Since 2020, much like every other system and industry, education has had to shift priorities and focus on the convenience and well-being of students.

Over the past two years the education industry has been focused on virtual learning and teaching experiences. With many established systems and working technology in place, what are the next steps for higher education in these changing and unstable times?

Emphasis on choice and flexibility

In 2022 students will be looking for flexible choices that still keep their well-being in mind. Many will expect a variety of options for online, hybrid and in-person courses. While a reasonable number of universities were prepared to move to an online learning environment when the pandemic hit, others struggled to catch up. E-Learning exposed some flaws such as equitable access to technology and course quality.

Future and current postgraduates will be looking for universities that are committed to building them up and offering flexibility in their programmes. According to а 2021 report published by Bay View Analytics, 73% of students “somewhat” (27%) or “strongly” (46%) agreed they’d like to take some of their courses in a fully-online format in the future. Additionally, for face-to-face courses, 68% of students said they’d like to see increased use of digital materials or resources.

Sustainability as a priority

With a climate crisis engulfing us, universities need to adapt their curriculum and shift their priorities. Their focus needs to be 100% on the environment. Reducing their carbon footprint is one trend that is likely to be a priority in 2022. Minimising air travel with more distance learning options and international guest speakers tuning in virtually could be just a few ways to address this issue.

We are also likely to see changes in curricula to start forming a sustainability mindset at the beginning of students’ careers. “2022 will be a decisive year to educate our students on the new, big challenges in a changing world, where biodiversity and preservation of the planet are henceforward the main issues. It supposes a form of radicality in the transformation of our programmes and of our research, one of the current trends in education,” says Isabelle Huault, Dean at emlyon business school (France) for BusinessBecause.

Hybrid learning

In 2022, universities are likely to continue to expand and evolve their blended and hybrid learning formats. Many of them had to rapidly transform in 2020 and 2021 and this trend will continue to develop and become a new norm. A lot of attention will be directed towards improving video and audio quality to make interactions better.

According to Gennadii Miroshnikov, a technology manager at London Business School (UK), working on digital innovation, enhancement and quality assurance projects, the main focus will be on refining the learning environments and closing the gap between remote and in-class students’ experiences, while making both cohorts feel comfortable with each other and be actively engaged.

A leap in technology

The ever-progressing world of technology has not left the education sector behind. Our capacity for technological advancement is constantly expanding and we might be on the verge of a big leap, which will strongly benefit higher education.

According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, by the fall of 2019, there were 7.3 million students enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. With no clear end in sight for the pandemic, those numbers will likely grow by the end of 2022. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) might find their place in higher education sooner rather than later, to make distance learning an experience closer to in-person learning.

Focus on building soft skills

Universities will be expected to find a way to help students develop some of the most valued skills in the workplace like problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, people management and empathy, among others.

However, the growing trend towards online education is proving challenging for teachers when it comes to enhancing their soft skills. Educators need to find a way to encourage students to work together and face-to-face in order to nurture the development of such highly sought qualities. Those who manage to find that balance between online and in-person will offer a competitive advantage in higher education, making their students more employable, thus improving their alumni success rate.

We are living in extremely turbulent and volatile times and it is never certain which trends will stay and which ones will prove temporary. But it’s important to be prepared for the future of work and education as it is currently shaping up to be.