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Personalised, hybrid and lifelong: Experts predict the likely future of higher education

By Tracy Burrows

Johannesburg, 04 Aug 2021
Read time 3min 30sec
Kgwaridi Buti Manamela, deputy minister, Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.
Kgwaridi Buti Manamela, deputy minister, Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

With COVID-19 the catalyst, the higher education sector is undergoing rapid evolution that could see future education models that focus on digitised, personalised and lifelong education. Higher education could potentially move away from traditional degree and diploma courses to instead incorporate a broad range of modules from which students can choose, a blend of in-person and online teaching and learning, and even new methods of assessment.

This is according to panellists participating in a webinar on 'Cloud technologies facilitating online learning', hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and ITWeb, which included the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

Kgwaridi Buti Manamela, departmental Deputy Minister, explained: “The pandemic forced us to rethink how we do things and deliver educational services – we are being led into an accelerated evolution, whether we’re ready or not. This is how human beings have always developed and evolved – because of conditions imposed on them.”

Linda Siso, Head of Education, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Linda Siso, Head of Education, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Linda Siso, Head of Education at AWS, echoed this sentiment, saying the pandemic had accelerated digital adoption in education. “Over the past two years, AWS has seen many customers working to figure out the new way of learning and working, and we have been there helping them.”

She said education models in future would likely include a spectrum of approaches, from face-to-face to fully online. “The digital tools to support this will need to be blended too. Most institutions have started on that journey, ensuring that their core learning management systems are solid. Now, they need to move forward to ensure that assessments can be done remotely, that students can continue to interact, and that disabled students are supported,” she said. “At AWS, we see a world where education is always available, personalised and accessible for lifelong learning.”

According to Dolf Jordaan, Deputy Director of E-learning at the University of Pretoria, the debate at the moment is what the future of education will look like. “Our university has started that discussion, looking at models such as the Hyflex (hybrid flexible) model, which brings choice for students, but does require us to investigate new innovations. Also to be considered is accessibility integration, to make provision for every student, irrespective of their disability. New education models may require a rethink of funding and subsidy models, business models and the culture of residential universities. They may also impact how we are able to roll-out new degrees.”

Dolf Jordaan, deputy director of E-learning, University of Pretoria (UP).
Dolf Jordaan, deputy director of E-learning, University of Pretoria (UP).

Jordaan also noted that higher education institutions will increasingly need to recognise student perspectives and must focus on brand building so students would want to keep returning for lifelong learning.

Also on the panel was Oleg Figlin, Vice-President for EMEA at education technology firm Blackboard, who said the move to online learning was providing a foundation for more personalised teaching and learning, such as consumer brands were able to provide their customers. “We are now getting to a turning point where digital engagement by students and faculty has increased enough to generate adequate data points to start personalising the experience for students,” he said.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Prof Eunice Ndeto Ivala, Director of the Centre for Innovative Educational Technology at the institution, highlighted that technology could help institutions understand the challenges individual students face, and help them achieve optimal outcomes. Universities could go beyond simply providing digitised content, and instead use digital tools and the data they generate to see how students are engaging with learner management systems. These insights can be used to improve teaching approaches, deliver face-to-face engagement and enhance pedagogy and assessment tools, she said.

AWS is helping to transform education in South Africa, making teaching delivery more effective, education management and research more collaborative, and skills development opportunities more accessible. Join the next webinar in the AWS Cloud technology as a driver for growth and innovation series, here.

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