A veteran of the higher education technology space looks at the year ahead.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rory E. McCorkle

During my career in the educational space, I’ve seen countless technological innovations that have impacted professors, universities, and college students. Advancements in higher education are often exciting—what better way to learn than by stepping into a digital world? These advances, such as gamifying learning and virtual reality, are intended for the greater good of our future generations, but they often present challenges to the educational market. (I’ll touch on these later).

But these challenges aren’t preventing the progression of forthcoming higher education trends. Throughout 2019, three higher ed trends that will really ramp up and develop include:

  • The increased use of immersive learning;
  • More prominent adaptive learning; and
  • Technology-assisted remote proctoring.

Let’s talk about each trend in more depth.

Immersive Learning

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are the epitome of educational evolution. Gartner states that by 2022, 70 percent of organizations will experiment with immersive technology. I remember about a decade ago when AR and VR were only a fantasy to professors and their students – technologies in a far-off world that would never be used in their classroom. Fast forward to 2019, and the use of AR and VR will be picking up heavily, particularly for classrooms and exercises that are based on tasks and skills. The prices of the equipment are much more financially accessible, and Internet2 shared that around 46 percent of colleges already have them today.

AR and VR help collegiate students truly enjoy learning. The immersive learning technologies stand out from traditional classroom methods by overcoming language barriers and accommodating visual learners. They also focus on practical approaches instead of just theory, which learners can often forget. The use of AR and VR enables students to experience the concept being taught, and we all know experiences stick with us more than trying to memorize a textbook definition. They add another dimension to the field of e-learning and empower organizations to incorporate environments that would be too costly to recreate in the real world.

Training in a virtual environment increases levels of workplace safety, too.

Assessment technology providers deliver both education and certification exams. At my company, one of our certification clients provides licenses to crane operators, which as you can imagine, is a high criticality environment.

For the first time ever, they are piloting the use of AR and VR as a training endeavor for public safety. This allows future crane operators to be clear about what they are being taught and understand how to apply it in real life, while also expanding the availability of these opportunities – normally limit to circumstances when the candidates can access the actual cranes that cost millions of dollars. Imagine how this extends to med students, who are already using such technology, or at technical colleges for welders.

In the year ahead, AR and VR capabilities will continue to expand into the education space.

Adaptive Learning

Like immersive learning, adaptive learning is another methodology that’s reshaping higher education. When you think about it, adaptive learning is an ideal form of learning. The ability to provide students with their own personalized course, made specifically for their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and engagement patterns is nearly a perfect world for them. Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence (AI) to adjust content to each individual’s needs so it’s not a one-size-fits-all model of learning.

AI machine learning will continue to get smarter. When reading students, it will be able to better differentiate real activities from junk as a natural progression of the technology evolution curve. AI and machine learning get more sophisticated every month through the continual increase of computing power and the ability to process data in a way that we never could before.

While adaptive learning and AI are beneficial to students, their advances can cause ethical conundrums we aren’t yet prepared to answer.

A couple of months ago, I was speaking with a data scientist who works at a technology company. He uses AI and machine learning to judge different factors in the way a candidate reacts to an interview question. AI can sense your attitude—if you’re nervous about something, if you’re lying, etc.—which all sound great for interviews, but may cross the line of an individual’s privacy.

AI is also on the cusp of detecting medical information and may recognize that a person has a medical problem. An employer may consider the higher healthcare costs of one with a medical issue, resulting in the applicant not getting hired. This can transpire in higher education as well.

These controversies of AI being too smart for our own good are something we need to discuss solutions for—especially for the protection of our students. For this reason, pursuit of the responsible use of technology needs to remain a priority.

Remote Proctoring

Enrollment in online courses is increasing, with a third of all students now taking at least one online course. The flipped classroom and hybrid programs are becoming more common. This means more students are taking exams remotely, thereby increasing the potential for cheat. Remote proctoring is an effective way to enhance integrity in today’s global online classroom and will continue to prosper in 2019.

I’ve seen a few circumstances in my work where various ‘bad actors’ have tried to penetrate the system to get answers to tests. Students have written answers on their hands, had friends dress to look like the test taker so they could take exams on their behalf, and participated in more clever tricks like this. The things people will come up with to cheat during a test will only get better in the coming years, so it’s important remote proctoring systems keeps up.

The technology in remote proctoring solutions can watch multiple test takers versus a person playing the remote proctoring role, who can only view one student at a time. The number of students a remote proctoring system can observe may increase in the near future for efficiency’s sake. Though some universities haven’t even adopted remote proctoring solutions for online examinations, I anticipate more coming on board, especially as schools will need to do all they can to maintain or increase enrollments.

There are several other trends in higher education that this year will bring about, and I’m excited for the industry to continue progressing for the betterment of our students.

Rory E. McCorkle is the senior vice president of certification and education services for PSI. During his career, Rory has worked with over 750 testing organizations, including well-known universities and colleges, licensing bodies, and renowned certification programs.