How Technology is Changing the Future of Higher Education

1. Factors influencing change

There’s no denying the impact technology has had on the world of higher education. A mere twenty years ago, the idea of earning a degree online was futuristic. In the modern day, more than 30 percent of college students in public institutions participate in some level of distance education.

No generation is more at ease with online, collaborative technologies than today’s young people, “digital natives”, who have grown up in an immersive computing environment. Where a notebook, textbook and pen may have been the only tool kit of prior generations, today’s students come to class with smart phones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches.

This era of pervasive technology and rapid change has significant implications for higher education.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents from the public and private sectors say that technological innovation will have a major impact on teaching methodologies over the next five years. “Technology allows students to become much more engaged in constructing their own knowledge, and cognitive studies show that ability is key to learning success,” says New York City-based Queens College vice-president of institutional advancement, Susan Henderson.

Some of the main driving forces behind technological progress is increasing efficiency in achieving goals, providing a more comfortable and less stressful experience, increasing convenience and accessibility, increasing safety, as well as opening up new approaches and possibilities that were previously either impossible, or impractically expensive. For all these driving forces, higher education is a perfect environment for technology to change and improve the student experience and value for money. Higher education was once the exclusive domain of university campuses, but now online degree programmes and distance learning have gained a firm foothold in universities and learning institutions around the world. What was once considered a niche channel for the delivery of educational content has rapidly become mainstream, creating wider access to education, new markets for content and expanded revenue opportunities for academic institutions. The technological changes occurring in the modern day will alter the perception of the college campus from a physical place to a digital and distributed online one.

New technologies are also affecting other areas of campus administration. Social-networking tools are helping to build connections with alumni and support career service activities. E-marketing campaigns expand the reach and success of recruiting and fundraising efforts and drive down the cost of direct-mail campaigns. And automated, self-service programmes reduce administrative requirements, streamline course registration and enhance academic life.

Education oriented online social networking sites such as Unibuddy can help to ease the difficulties of adapting to a new country and culture as a student, one well-recognised issue.  This UCL-backed student recruitment platform allows prospective university applicants to build friends and connections with existing students and staff through chat, live events and top-tier partnerships. Popular discussions on the Unibuddy platform include issues such as fitting in, programmes of study, employability and admissions requirements. This is one of many examples of how technological progress is making the university experience easier, more convenient and less lonely and stressful for students who find themselves in a new environment.

Although university participants view these changes as having a largely positive impact, many institutions struggle with challenges of keeping up with the changing standards of modern life and implementing new technologies into the learning process in a way which provides a meaningfully better learning experience. In addition, insufficient resources, a lack of adequate instructional design staff and other technological support issues can also impede the adoption of new technologies.

Despite these challenges, most believe that technology will become ever more integrated into academic life, and the pace of change as well as adoption will accelerate as technology continues to change our lives into something that was unimaginable only a few decades ago.

As universities adapt to a model of digital centric learning, they must embrace the opportunities offered by the digital transformations of our society. Digital transformation was to be a key element of universities’ plans long before the pandemic hit and changed everyone’s lives. While a move to an online centric learning experience was already taking place, the pandemic has greatly accelerated this transition through the necessity of remote learning and accessibility, brought about by health and safety concerns. Now, plans are being expedited, with institutions adopting online learning and digital student experiences at an impressive speed.

Beyond just adapting to the covid new normal, universities in the UK will need to adapt to other external pressures too, such as the implications of Brexit and the added complexities of attracting international students.

Although these big changes have intensified these challenges, a model of hybrid digital learning will be a crucial part of any institution’s plans moving forward. At the same time, students are acting more like consumers than ever, seeking a bigger return on their investment and the reassurance that their university will equip them with the skills to succeed at work. As demands on workers increase and the job market becomes much more competitive again, students will be expecting a learning experience that is worth the enormous investment for people in their youth.

Where traditional universities once attracted students with their historic location or focus on research, they must now come up with more creative strategies for student recruitment.

Institutions are looking to lessen the skills gap between higher education and the world of work; at Bournemouth University, 85 per cent of students participate in some form of work placement.  Universities should be proactive in supporting students to develop a professional portfolio and gain an understanding of how to apply their knowledge in a work environment.

