Higher education marked by “digital disruption”

Mobile and virtual learning drives future demand says new report.

Higher education prepares for digital disruption

Higher education prepares for digital disruption

Australian universities are gearing up for digital disruption as mobile apps, social media, virtual learning and augmented reality takes hold across campuses.

A new report by Frost and Sullivan says that universities are preparing for this disruption through investments in mobility, augmented reality, social media and over-the-top apps. These platforms will drive the future of learning this decade. Latest findings reinforce the demand for collaborative learning and unified communications.

The report UC and Collaboration in the Australian Higher Education Sector says that the convergence of mobility, video, cloud and social media will shape communication and collaboration across organisations and academic institutions.

Findings from this report were shared at a series of 4-city round-tables by Audrey William, the Head of Research, Australia and New Zealand, at Frost & Sullivan. This information was collated for Amcom and draws on feedback from 40 IT decision-makers across a range of Australian universities.

Among the technology trends, higher education is well-placed to leverage mobility, social media, over-the-top apps, video, online learning and augmented reality, according to Frost and Sullivan's research head, William.

These are increasingly the technologies-of-choice for students and academics, she said. Moreover, integrated learning is supported by unified communications and hosted cloud services.

Learning on the go

In the mobile space, interest is high in device agnostic offerings, noted William. There is growing demand for learning “on the go” that taps into bring-your-own devices or app-based learning.

Mobile devices are a permanent fixture on campus and changing the nature of communication and interaction. “Smartphones and tablets have quickly become the primary devices for information consumption, as well as for voice and video communications.”

Advances around hardware and software enable students or staff to stay productive from any location by using internet-enabled devices. Better functionality around smart phones or tablets offers easy access to video conferencing and the more media-rich interaction.

Students expect academic institutions to offer class schedules and coursework as an app that can be accessed over mobile devices. “This is causing a shift towards app-based unified communications (UC) solutions,” notes the report. “The ability to integrate various applications and usage trends over a single platform is a key advantage of UC.”

The demand for mobile devices coincides with a growing uptake of cloud-based UC solutions. These offer the needed infrastructure to access apps from any internet enabled device. One segment that benefits from this combination is in remote or distance education.

“The ability to access the same level of course content through live and on-demand streaming of lectures will be critical factors for attracting the growing segment of distance education,” adds the report.

“Overall, the combination of cloud-based access and mobile devices will significantly impact the future of higher education in Australia.”

Social media takes centre stage

Social media and over-the-top (OTT) apps have gained traction across the educational landscape. These also create an ecosystem of developers that offer different apps for communications, productivity and learning. The OTT offerings also integrate with the more pervasive social media channels.

Increasingly, online “Helpouts” leverage video to connect users with the experts across subjects or topic areas. This interaction builds bridges between students, teachers or tutors. “The ease of use and accessibility of these applications will drive high uptake and usage levels.”

Students now use social media to set up and solidify communication groups and bypass the traditional communication systems. Social media is also emerging as a key channel for prospective students. Many universities now hire dedicated staff or student representatives to engage with prospective students over social media.

“Such measures are important for shaping the brand recognition and perception of the institution among prospective students, especially those based overseas,” the report says.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are integral to higher education. These models are mostly built on a free-to-use and or join basis. In some instances, these programs are backed by major academic institutions.

MOOC providers continue to challenge traditional universities. But there are several major hurdles that need to be tackled, cautions the report. Among these, there are limited courses, certification models and a broader recognition in the market.

To counter these challenges, several major universities – both global and domestic – now offer courses using a similar model. Some Australian universities also partner with MOOC providers to offer courses online.

“This offers participating institutions increased visibility among potential students and exposure to new teaching models that are being increasingly preferred by students.”

Augmented reality is the future

The growing popularity of distance learning has converged with virtual reality technologies. These offer students a more enhanced learning experience. The technology supports “immersive education” across classrooms. Access to 3-dimensional (3D) tools enables students to interact with objects or navigate their way through virtual environments.

The potential of augmented reality or virtual learning is massive for higher education. There is the ability to build complex engineering or architectural models in 3D. But this technology is still at a nascent stage and faces challenges around cost and bandwidth needs.

However, more vendors are entering the augmented reality space. They are building the inventory of highly-interactive collaboration tools. Virtual reality-based learning will define the parameters this decade. This is marked by better access to high-speed internet and associated services.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney

Tags unified communicationssocial media and over-the-top apps3dinternet-enabled devicesonline helpoutsdigital learningaugmented realitydistance educationMassive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)smart phonesamcommobilitytabletscampus cloudFrost and Sullivanbroadband

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