Educause recently published the NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition, identifying the key trends, technologies, and challenges in adopting technology in higher education. Here, we will go over the challenges faced by higher education institutes in the digital age, and the steps they can take to solve them.
#1) Blending Formal and Informal Learning
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the knowledge people pursue based on their own interests and curiosities foster high levels of engagement, because it allows learners to pursue their interests. This type of learning is easy to pursue, with the plethora of online videos, podcasts, and free courses that are available on the Internet. People can learn anytime, anywhere, making it not only interesting, but extremely convenient and flexible. Higher education institutes have a desire to replicate this type of learning, but many of them are attempting to do so with a blend of informal and formal learning methods. This blended learning environment provides a space where individuals have the freedom to be creative, to experiment, and to pursue their individual interests.
The Challenge: Here is an example scenario: If I have done my own research on technical writing (enough that I have at least a foundation of knowledge), and the only university course option available to me is “Intro to Technical Writing”, this poses a real problem - not only is it is a waste of my money and time to enrol in this course, but I won’t have learned anything new, making the “education” reduntant and useless. Thus, there is a need for a formalized process for taking into consideration the skills and knowledge that individual learners have acquired on their own time, by providing credit for them.
The Solution: Learning institutions must first see the benefit of informal learning methods, and then they need to find a way to qualify and incorporate informal learning. A plausible option here is for institutions to leverage the resources and education provided by informal learning outlets, by making these readily accessible to students, and even incorporating them into formal learning. The materials are there, and they are effective — why not make use of them? By incorporating these resources into their courses, students will naturally receive credit for engaging in them.
#2) Improving Digital Literacy
Once defined as the ability to read and write, literacy has now grown to encompass the ability to effectively use technologies and digital tools. This hybrid, referred to as digital literacy, is becoming essential in higher education institutes, and the workplace.
The Challenge: Developing digital literacy in today’s learners. Despite the fact that many of those pursuing higher education were raised in a digital world, statistics show that they still do not feel fully comfortable using technologies.
Addressing this issue poses another problem, which is that there isn’t yet a common understanding of what “digital literacy” encompasses. This inconsistency and uncertainty around the definition is keeping institutions from formalizing any solutions to fix the problem. Complicating the issue further, digital literacy means something different for students than it does for teachers, as the process of using technology to educate is very different from learning with it.
To provide an example of the inconsistency in the term, here are two different definitions. The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, as ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills.” In Europe, JISC defines digital literacy as “those capabilities, which fit an individual for living, learning, and working in a digital society.” The former is much more definite, while the latter is quite broad.
The Solution: Regardless of inconsistency, there is a consensus that digital literacy is the skills and ability to reflect and think critically, in any social or cultural context. In line with this, there have been a number of efforts to encourage and foster digital curation. Defined by the Higher Education Academy as “the act of finding, preserving, maintaining, archiving and sharing digital content.” Digital curation is also seen as a method to aid students in developing digital literacy. There are a number of online tools such as Scoop.it, Storify, and Pinterest that allow learners to curate their own digital content, develop their digital literacy skills, and enhance the engagement of students.
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