Using software and data analytics to personalize the learning experience can address the challenges of building a tailored learning program as well as supporting students to gain work-ready skills. Using analytics can show institutions who is not logging in as much as they could be, how this links to assessment scores and which elements of coursework students are engaging with the most. These insights can allow departments to offer tailored support to students, whether that’s more one-to-one meetings or tweaks to course content on a broader level. Personalized feedback enhances both teaching and learning, making the experience richer for academics and students alike.

The challenge now is for universities to build a premium customer experience that blends the best of being physically present and engaged, with the convenience and personalization of online learning. Looking ahead, a fast-changing labour market will drive the need for micro-credentials and short courses, while lifelong learning will support an ageing population to switch career focus or simply enjoy gaining a new skill. Adapting to these new ways of learning feels like overwhelming right now, especially with the speed at which things are changing, but these changes will prove invaluable and trans formative in years to come.

2. Examples of new technologies that can change university experience

Here are look at some of the most important areas of technological progress that will be shaping the future of the university experience.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

-AI Integration will help teachers to identify learning obstacles

One of the most important changes to the world over the next few decades will be the rapid progress and adoption of AI, and this will have big implication in the future of academia. Whether as chatbots, assessment tools or outright tutors, AI algorithms can allow for personalization of academic curriculums on an unprecedented level.

According to Harvard Business Review, The University of Murcia in Spain tested AI-enabled chatbots as assistants for student FAQs. With more than 38,708 queries, the AI managed to correctly answer more than 91% of them, proving that artificial intelligence can indeed augment higher education. AI algorithms in academia can help process tremendous amounts of student-generated data and help tutors identify bottlenecks and development opportunities for students more precisely. As a support tool, AI will undoubtedly cause a positive shift toward data processing automation, enabling teachers to pay more attention to the learning experience they are providing, and how the students are receiving it.

-Using AI to assist in teaching and organising the class

Georgia Tech has been experimenting with a virtual teaching assistant named Jill Watson, built on the Jeopardy-winning IBM Watson supercomputer platform. This A.I. answers the student questions in a discussion forum alongside human teaching assistants, and students often can’t distinguish among them, their professor says. Expert systems such as this that can answer questions could help students get over hurdles they encounter in large or online courses. The university is working next on developing virtual tutors, which could ultimately enable every student to have a personal tutor, that has as much time for them as they need, and therefore be able to get around the human constrains of having a teacher try to make time for as many students in the class as possible in answering all their questions and confusions.

At Arizona State University, A.I. is being used to watch for signs that A.S.U. Online students might be struggling, and to alert their academic advisers.

Language students can get as much practice conversing as they need by talking to chatbots which will fluently speak the language they are learning.

The students enrolling in college now have grown up in a digital environment, it would make the most sense to use what they are most familiar with to engage their curiosity.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

Technical advancements have lifted the boundaries of the traditional classroom and taken college curriculum to a whole new level. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are perfect examples of this type of innovation.

You may be aware of these reality technologies being used in video games or social media filters, but the adoption of such innovation in higher education has the potential to be a game-changer. 

Differences between Virtual reality and augmented reality

let’s start by breaking down the difference between VR and AR. The two terms are sometimes used together or interchangeably, but there is distinct difference.

-Virtual Reality

VR utilizes technology to create a completely simulated environment, often utilizing a head-mounted display. The user becomes immersed in a computer-generated world when wearing this device.

In a VR environment, the user steps into an entirely virtual environment. Environments are of the creator’s design and experiences are tied to the rules that govern the virtual space, VR has the capability to take the user out of their world and into a totally different one.

-Augmented Reality

Augmented reality utilizes technology to layer superimposed elements (i.e., images, sounds or text) on the existing world around you. Unlike virtual reality, AR builds upon your actual surroundings. Augmented reality can manipulate the space you see in useful and interesting ways, without taking the user out of the environment they’re inhabiting, Some AR examples utilize headsets, but smartphones and other mobile devices are commonly used also.

From healthcare and military to aviation and space, there are many diverse applications of VR/AR in various industries. Some colleges and universities have begun to adopt this immersive learning technology to offer innovative training and simulation opportunities for students in different fields.

