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Higher education is much the same today as it has been for generations. Though more people attend college now than ever before, post-secondary institutions remain notoriously slow to change – despite the shifting needs and demands of students. Just as technology is shifting the status quo across industries, digital advancements are calling for greater transformation in the field of higher education.

A growing emphasis on and availability of Open Educational Resources (OERs) is inspiring university leaders to shift how they view and leverage digital technology in the classroom. It’s also causing faculty to consider how technology can promote new ways of learning and enhance the student experience. Amazon’s pledge to launch a free platform for schools and educators to upload, manage and share educational materials is just one illustration of how these transformations are manifesting within higher education. But technology alone is not a “silver bullet” to better student engagement and success. Critical cultural and mindset shifts are needed within the higher education space. Technological advancements are tools to better serve students – tools that are only impactful when leveraged thoughtfully and intentionally by the people using them.

Here are three ways leaders can optimize technology to transform higher education and the student experience as we know it:

Personalize the Education Experience. There are better ways to equip students to thrive after graduation than the traditional “one size fits all” approach. All students benefit from a more individualized approach to learning. Millennial and post-Millennial students are all digital natives, raised with technology constantly at their fingertips. These students may be particularly responsive to a learning experience that uses technology as the mechanism for this personalization. Amazon was one of the first players to recognize this concept – its new platform includes a rating system that allows educators and learners to respond to and sort materials based on their usefulness. Finding ways to honor the voice and needs of each individual student is paramount to success for higher ed leaders of the future.

Embrace Knowledge Sharing. For OER platforms to transform educational communities, there must be a shift in the faculty, students and staff’s processes, policies, behaviors and mindsets. Though higher education is largely built on a foundation of knowledge-building, there is often resistance to knowledge-sharing. Organizational silos and a sense of “ownership” over research and ideas are typical inside the walls of higher ed institutions. Successful adoption of technology in education also requires a paradigm shift to embrace adaptive and collaborative approaches to both knowledge-building and knowledge-sharing. Faculty, staff and students need to work together to create broad buy-in – getting higher ed institutions to see that OER platforms have immense potential to enhance the student experience.

People Behind the Technology. The expanding role of digital technologies in the classroom enables greater use of data in education – from understanding more about student learning processes to leveraging institutional dashboards to track student progress. While data can offer helpful insights into the student experience, leaders cannot lose sight of the individuals represented within. Each student’s experience is shaped by the entire learning ecosystem – including their interactions with faculty and staff. It’s important to engage all of these stakeholders, to paint a full picture of the challenges, barriers and opportunities that will lead to broader engagement and adoption of these technologies.

The (often self-proclaimed) stagnant higher educational sector is on the brink of massive transformation – one centered on the next generation of learning. To embrace this new reality, leaders have an opportunity to shift their behaviors and reshape the culture within higher ed. This will lay the foundation for leveraging digital tools and technologies to personalize classroom experiences, gain insight into learning models and accelerate student success.

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