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Top Education Trends for 2011

Colleges and universities will confront historic challenges and opportunities in 2011. While budget shortfalls continue to take their toll, new technologies are posing revolutionary solutions. Economic pressures and digital learning tools should ultimately herald good news in 2011, as higher education evolves into a more relevant and accessible experience for all students.

Key Education Trends for 2011

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a mid-career working adult, the top education trends for 2011 should enhance your learning options. Look for these classroom innovations and evolutions:

1. Classrooms in the browser. Advances such as Web browser-based virtual classrooms can enhance the educational experience for online students. Early-generation software like Adobe Connect required students to download an unwieldly application; today, browser connectivity empowers interactive functionality. Students can more easily connect with peers and access teaching media in real time. In this way, the digital experience is approximating the best feature of the face-to-face education–the live exchange of ideas and information.

2. Online nursing degrees. Nursing education is going digital, expanding access to RN and RN-to-BSN programs for working health professionals. In its early years, online education emphasized theoretical and text-based disciplines–business administration, for example–over hands-on professional training programs. But online nursing degrees are finding ways to adapt the applied nursing curriculum to a distance learning format. The hybrid curriculum combines digital lectures and lab demonstrations with a local clinical practicum. This convenient format allows working professionals to break into healthcare’s fastest growing occupation–nursing jobs are projected to grow 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, with an estimated 581,500 new jobs created.

3. Adaptive learning technology. Adaptive learning systems enhance the educational experience by adjusting the presentation of learning material to a student’s individual needs. By gauging student responses to questions, the computer program identifies strengths and weaknesses and adapts the lesson accordingly. The automated system mimics a one-on-one interaction between instructor and student, where the student becomes a collaborator in the learning process rather than a passive spectator.

According to a report by the NIST’s Advanced Technology Program, adaptive technology “can have a positive impact on the accessibility, affordability, and quality challenges that now confront American education.” The systems are flexible and versatile–because the learning material is “reusable, interoperable, and easily organized at many different levels of complexity,” the technology can “accommodate numerous and varied learner requirements.” Faced with an increasingly diverse student body and dwindling resources, colleges may come to depend on the efficiencies of adaptive technology.

4. Activity streams. In another technological advance, educators are adapting the “activity streams” developed for social networking for the online classroom. Activity streams support learning communities by syndicating activities or learning content across a digital network. The technology allows students to stay in touch and collaborate more effectively. For example, social news streams allow students to pursue a topic of interest as a group, in real time.

5. College on the WWW. With online Q and A platforms, blogs, wikis, and more, the Internet is itself a vast learning tool. In coming years, educators can tap this resource to enhance the learning experience. As The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) observes in its College of 2020 special report, “The Internet has made most information available to everyone… there is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so.” The educator’s role is, in turn, evolving, with the instructor becoming “less of an oracle and more of an organizer and guide.” With faculty on hand to “provide perspective and context,” students can explore Internet learning resources such as the online question-and-answer platform Formspring.

6. Mobile learning. More and more students will be able to access the college classroom from a portable device such as a cellular phone or tablet device. These devices can serve as the access point for class discussions, instructor check-ins, and even lectures or demonstrations. The CHE report predicts that students “may sign up to take a course in person, and then opt to monitor class meetings online and attend whenever they want.” Colleges are increasingly embracing the flexibility and access that mobile technology affords.

7. Flexible programs. The traditional four-year residential undergraduate program is on the wane. Instead, expect to find schedules designed to accommodate a more diverse student population, such as accelerated three-year programs, programs that allow students to attend multiple universities, and part-time programs. These options appeal to older, working students who can’t afford to attend college full time.

Trends in education for 2011 rise above the budget difficulties of previous years by uncovering novel strategies for learning. Technology and flexible programming promise to revolutionize tomorrow’s college classroom, creating a richer learning experience for a more diverse group of students.

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