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7 digital trends shaking up the future of education

Digital trends are something Marek Kowalkiewicz watches very closely. As the founding director of QUT’s Centre for the Digital Economy, he has a bird’s eye view of the obvious (and not so obvious) digital trends that are likely to shake up organisations – and tertiary education – in the future.


So what are the ones to watch?


Speaking at the 2021 EduTECH conference, Marek identified seven educators should note. He also argued that instead of just ‘digitising’ existing models and processes, educators should instead ‘digitalise’ by looking at customers, partners and challenges anew to seek new opportunities.


1. New value propositions


Expect players from outside education to move in on - and disrupt – established business models.


Like Google. Some years ago the tech giant said that it would no longer hire employees based on whether someone had a degree. It went a step further in 2020 when it launched 6-month courses (or ‘Career Certificates’) that it says are the equivalent of a four-year higher education degree.


Beginning with courses in data analytics, project management and UX design, all delivered online through a partnership with Coursera, Google has pledged to prepare learners for entry-level roles in technology-related disciplines much faster and much cheaper than expensive US college degrees.


There will be other competitors coming in to offer similar different value propositions in future.


2. New channels


There are new ways to reach students that go beyond just websites and mobile phone apps.


For example, smart assistants could help educators reach out to their students through many different channels. Marek says universities are looking at how to reach out to students through smart devices to deliver content in places like the kitchen, bedroom and while watching TV, to enable student education through completely new life-integrated channels for learning.


3. New styles of interaction


The rise is digital means that the style of interaction with students is in the process of changing. 


With a new generation of students that have lived their entire conscious lives immersed in technology, they are more likely to want to be able to dip into learning for very quick periods – even down to one or two minute tidbits - rather than sitting down for a full 30 minute block. This challenges educators to deliver content that fits the consumption patterns of new learners.


4. New types of customers


Could robots be your future customers?


While not yet obvious for the education industry, the likes of robots and algorithms are already making themselves into customers. Smart fridges, dishwashers and the like are the customers that now shop to restock themselves if they run out of milk or dishwashing liquid. Marek asks if helper robots need to be taught how to operate in new environments, will educators be the ones teaching?


5. Customers as competition


Have you heard of If not, you should probably check it out. It’s where university students are already actively buying and selling lecture notes and resources online. The customers of the university – students – are in this case becoming the direct competition.


This could happen more often in future. Or could universities somehow capture that potential (in this case, of students who are potentially great at explaining or summarising key information contained within a lecture) by working with these content providers to deliver greater value?


6. Platforms as competition


We’re all aware of the platforms that are rising to deliver education content.


Backed by strong platform brands, they effectively bring together content from multiple education providers and deliver them online through a platform. This makes it difficult for providers to gain brand recognition, as customers are going to the platform rather than them for the content.


7. Employees as competition


The academics, teachers or tutors down the hall could be your next wave of competition.


Marek says with all the platforms available around the world, the education space is not immune from employees asking why they should work for a large organisation when they could deliver paid content to others for a fee, paving the way for new tiny players compete with large organisations.