-Virtual reality in higher education 

Virtual reality has the ability  to simulate an imaginary physical environment, allowing for the kind of real-world learning that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. This could include virtual field trips, allowing anthropology students to explore and examine ancient Egyptian ruins without the costs and problems associated with travelling internationally. You can replicate the past, envision a future, or experience the present by only having access to the technology.

Another exciting example of virtual reality in higher education: medical education. Traditionally, medical students learn and practice surgical procedures using simulated patient dummies or cadavers, which can only prepare them so much. VR-based systems level up this process by providing hands-on training in an immersive, simulated operating room environment. It’s possible to simulate almost everything that would go into a complicated real-life surgical experience 

VR also gives students the ability to complete their training experiences several times. Educational features can also be built in for additional learning, like labelling the different layers of human tissue. Students can tag different parts, undo mistake, and take notes all inside the virtual learning experience.

These are just a few of the many simulated learning experiences that can come to life with virtual reality in higher ed. When you can enter a completely different environment, the opportunities for learning are virtually endless.

-Augmented reality in higher education

A close cousin to VR, augmented reality holds similarly rewarding possibilities for higher education. Often by means of only a computer or mobile device screen, AR can enhance a student’s environment, allowing them to visualize and interact with a concept that is otherwise inaccessible or difficult to comprehend. Students are able to build and retain knowledge by applying additional sensory skills. One particularly valuable benefit of AR in higher education is its ability to foster collaboration, For example, architecture students can work together to build a house and model weather conditions to see how it withstands wind or hail.

Another innovative example of students teaming up with the help of AR is with theatre production students. Rather than using sketches and models to help design the set for a theatrical production, they’re utilizing a custom-design augmented reality app to design their full-scale scenery, providing students with an immersive AR experience on an empty stage.

Generally speaking, VR and AR is still in its infancy in higher education, but the potential of these immersive learning technologies has not gone unrecognized.

In 2018, a study found that 28 percent of higher education institutions have engaged in some level of VR deployment, with only 18 percent having it fully deployed. Looking forward, it is difficult to imagine a higher education landscape that does not include virtual reality and augmented reality.

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of familiarity among instructors, it is understandable if working new and unfamiliar technology pulls many of them out of their comfort zone.

Education is constantly evolving, and technology has often been the driving force behind these improvements. When it comes to augmented and virtual reality in higher education, we’re only scratching the surface of the exciting opportunities that are about to arrive.

3D Printing

The 3D printer could be a wonderful addition to classrooms and universities. pupils in the classroom of the future can print out 3D models for various purposes, including show-and-tell. Engineering students and teachers are prime examples of who could directly benefit from 3D printing technology. A tool such as the Dimension BST 3D printer is available to help students create design prototypes. Since Most students have no need for an at home 3D printer of their own, having a communal 3D printer in a university for students to test out their design ideas is ideal, and can turn the learning environment of a university into a makerspace.

The 3D printer produces working mini models to test out engineering design principles, so students can perfect their design before making an actual prototype. Together with CAD (computer-aided design) modelling software, 3D printing allows these students to experiment freely with their designs without expending considerable costs and time.

As it will be for many other subjects that require some form of visualization, the decreasing cost of 3D printers means that more teachers will be able to use this technology to reconstruct complex concept models to teach theoretical concepts. For instance, the concept of molecular structures and configurations may be hard to grasp, but by printing out physical versions of these structures, this can help students put a form on abstract thought, and aid in better understanding.

Cloud computing and decentralized /remote learning accessibility

One of the most crucial changes of integrating technology into higher education is in decentralized learning. It is no longer required for students to commute or outright move to different cities/states/countries in order to gain the desired degree. International students make up 5.5% of total US higher education attendees, with 51.6% pursuing STEM fields, mainly in maths and computer science. With the rise of cloud-based computing, high-speed bandwidth and increasingly affordable smart devices, students from around the world can attend the institutions they want.

3. New Teaching Methods and Gamification of Learning

Having grown up at a time when the world was connected by the internet, young people today seem to have very short attention spans. This is unsurprising, since their childhood memories and free time revolves around YouTube, Facebook and smartphones that provide them with on-the-go 24-hours updates and the answers to all their queries through Google and Wikipedia. To cater to such a fast-paced digital generation, universities may eventually move away from traditional teaching methods of textbook learning and lecturing, to align themselves with the times. One great way to achieve that is to make use of a hobby that has often been considered as a major distraction to learning; video games.

