Future Universities: Changing Times Means Adapting Education

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Female student doing homework online from the comfort of her home


In a technology-driven world that is increasingly global and interconnected, higher education has adapted. It’s now possible to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree without setting foot on a college campus. The new age of distance learning and automation has led schools across the globe to offer classes online, giving millions of people easier access to education so they can advance or change their careers.

Future universities will continue to pioneer the use of virtual technologies that bring the classroom to the student. These changes will have profound effects across the education spectrum, from how programs embrace distance learning to how professors approach delivering subjects that previously were taught only in person. Here’s a look at some of the major trends that are shaking up the traditional university system.

Reinventing Distance Learning

In the past, distance learning meant correspondence classes, mail-based programs which date back to the 1800s. The underlying technology may have changed, but the concept remains as successful as ever. Participation in online college courses continues to grow in popularity. The Babson Survey Research Group found that over 31 percent of all college students took at least one online class in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. That was a 5.6 percent increase over the year before, and the 14th consecutive yearly increase. Half of the online students, more than 3 million, were taking online classes exclusively.

Colleges know that online programs are in demand, and they’ve risen to the challenge by providing online degree options across a spectrum of fields. The potential benefits of earning a college degree are many, including greater responsibility, more rewarding careers, and more challenging work. Access to online degrees puts these and other rewards within reach. In addition to knowledge and training, advanced degrees generally lead to a higher paycheck: a 2018 ThirdWay report found that if you have a college degree you will, on average, earn $344,000 more over your lifetime than someone holding only a high school diploma.

Easier access to affordable degree programs allows students from all walks of life to embrace higher education. For parents, working adults, and other non-traditional students, it’s now more practical than ever to earn a university degree. Those who take advantage of the universities of the future will tap into technological and other advances that continue to reshape the world. As machines handle more menial and repetitive tasks each day, people who want to shift or advance their careers will need more specialized education.

Along with specialized learning comes something called competency learning, which goes beyond rote memorization and ensures students feel confident in the subject matter. To incentivize competency, professors leverage gamification, which seeks to use technology and such game concepts as scoring points and competition to keep classes compelling. The faculty of future universities will prepare their graduates for careers in the modern workforce by utilizing these and other new methods to draw in students and ensure they absorb the information they need.

Embracing Automation and Artificial Intelligence

New technologies allow students to realize many of the benefits of in-classroom learning while they study at home or other remote locations. Distance learning allows people to listen to a lecture, view a slideshow, and break into discussion groups completely online. In addition, rather than needing to visit massive, on-campus libraries, digital libraries make texts available instantly from any internet-connected device.

Professors no longer need to worry about whether their students complete assignments. Software lets them know when students are opening documents online, how long the documents remain open, and whether students are looking at other computer windows during a webcast class.

Future universities afford students more accessibility and opportunity. One example is the modern technology that allows professors to customize the learning experience to the needs of individual students. For example, if one person requires more time during a quiz or other special accommodation, such as closed captions for videos, those features are only a click away.

Building Virtual Learning Environments

The virtual learning environment has evolved quite a bit since the 19th century’s college correspondence programs. Online courses are either synchronous or asynchronous: synchronous classes meet at specified times and usually include audio/video conferencing with the entire class, while asynchronous classes have deadlines the students have to meet on their own. Synchronous classes have become feasible only in the past few years because they require that participants have access to high-speed internet and devices such as smartphones or computers with video cameras.

Some schools have developed proprietary software that makes it easy for students to submit assignments and receive grades digitally. Many online classrooms use forums in which students are able to collaborate with peers and ask questions. Others provide discussion boards that encourage deeper insight into the topics under study. Combined, these tools allow students to experience in-classroom learning environments from anywhere in the world.

Another way future universities can enhance their learning environments is through interdisciplinary courses and events. No single subject exists in isolation, and the content in an online course may draw from other subjects. English literature, for example, cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of historical context. Business acumen requires a combination of skills, from data analysis to written communication. Savvy degree programs make a conscious effort to the end the practice of “siloing,” where individual departments become too inward-focused and don’t take into account the bigger picture or work with other departments. The interdisciplinary approach to curriculum development allows for a more comprehensive, contextual education that better prepares students for success in their careers.

Learn More About Universities of the Future

Maryville University has been providing high-level education for nearly 150 years. With a robust selection of learning programs, you’ll find an exciting array of opportunities for whichever future path you choose. Discover how you can take advantage of Maryville’s online degree programs to advance your career and achieve your goals.


Campus Technology, “Technology and the Future of Online Learning”

Forbes, “College Graduates Are 177 Times More Likely To Earn $4 Million Or More”

Forbes, “The Silo Mentality: How to Break Down the Barriers”

The Guardian, “The University of the Future Will Be Interdisciplinary”

National Center For Education Statistics, “Back to School Statistics”

ThirdWay, “Is College Worth It? Going Beyond Averages”

U.S. News & World Report, “Study: More Students Are Enrolling in Online Courses”