Using Technology to Innovate Higher Education

Changing demographics and technology advances are forcing higher education institutions to innovate the options available for students pursuing a degree. With tuition costs rising and students’ needs changing, an affordable, convenient college degree is becoming harder to achieve.

The traditional structures of education are not as effective as they used to be. The number of non-traditional students, including working parents with a family to support is rising – a 2011 Institute for Women’s Policy Research study found almost one in four students has a dependent child at home. As a result, they need flexible study schedules . Schools like Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) are reinventing how they deliver education to meet these needs of students balancing a full-time education with a full-time job.

SNHU was on FastCompany’s 50 Most Innovative Companies List in 2012 – the only higher-education institution to make the cut. Through its online programs SNHU attempts to serve its students’ educational needs and their work schedules. The College for Online and Continuing Education (COCE) is SHNU’s online college where engagement is measured by monitoring activity, regularly checking discussion boards, and providing advisor support. The University just approved full-time online faculty to dedicate to students’ success.

Online courses are a popular alternative to physical class time. According to a 2011 study by the Babson Survey Research Group, “the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 6 million. Now nearly one-third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course.”

Universities are also developing free courses available to anyone with an Internet connection not only as promotional means, but to “facilitate the dissemination of knowledge in unprecedented numbers.” Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are free online courses with the goal of giving people access to academic content and encouraging connectivity between students interested in the particular subject.

Some college professors are changing the conversation entirely. A “flipped” classroom setting lets students watch prerecorded lectures beforehand so class time is reserved for discussion and problem-solving.

Innovation in higher education is happening at a slow pace but it is evolving as universities try to provide low-cost alternatives. While the correct response to innovating education is unclear, it is apparent that students’ needs have shifted. Higher education institutions must fill the void and provide more flexible and affordable modes of education.

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