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Opinion: Student demand, technology changing higher ed

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Like never before, student demand and technology are drivers in higher education.

With more people turning to online learning to acquire new skills, keep up with industry trends and complete their degrees, it’s no surprise the industry is constantly evolving. It’s this constant evolution that is keeping higher education institutions on their toes. And those who fail to rise to the occasion do so at great risk.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in higher education serving the nontraditional or working adult student. These students, 25 years and older, represent 35% of enrollment in higher education in 2021, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. With online courses and programs, these students have the world at their fingertips.

In the online space, there are no geographic barriers. Students can learn from anywhere in the world, on their own schedule and at their own pace, allowing them to balance their education with work, family and other commitments. Those who choose on-demand, self-paced options can start a class today and complete coursework and assignments on their own time, rather than adhering to a strict schedule. They also have the opportunity to customize their learning experience to their individual needs and preferences and to learn in ways that suit their personal learning styles.

Even with busy lives, these students appreciate the community they find within the online environment. Today, these students are telling us what they expect from their higher education experience. And we need to deliver.

Thankfully, technology continues to advance, making educational endeavors more accessible, flexible and engaging. Students can access course content on virtually any device, at any time and from anywhere. And the innovations in this space seem to be endless.

Learning management systems not only provide an incubator for learning and engagement between faculty and staff but now help universities track student progress and identify at-risk students early, allowing us to intervene in their situations before it’s too late. From virtual reality simulations to gamification, online learning is using technology to make education more engaging, interactive and effective. These technologies motivate learners, offering immersive learning experiences that simulate real-world scenarios, allowing students to apply their knowledge in a practical setting.

With the use of advanced technology and a wide range of multimedia resources, online learning platforms can now provide individualized learning paths and content recommendations based on a student’s unique learning style, progress and goals. This not only improves the learning experience but also increases student retention.

But students aren’t just learning course content; they’re developing technical skills, such as navigating learning management systems, collaborating in virtual environments and using online research tools. They’re learning to network, think critically and problem-solve. These skills are becoming increasingly important in the modern workplace, making online education a valuable way to develop skills that can enhance employability.

Higher education, specifically online education, seems to be changing at lightning speed. But we need to remember that education has always evolved, and those who dared to enter new territory often experienced great reward.

The bottom line is that our higher education institutions cannot thrive in the future by doing what we’ve always done in the past. The modern learner is looking for an experience that fits well into their busy schedule, adds value to their life and profession, and engages them in ways that enhance their learning.

If we don’t pay attention to our students’ needs and use the tools that are being created, we risk missing out on opportunities to serve this growing population, be innovative in our delivery, and create products and services that will meet the new demands placed on the industry. These students have been the greatest joy of my professional career. I believe they’re worth the risk.

Lisa Tyson is the dean of Evangel University’s College of Online Learning. She can be reached at


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