Gamification theory applied to education 

The gamification theory in education is that learners learn best when they are also having fun. Not only this – they also learn best when they have goals, targets, and achievements to reach for, of course in a way the learner still perceives as fun.

Because of the addictive features of video games that intrigue children (and adults) and get them hooked, it’s only natural that we see similar engagement results when these game-based elements are applied to learning materials.

Gamification in learning involves using game-based elements such as point scoring, peer competition, teamwork, score tables to drive engagement, help students assimilate new information and test their knowledge. It can apply to school-based subjects but is also used widely in self-teaching apps and courses, showing that the effects of gamification do not stop when we are adults.

Teachers and parents can implement gamification in various ways across countless subject areas. Though many schools already utilise apps and educational games via computers and tablets, it doesn’t all have to be about technology.

Unlike game-based learning, which involves students making their own games or playing commercially made video games, gamification is simply bringing game-based elements that make these platforms popular and integrating them into other activities within the (home) classroom.

Some examples of game elements that can be used to engage and motivate learners include:


Immediate feedback


Mastery (for example, in the form of levelling up after completing increasing difficult challenges)

Progress and achievement indicators (for example, through points/badges/leader-boards, and trophies)

Social connections and interactions

Player driven exploration

A learning experience that contains some or all of these elements can be considered a “gamified” learning experience.

The best combinations are the ones that create sustained engagement, consider the unique needs of the learners and do more than just use points and levels to motivate players. The most effective gamification systems make use of other elements such as narrative and connection with fellow players/learners to really create a sense of fun and capture the learner’s own interests.

Learning To Design Games

Another concept adopted by educators does not focus on the gameplay or interactivity; rather, it emphasizes on how learning the game design process can educate students. In Gamestar Mechanic, the idea is to impart students with basic game designing skills (without the complexity of programming) to create their own games and consequently help them develop broad skill sets such as language, systematic thinking, problem-solving (through simulation, trial-and-errors, etc.), storytelling, art and many more.

Students will learn how to design one by playing a game itself where they assume the role of a young aspiring game designer who’ll go through quests and missions to be awarded with various content to use in their Toolbox (an area for them to design their own games). This is not unlike the role-playing video games we see in today’s market.

This illustrates how educators are moving away from traditional classroom teaching to that of letting students have fun and learn while they play interactive games. It’s inevitable that students in the future who grow up with such technology will require much higher levels of fun and excitement before they see education as appealing and captivating.

Gamification to Reinvent Credit Systems

There’s no denying that traditional grading systems have been efficient at helping higher education students showcase their skills and knowledge. However, the shift toward digital technologies has opened the door for a gamification program to be introduced to academia. 

With media streaming platforms and video games already implementing gamification features, young generations know what they are getting into. Likewise, the points gained in a gamified academic ecosystem can lead to unique rewards and internships for high-performing students. This would be more in line with young people’s modern mindset and facilitate better engagements for students in higher education.

4. Some outcomes and implications

Subscription-Based Tuitions

Academic education puts a hefty toll on students and their families in regard to tuition and living expenses. However, what if we could forgo traditional tuitions in favour of pro-student programs centered on online learning?

The example of Boise State and its Passport to Education program indicates that such a shift toward subscription-based learning is quite possible. Writing tools such as Evernote, Subjecto and Grammarly are used to write application letters and essays to further emphasize the role of technology in education. If students can pay per month for higher education, they will be more inclined to enroll in academia and make the most of it. In turn, we would see more students, and subsequently, more educated professionals on the job market in the coming years.

Increased Curriculum Accessibility

It’s inevitable that some students will have various issues which could limit their abilities to attend individual curriculums alongside their peers. Around 15% of UK students have some form of disability. Students when they get ill fear the negative consequences in regards to their academic performance due to unforeseen absence. These students need extra help and support due to their circumstances, which is where technology can fundamentally change the way we access higher education.

