Trends in Post-Secondary Education
Several interrelated trends stand out when scanning the landscape of post-secondary educational activities and innovations. There is a growing availability of digital content; an expansion of mobile broadband fueling increasing capabilities of mobile devices; a breaking apart of large blocks of information into smaller chunks that can be re-assembled as customized content; and the utilization of Web 2.0 tools to create learning communities around face-to-face and online courses.
Members of the University of Phoenix community, who have first-hand experience with these developments in their classes, likely will not be surprised to see these trends gaining traction elsewhere.
The growing availability of digital content is the result of several other trends such as: textbook publishers routinely offering digital versions alongside traditional print editions; an increasing number of periodicals making their databases easier to access; and a tremendous growth in user-created content—such as wikis, blogs and YouTube videos.
What is Driving this Larger Trend?
This pool of digital and electronic resources is expanding as faculty members enhance students' educational experience by offering them more content than could be accessed between the pages of printed textbooks. Equally important, multimedia materials are making it easier to accommodate the broad range of students’ learning styles. The ready availability of these resources is making it easier for students to become more invested in their own learning as they explore the Web to locate information—images, articles, videos, etc.—to supplement their own understanding of the topics at hand. A Pandora’s Box has been opened—but in this case, we have been enriched by the release.
The expansion of mobile broadband has created a market for mobile devices. But the growth in the capabilities of these devices seems to be an inevitable outcome from the increasing availability of digital materials. Not only do we want to access this wonderful treasure trove, but a growing number of us want to access it when, where and how it suits our needs (or wishes.) We are long past the days of sitting captive at terminals writing code to access the mainframe’s processing power. Now, we expect mobility and we are becoming increasingly comfortable with—and expect access to—a wide range of digital content on the screens of our iPods and smart phones. With this availability of content on smart devices, we are starting to see fully-functional “cellular courses.”
Impacting the Way We Teach and Learn
An important trend that impacts the way we teach and learn builds upon digitized content. By breaking apart that information into components—images, paragraphs, entire chapters, etc.—those individual pieces can be combined to create customized content that in an educational environment precisely addresses our pedagogical needs. At this point, some textbook publishers may not be fully comfortable with users manipulating their material in this way. However, if recent history is a guide, market pressures will dictate that they follow the path forged by entertainment producers. These producers have learned to live with user-created mash-ups and with consumers who go to sites such as iTunes to load their MP3 players with just the singles instead of the album.
The last trend has great potential to be a powerful addition to education at any age or level. Recognizing the importance of social aspects of learning, we are utilizing Web 2.0 technologies to create learning communities that can be integrated into the fabric of the educational experience. Wikis, blogs, discussion groups, social networking sites, instant messaging and other tools are built upon the recognition, and expectation, that we are all active contributors to our own learning. More than 400 years ago, Francis Bacon observed that “knowledge itself is power.” Today, learning communities, with their intent to share knowledge and insights, can empower all of us.