Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Ed

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Were it so simple in the world of education. I often compare (naively?) the educational field with the field of medicine. In the medical world, the aim is to save the patient’s life or cure his/her disease. Cutting edge approaches are welcomed and doctors endeavour to practice these approaches as much as their working context allows them to.  Team work is no oddity, for it is not only nurses and doctors who provide health care, but a wider group of professionals, from lab researchers to anatomo-pathologists who work behind the scenes.

The educational world is changing rapidly and yet there are times when I feel as if left behind in time. What is holding education back?

Roscoria (2013) points out the following challenges in regard to adapting technology  in higher education, which were highlighted in an Educause  Learning Initiative in the 2013 Horizon Project report:

1. Faculty training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues to rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.

2. The emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching outpace sufficient and scalable modes of assessment.

3. Too often it is education’s own processes and practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

4. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

5. New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of higher education.

6. Most academics are not using new technologies for learning and teaching, nor for organizing their own research.

Perhaps it is the first and fifth points that immediately jump out at me. I have yet to become familiar with a curriculum that openly acknowledges the role of digital literacies across the board; equally, despite MOOCs being a constant headliner in journals and newspapers, there are still many educators who are not familiar with MOOCs nor the concept of such open learning.

Another aspect that I wonder about, is why so many institutions do not offer more blended courses to better suit the population? Often institutions do have the hardware and the professionals who are able to offer such courses. I believe that these changes will occur – the challenges and barriers will fall on the way as increasingly a student population wishes to study online, or at least within a blended approach of F2F and online learning. There is no lack of platforms and the technical requirements for students at higher education may be simply met with training sessions on campus before the course begins (should this be necessary).

Then there are Open Educational Resources. These are not meant for only a developing world, but for all.

One needs to bear in mind that only a selected group in developing countries are privy to OER – not only are there  regular struggles with hardware, electricity maintenance and wifi, but often those who would most benefit don’t speak the language which OER are published in. Nevertheless, this too is changing as more universities around the world open up their libraries and resources.

Personally I find the sixth point difficult to understand – for many years now academics are able to access libraries online, for instance. What I do find curious is how in academia, skills that academics use, are not taught to students more systematically.  For instance, how best to use search engines and not merely Google. A simple example,  but one which I regularly encounter when speaking with under-graduates. By the same measure, academics who claim to support open learning will continue publishing in closed, paid for journals. Blogging? Definitely not part of academia. These are but some contradictions which I encounter and am perplexed by.

Michael Horn, co-director and co-founder of Innosight Institute, believes that many of the challenges and opportunities for higher education will eventually happen as major changes will occur at secondary level. Horn also points out how:

“University professors, while they’re really good at research, are not really good at teaching and learning,”

adding that

Different students have different learning needs at different times,” as well as pointing out   that that situation may provide big opportunities for disruptive models to step in and offer more efficient solutions to individualized instruction. Disruptive models, in this case, being online education which opens up opportunities for more members of society to study.

Online learning may be understood within different models as Hill (2012) describes:

The last challenge I’d like to point out for now, is how we are living on the edge of Web 3.0 yet so much of what happens in classrooms still belongs to a world of Web 1.0. In Gerstein’s  (2013) discussion on User Generated Education, she includes the following visual which clearly defines each stage of the Web and how it is being used in education:

At a time when so many changes are happening around us, when iPadalogy, whether for the better (or not) is rapidly spreading across countries, when MOOCs are raising their heads everyday to the point of even offering accreditation,  it is time to take these changes into more serious consideration through conversation and reflection. Each challenge will provide further opportunities for both students and educators, contributing to a more open world of knowledge.


Gerstein, J., 2013, User Generated Education

Hill, P., 2012, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View

Horn, M., 2012 Disrupting College – Video of Horn’s talk

Roscoria, T. (2013) 6 Challenges to Higher Ed Technology Adoption

Wiley, D.

Warmoth, B., 2012 Educause 2012: 5 ways online learning is disrupting education


If you would like to read more on OERs and other Open Access for Education,  and Change in Education, please visit, re-visit,  use, re-use, re-mix, re-vise and re-distribute!


8 thoughts on “Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Ed

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  5. You know Ana Cristina, I read this post a while ago, and ever since I’ve been reflecting it, almost on daily basis. I would like to add a couple of ones to your list:

    Because faculty training is ‘training’. What we are actually trying to achieve in these change processes is unlearning and relearning, re-framing identities and roles. Training does not achieve that. We need to go deeper, as we are dealing with people’s identities. Too often we try to “convince” the other party that our new way is the way to go. It does not work, and in some cases may even create stronger anchors for old ways of being.

    New open technologies are implemented in an environment that does not support their affordances. I agree with what Sangrà & Bates suggested in their ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education’ ( that bend new technology to existing practices, and you’ll just end up with more costs and more work. This is because technology is a tool, a thing too often forgotten in these technocrazy times. It helps you to do something better. Don’t you just wonder why the ‘C’ from ICT is too often neglected in learning? This same goes to web 2.0: people forget it supports the ‘C’. This is also why you get those research papers of “no significant difference when using technology in education”: New technology, old practices.

    I won’t even go to OERs. Let’s just say that the bigger and more prestige you get, the more you start to worry about IP issues and legalities.

    • Hi Marko,

      Apologies for my late reply – only now did I find your response!

      Regarding faculty training: yes, training may have become that extra burden to teachers’ daily life, in particular tech training. However, if they don’t take advantage of it, they will become redundant in their roles as educators. I firmly believe that education has to keep up with the times. Education is not merely classroom management – if curricula met students’ real life needs and interests more directly, perhaps there would be less need of so much “classroom management” (though it is always there and yes, required in degree, depending on context).

      Touching people’s identity is something that you express well and which has been on my mind, especially having been in a developing country doing EdTech training. There is a group in Lisbon who are carrying out research right now in this field; it is that bridge, i.e. for educators to feel the need and understanding within themselves, that brings about change. Tools? Are tools – yet important to understand for what they can do.

      And yes, the “C” in ICT is too often ignored or forgotten. It is that “C” which has brought about such opening of walls and thoughts in our world today; that “C” which has the power of change in Education and institutions.

      Thank you for your time, sharing your thoughts and giving me a link to read up on – always appreciated! 🙂

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