will affect everything from academic schedules to the way we build our campuses.

Learning models are under scrutiny

The renewed speed of innovation has brought attention to unconventional learning models that could indicate a broader change in higher education philosophy. Flipped learning models – where the home, not the classroom, is the centre of learning activity – are trending in the higher education space. Evidence suggests they offer better learning outcomes for students, as well as better working relationships between teachers and students. MOOC technology has made it even easier to facilitate these kinds of models and students are already prepared to work in that kind of environment. Such alternatives to traditional learning models are important in light of the greater demand for flexibility and individual support amongst students.

Academic schedules are set to change

With a general perception that the undergraduate market is oversaturated, the higher education industry is constantly seeking new market opportunities. For that reason, many institutions are looking to issues of accessibility as potential grounds for innovation. And now that distance is less of a factor in higher education provision, universities that offer more flexible schedules are likely to prosper. All of this may precipitate widespread changes to the academic year. Faculties may be resistant to this idea – academic working patterns have been entrenched for decades – but changes will be welcome among non-traditional study prospects such as adult learners. The carousel system has already proved to work effectively for digital-first courses. It could be set to become the new standard for teaching worldwide.

Higher education is traditionally change-resistant. But all bets are off in the post-pandemic world as philosophies around higher education have been forced to adapt. We can’t predict what will happen in the future. But conversations in the space keep coming back to these key talking points. Here at The Brand Education, we’re here to help universities through these exciting changes.