Contemporary trends in higher education: Impact of new educational models

ICT LectureEducation is an indispensable part of life at all levels. People gain knowledge and enlarge their worldview through education. And, education provides critical knowledge needed for societal development and advancement. This explains why universal education has become one of the key United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

In spite of this, in many countries today, especially in the developing world, a sizable proportion of the people lack access to the most basic form of education. Fact is, a nation cannot develop without a literate population. And in today’s world, the role of education has become even more vital.

In the 21st century, students need rigorous coursework to gain the knowledge and skills to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and effective communicators. They need the skills to make them technologically proficient, and skills that is relevant to workforce expectations.

The increasing use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in higher education is one way to achieve this outcome. ICT holds the key to moving education from where it is now to where it needs to be.

These new powerful instruments must become the carriers of an expanded educational system that makes it possible for learners to acquire the skills they need to function in the new global economy.

Education today is increasingly becoming international. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organi-sation, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of adults worldwide who have received tertiary education rose from 19 per cent to 29 per cent, and all estimates suggest that this growth will continue, albeit at a slower pace.

The advent of the information age makes it possible for people in physically unconnected places to be linked to global educational resources.

New information technology tools have brought about innovation in education and providesthe opportunity to communicate with anyone, anywhere at a very rapid speed. Open Educational Resources (OER) (including open textbooks), Open Access to education, and online educationhave all gained traction as significant drivers of education innovation. For example, online or e–learning is becoming core to the learning environment of today’s top institutions of higher learning.

In the US alone, in 2006, 3.5 million students were participating in on-line learning at institutions of higher education.Research suggests that in 2009, 44 percent of post-secondary students in the USA were taking some or all of their courses online, and projected that this figure would rise to 81 percent by 2014.

Many of the great universities of the World— Yale, Princeton, MIT, the Indira Ghandi Open University — have put an array of their courses online, and they are free for people to use with their own professors in charge of them. And the numerous Open Universities of the world have demonstrated that this type of education is possible.

While some programmes require students to attend some campus classes or orientations; many are delivered completely online. In addition, several universities offer online student support services, such as online advising and registration, e-counseling, and online textbook purchase.

Today, e-learning is moving rapidly from the margins to being a predominant form of post-secondary education. This is now the global trend.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed the growth of private provision in education. Good examples are the role being played by organizations such as the Apollo Group, Pearson and Microsoft in establishing campuses, purchasing exiting foreign institutions, developing content and the supply of back- office services, and marketing distance education overseas.

Experts predict that private education will inevitably make up much of the provision in countries with ambitious enrolment targets because of the speed of growth needed. Most Asian countries (e.g., Malaysia, India. South Korea) and a number of African countries (e.g., Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, etc.) have seen a growth in private provision in education.

Consistent with the growth of private provision in education, the year 2011 saw the emergence of what has now become known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance. MOOCs are delivered online, in virtually all fields offered to people from around the world.

MOOC courses are free or “open” and most of MOOC courses are being offered by some of the most prestigious of universities in the world.

MOOC platforms such as Coursera, edX and Udacity have partnered with 33 universities, offering more than 200 courses to over two million students in 196 countries. The entry of the “big gun” in the world of MOOCs have attracted lots of attention and this has increased student enrollment in these courses.

MOOCs provides flexibility of access to course materials from anywhere at any time. Studies over the years have shown no significant differences in student achievement when university students accessed content via online means or through face–to–face.

Educators are exploring other models for online education, such as the flipped classroom, which makes high-quality course content available in conjunction with local instruction.

With the rise of online education, the notion of “education in a borderless world” has gained prominence. Education is being used as a tool to erase barriers between people of different cultures and backgrounds. This makes it possible for people to gain access to education without the limits imposed by physical or socio-economic circumstances.

There is the need to capitalize on these new educational trends to help build capacity in education.

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