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Higher-Ed Learning Trends Associations Need to Know

By / Mar 11, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A recently released report looked at 18 trends, technologies, and challenges that will affect higher education in the next five years. But they’ll also have an impact on associations, as those students become members.

Earlier this week I was pointed to an article on FastCompany.com that took a look at six technology advances in higher education that are preparing students for the future of work.

Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to great mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage.

The article was based on findings from the NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition, released last month by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

The report explored 18 topics, including key trends, significant challenges, and technological developments, that are “very likely to impact changes in higher education around the world over the next five years.”

As I scanned the report, I couldn’t help but think about how these same trends, technologies, and challenges are also relevant to the association meeting and education space.

After all, many of these college students will someday become association members, and they’ll expect their organizations to deliver the same type of learning experiences. Here are a few ideas from the study I found particularly relevant to associations:

Redesigned learning spaces. “Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to great mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage,” according to the report. “Institutions are upgrading wireless bandwidth to create ‘smart rooms’ that support web conferencing and other methods of remote, collaborative communication.”

In other words, these spaces create an environment conducive to polysynchronous learning—a mix of face-to-face, asynchronous, and synchronous channels of online communication that allows students to participate from remote locations.

The report also notes that these new learning spaces have benefits. For example, a three-year study at Ball State University showed that students were more likely to be engaged in innovative learning spaces.

One specific type of space that allows for this type of collaboration and project-based learning is “makerspaces,” which the report defines as “informal workshop environments in community facilities or education institutions where people gather to create prototypes in a collaborative, do-it-yourself setting.”

The primary goal is to allow students to engage in creative problem solving and higher-level thinking. Universities are increasingly building these types of spaces on campuses. Associations should consider how they can incorporate similar spaces into both their meeting and education offerings. (Or, applied more broadly, should association offices include industry makerspaces that members can use?)

Deeper learning approaches. A second trend is a shift toward deeper learning experiences. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines deeper learning approaches in the higher-education space “as the mastery of content that engages students in critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and self-directed learning.”

For example, instead of having students take multiple-choice exams that rely on fact memorization, colleges are moving toward “experiences that cultivate a genuine curiosity in students so they are excited to explore subjects further.” The means that instructors no longer simply dispense information; rather they become learning guides and brainstorm alongside students.

Consider how your organization can inject this type of deeper learning into your education sessions at meetings. For example, don’t just let the experts be those on the panel who are sitting in the front of the room. Have your attendees share their expertise and collaborate.

Personalized learning. Last week I wrote about how some meetings are giving attendees personalized session picks based on their location and sessions they previously attended.

This report introduces a different type of customization: personalized learning, which it defines as “educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”

Its purpose is to give students more autonomy in their learning experience in hopes of increasing their motivation and engagement with the subject matter. However, the report points out a challenge that will make implementing this difficult: scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only begun to emerge.

Despite this, the report offers a few examples that illustrate personalized learning in action, including an American Psychological Association/University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee collaboration that allows psychology students to take courses that mix a self-paced learning tool with personalized feedback and support from instructors. Six months after course completion, students performed 16 percent better than conventionally taught students, and the knowledge gap between high- and low-income students narrowed significantly.

While personalized learning may not be as feasible in a face-to-face environment like an association’s annual conference, think about how your group could incorporate elements into its e-learning program.

How do you think these trends and developments in higher education, or others you have come across, will affect the association meeting and learning space? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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