Gone are the days where university students had only two potential study mode options – part-time or full-time. Nowadays, the advent of digital education has opened up a wide range of study modes for full degrees and continuing education.
The twenty-first century has seen a lot of disruption within the higher education sector, and new developments are constantly changing both what we learn and how we learn. The classic full-time on-campus study system has evolved in wonderful new ways all around the world. Students rightfully expect more choice, more flexibility, and smart employment of the latest technologies. So what are the study modes that higher education should be getting ready for in 2019?
Part-time studying is a winner
One of the biggest factors students consider when selecting academic programs in 2019 is the value and ROI of the program and mode that they choose. “Student fees and the struggle today's graduates have to find a job have changed the way education works,” notes president of Birkbeck (University of London) Joan Bakewell. While working and studying simultaneously is hardly a new development, the students’ needs and economic demands have changed in recent years. It’s been many years since a summer of hard work could pay for a year of university tuition, or weekend job could cover room and board. For many students, work-study options are non-negotiable. In order to pay tuition and live while they study, students need to maintain substantial and consistent employment. And working while studying is hardly a short-term solution. Modern students are aware that networking within the industry they love is essential if they’re to capitalize on their graduate prospects.
For many students, employment during their studies is much more an extension of the learning environment than simply a way to generate income. More students are capitalizing on their work-study arrangements to gain real knowledge and experience within their chosen field, or choosing jobs that let them explore their interests in meaningful, value-added ways. It’s this kind of passion that can make working and studying at the same time feasible. “You can tell these students care by the sense of bustle and enthusiasm in the air,” continues Bakewell. “There's a reason for this: these are people who have thought hard about how to accommodate their study into their lives.”
For those who are already embroiled in their career, continued education while working is an opportunity to freshen up ideas, expand prospects, and apply academic research to real-life scenarios on a daily basis. This is one reason why the part-time Ph.D. is gaining in popularity. Professionals with a graduate degree who want to take the next step often face the challenge of putting their career on hold and balancing family commitments with returning to academia. Part-time study allows these professionals to aspire towards their academic desires without losing sight of their day to day duties and obligations.
Even if that doctorate is in a discipline not obviously related to the industry in which a student presently works, the new perspective and sharpened analysis skills of the study experience can feed back into their day job. Finding an inspiring topic, cohort, and mentor is empowering for any hardworking individual with the discipline to stick to a work plan and the flexibility to fit it in with their existing responsibilities.
It’s a structure that appeals to students since they can maintain a salary and job security while equipping themselves for a higher position. Some employers will even contribute financial support because they know that a smart, engaged, and ambitious employee is worth the investment.
But don’t bury full-time study just yet
Some students are pushing this strategy to the next level. They keep their full-time job but pursue full-time study at the same time. It's not for everyone, but for those with few other demands on their time and energy, it remains an option.
For these ambitious souls, evenings, weekends, and leave become study periods. They know how to exploit every waking minute, whether that means studying on the home commute, or burning the midnight oil and catching up on their sleep while they ride the morning train. They make sacrifices, and they multitask. Perhaps most importantly, they work just as hard at maintaining their relationship with their boss and working with their tutors and supervisors to make the impossible, viable.
Schools, too, need to be prepared to put in the work and understanding to make this mode of study an option for students who see it as the best way to realize their dreams.
eLearning will keep evolving and going stronger
Of course, eLearning is so much more than simply online-learning platforms. With apps that gamify measurable skills, micro-courses that can be consumed during the morning commute, and video content that engages as readily as it informs. If anything, micro-learning and adaptive learning were the buzziest eLearning developments of 2018. Learning in small, incremental chunks has become an excellent alternative to the to the part- or full-time degree for students and employers who want learning and working to take place side by side. And it appeals directly to the incoming generation – Generation Z – who are simultaneously flexible about their study modes and extremely discerning when it comes to the quality and value thereof.
Similarly, resources and processes that respond to data analysis of students and classes are making education more efficient and more engaging. Personalized content is now coming of age, and will likely breach the fringe and begin to become a mainstream solution in 2019.
And last year was also a watershed year for virtual and augmented reality. As these technologies mature beyond their novelty stage, they will offer new learning processes in (and beyond) the classroom and breathe new life into methods that are already well-established.
The rise of social learning
Despite fears that increased screen time and the continuing development of digital communication will further remove us from our peers, the increasing prevalence of technological solutions does not mean the end of people power. It facilitates new possibilities for what we can achieve together. Social learning is as old as humankind itself, but the campfire is now the online forum or inter-organizational wiki. The business world has already embraced the idea that using digital resources in smart, engaging ways can foster teamwork and communication, even if the team is spread across four continents and seven different departments. Higher education can learn from the corporate world by internationalizing peer learning, gamifying achievements, and even automating the learning process itself.
“The promise of digital is not greater reach, but greater connectedness,” as Dr. Bharat N. Anand, Senior Associate Dean and faculty chair of HBX (the online wing of Harvard Business School), puts it. In short, the digitalization allows universities and programs to reimagine social learning on a larger, more international scale and develop ways to collaborate with colleagues and peers around the world.
The process is not complete. Even at HBX, they are still figuring out how to make digital social learning both usable and democratic. But that’s the beauty of the digital revolution. It is ongoing. Each year will bring new solutions and add more value to schools, programs, and ways of learning. And these timeless qualities will continue to draw the best and brightest students to the institutions ready for the challenge.