Innovation is the key to unlocking the university of the future

COVID-19 has disrupted the education landscape as we know it, rattling an age-old system that hasn’t much evolved past the physical classroom of chalk and blackboards. Traditional universities and older institutions are often hesitant to innovate, even though the pandemic heightened the importance of agility and adaptability. That’s why, even a year into the pandemic, exam solutions remain simplistic, learning management solutions lack strong mobile-first and online collaboration functionality; and universities have been forced to patch together numerous disparate tools. 

As a result of the pandemic, digital technologies have become ever more instrumental to the education experience, enabling teaching professionals to reach more students more efficiently. Educational institutions must adapt to remain relevant to societies, economies, and most importantly, students and innovation within the education sector is the quickest way of achieving it. 

Reinventing education

Online learning was originally born out of necessity and was accelerated by the onset of a worldwide lockdown. But, as we have learnt from the past year, digital education can be a key improvement for educators and learners, if incorporated correctly. Currently, most products and services that are on the market, work to improve the educational experiences of students, teachers, and professors. Nevertheless, the next phase of education innovation must harness the power of technology to supplement and enhance, rather than replace, face-to-face learning. 

One way is by applying automation and analytics to expand the boundaries of online learning. Over the last year, using data and analytics to ensure students are performing to their best ability and to provide actionable insights for teachers and students has become increasingly important. For example, with these insights learning professionals can better assess whether individual components of a module are performing in a desired way or can shape the content that is used in lessons. In addition, the use of AI is also helping to automate and speed up administrative tasks, helping universities and faculties to reduce the time spent on tedious tasks and increase the amount of time spent on each individual student, which will further improve the overall student experience.  

As distance learning becomes more popular and pervasive, learning sessions must be more engaging, collaborative and emotionally fulfilling for students. Early-stage forms of remote learning relied on conventional forms of digital communication, such as email, conference calls and one-way video presentations, but while these are helpful, they often lack a personal touch and limit students’ ability to interact as a group or foster meaningful relationships. As such, implementing an innovative learning management system combined with advanced technologies that are tailored to the needs of higher education, can transform even the most traditional of learning institutions and keep them competitive. In fact, 3 out of 4 education leaders in Asia Pacific, agree that AI will be able to drive competitiveness in the next three years, according to IDC Asia and Microsoft Asia. 

Furthermore, these holistic learning solutions can provide a seamless and interactive learning experience for all involved. Learning platforms of today can create individualized learning paths based on a student’s need and analyze their performance across all classes. These learning solutions will also provide educators with a more robust teaching tool and learners a more robust education. 

The stakes are greater than ever before

Today, competition among higher education institutions is fierce, which means that having unique differentiators is crucial. Especially in Singapore, which has both fewer institutions and more individuals leaving the country after graduation, universities and institutions of higher learning should place higher emphasis on not only attracting, but also retaining students. 

Therefore, institutions looking to thrive in the ever-evolving education ecosystem, must leverage digital education technology early-on to enable them to become more innovative. According to McKinsey, 1 in 3 students in the US, now seek universities and colleges with better online capabilities. As such, the technology and solutions integrated into today’s education systems must match the needs of current and future learners and empower not just students, but teachers to enhance the learning process in the years to come. 

Furthermore, universities need to be relevant to the societies in which they exist. It is no longer about universities operating as trainers of school leavers about to enter the job market, but instead, they should assert their importance as critical builders of knowledge and human capital. As the pandemic and initial recession has made it harder and more competitive for fresh graduates to get jobs, universities that can best ensure their students are empowered to succeed in their future workplaces with digital collaboration tools will reap the rewards. 

Innovation in higher education is no longer just about staying ahead but staying relevant and sustainable in a quickly transforming global environment. As universities rely more heavily on digital technologies to provide a holistic learning and teaching experience, it is ultimately those that can adapt and innovate most effectively, that will be able to outperform their competitors.