Teachers can use technological devices and software to provide students with lecture transcripts, audio recordings, interactive exercises, AR/VR demonstrations and other innovative forms of learning. Creating an openly accessible online archive of live lectures or simply shifting the whole curriculum infrastructure to cloud-based platforms can significantly improve the accessibility of higher education for many who could be faced with these challenged. In the long run, such a shift toward increased accessibility will improve student attendance, convenience, performance and empower individuals to follow along at their own pace.

Cloud computing is and software-as-a-service is becoming the standard computing platform and will most likely continue to change overtake many aspects of our digital lives, particularly in higher education.

In the future classroom, students may just need an electronic device to access all their own work, slides and teaching notes, and all other learning resources in the Cloud. This means no more buying of heavy textbooks for school and being able to having constant access to your teaching and reading materials as long as you have a phone or laptop with an Internet connection.

Such convenience will provide students the freedom to work on their projects or homework anytime and anywhere. A vast digital library is accessible even when the university library is closed. Libraries are in the process of digitising their information. The Google Books Projecting is a large-scale initiative to digitise the content of libraries for the sake of global student accessibility.

An Online Learning Opportunity

Cloud computing seeks to virtualize the classroom. Schools can now leverage on cloud technology and set up online learning platforms for students to log on and attend classes in a virtual environment. Moodle is an example of a digital learning environment used by UCL, to allow students to have all the material they need for their class in one place, and also serves as a means to send and receive documents such as homework, and an archive of lecture slides.

Assignments and exam tests can also be easily sent to the students of the class, minimizing the need for students to be physically present, and also to encourage interaction and discussion, which will come as a welcome change to students who are shy.

Online Social Networking

As a big part of the cloud platform, such social networks like Facebook allow students to share their ideas freely in a class Facebook group, from the comfort of their own room, while teachers can moderate. As opposed to the Lecturer on a stage, (one to many flows of learning) This is called a many-to-many interactive learning model where ideas are allowed to flow freely. This will be much more aligned with real-world scenarios where collaboration is usually the norm, such as a job. Social networking tools can be incorporated to enhance collaboration and team-building initiatives.

Still, if there is a need, teachers, lecturers and professors can lend some guidance in the form of responses to forum queries or by uploading useful information to the cloud community instantaneously. Another benefit is that It also serves as a great feedback tool, to help share ideas on how to improve the class. A social-based approach to education will become the norm for future students, and it is an environment that they will feel most comfortable with, having spent their social lives using these social networks.

5. Conclusions and perspectives

Accelerating inevitable

Given the current pandemic crisis and the “new normal” that the world has settled into, we can expect technology to help the universities of the future to adapt to this new world and adopt changes to shape the future of higher education.

According to British Council, the class of 2025 will face the most competitive job market in history and be mainly made of freshmen from 2020/2021. With the crisis underway, these students will have to depend on technology far more than their predecessors, but they will be in a world where they are used to it. Covid has significantly expedited the transition to a world where digital technologies are the center of our learning lives, which would have happened anyway over time.

According to Third Way, 15% of US-based higher education institutions graduate less than half of their students, 33% of which graduate 25% or fewer students. We are at a transition point where technology has the potential to reinvent the experience of higher education to enable students to prepare for the fast-changing technology obsessed world in which we now all live.

Future-Proofing Learning institutions

For better or worse, traditional education is on its last legs when it comes to standardized traditional curriculums which have somehow remained quite resistant to change for decades. The crisis has made educators realise that now is the time to innovate and break new ground in regard to implementing the future of higher education.

In the future, education will no longer be restricted to formalized institutes like schools and classes. Using AR/VR, cloud computing, online social networking and adaptive learning systems utilizing eye tracking technology, learning can take place outside the traditional classroom.

Experimentations and mistakes will also be encouraged as simulations are made possible through 3D printing and game-based learning without actually incurring real-world consequences or costs. Chief among all, students will soon be imparted with the wisdom of seeing learning as not a chore, but as a critical and gratifying part of their life which requires their proactive involvement.

This shift toward a digital-centric experience will ensure that students are equipped with digital know-how which has become mandatory on the modern job market. These technologies will enable future students to learn at their own pace, constantly, and in creative ways with fun and engaging technologies. While results of such an initiative won’t be visible for years to come, now is the time to get the ball rolling toward the future.