Current events

The university of the future will be more digital, flexible and specialized

  Photo: UOC

A UOC research project, in collaboration with around fifty international and MIT experts, outlines the shape of higher education beyond 2020.

Jordi Rovira

The university of the future will be more digital, more flexible and more specialized. These are some of the main conclusions of a research project presented on Wednesday on the university of the future, which for a year has been prepared by around fifteen researchers from the eLearn Center, a UOC online education research and innovation centre, in collaboration with around fifty international and MIT experts.

Lluís Pastor, Director of the UOC eLearn Center, has warned that, according to some studies, tumultuous times are coming in higher education, and in ten years half of today's universities might not exist. Therefore, there was great interest in carrying out an analysis of changes and trends in the university, both onsite and online, and the post-2020 scenarios.

Innovative project

For the first time, such an analysis is approached from a triple perspective: social, educational and technological. Thus, a first study (Future Scenarios for Digital Learners) explores the consumer's digital training needs. A second (Future of University Teaching: Update and a Roadmap for Advancement) focuses on future education trends and, finally, the third study (Future Learning Environments), jointly with MIT in Boston, focuses on the website architecture necessary to accommodate these needs.

Decalogue of conclusions

The lead researchers on the studies – Francesc Santanach (eLearn Center Experimentation Laboratory Manager), Xavier Mas (eLearn Center researcher) and Lourdes Guàrdia (Director of the Master's Degree in Education and ICT at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and eLearn Center researcher) – have summarized the main conclusions in this Decalogue.

  1. More practical, tangible and interactive education

    Today's students demand a more tangible online education. Therefore, it should be more practical and based on experience and with greater social interaction between students.
  2. Second digital gap: skills

    Researchers warn that we are facing the second digital gap, this time not caused by access to technology but by having a command of digital skills. This gap is independent of the generational factor and can be due to many reasons. Hence, there is a growing gap between the skills, above all digital skills, required by the professional world and those obtained currently in the formal education system.
  3. Learning everywhere

    The penetration of smartphones and mobile devices as the main forms of access to the Internet and technology, as well as the proliferation of computing tools in the cloud, social networks, social media platforms and new free apps and services, together with greater demand for immediacy, are opening the door to more ubiquitous and delocalized ways of learning.
  4. The end of university exclusivity

    Universities, administrations and companies will have to develop a shared professional skill assessment and credentialing system. The university should not be the only actor, as the professional context will be a key element in this process. Education operated by new agents (open micro-credentials) can have a strong impact on a field hitherto almost monopolized by the university.
  5. Greater involvement of companies

    Learning must fully reproduce the real scenarios where students will put their skills to the test. Curriculums will have to be designed with companies, methodologies will have to be applied in simulated or real contexts, and so on, with the help of technologies that go beyond the physical classroom and online platforms, such as virtual and augmented reality, gamification, simulations, and communication and cooperation tools. University-company agreements will break down these barriers.
  6. Personalized training without calendars and with 24-7 tutors

    Training must be personalized: specific training that resolves specific needs immediately. It will require flexibility and agility with a more open, modular and granular range of courses (OER, MOOCs) not subject to calendars and that can be recognized in the framework of formal programmes and with tutors available 24 hours a day. A specific range of services according to needs (modules, contents, tutoring, assessment, certification, personalization, and so on).
  7. Internationalization and specialization

    As a result of the growing internationalization of education, agreements with local and foreign institutions will be needed that offer joint qualifications and exchanges. We must seek individual strengths and not expect everyone to provide everything. Each one should specialize and provide excellence in a discipline, which will allow better training and more competiveness in the labour market.
  8. Beyond the courses

    The classic training model (set of courses to attain a qualification) must be diversified. The university must offer a new range of services such as micro-credentials (of skills, knowledge...), e-assessment (data observation and collection to assess activities, not only in exams) or lifelong learning (personalized, discontinuous and at different paces), etc.
  9. Less rigid models

    The rigidity of current education platforms, which mirror onsite models (course structure, educational resources, professor's explanations and interactivity), will be replaced by LMX (Learning Method eXperience) applications where learning methodologies will be implemented and use experience will be adapted to the requisites of each institution. Thus, it will be possible to apply emerging methodologies.
  10. The use of apps grouped in repositories

    In the education environments of the future we must be able to train by using professional and educational apps grouped in repositories similar to the current app markets and select and incorporate them easily as learning resources.

International experts

These studies have involved around fifty prestigious experts from Holland, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy, among other countries, who have been interviewed or have participated in workshops. Moreover, the researchers of social and educational disciplines have identified over a hundred case studies around the world and have analysed a wide range of scientific literature, as well as the motivations and needs of students and dozens of reports by the OECD, UNESCO, the European Commission, Deloitte, New Media Consortium and Gartner Special Reports, among others.

The presentation of these studies took place in the framework of UOC Research Week, which from 18 to 22 April and under the title Imagine the university of the future brings together in Barcelona UOC researchers and international experts to reflect on the university of the 21st century.