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BusinessDay: Higher education is undergoing a sea change in the digital age

By Johan Steyn, 17 May 2023

The landscape of higher education is undergoing a dramatic shift at this time, and it is happening in an era that is distinguished by tremendous technological breakthroughs. The implementation of digital technology into the educational system has fundamentally altered the ways in which students gain access to information, communicate with their instructors, and engage with course materials.

Traditional forms of higher education are faced with a number of important obstacles as a result of technological improvements. Technology has emerged as a great equaliser, enabling access to educational resources and possibilities that were previously unattainable. Education is now available to a far wider variety of students because of the rise of online courses and digital learning platforms.

Pedagogy has been transformed by technology, which has led to a shift away from the traditional paradigm that is centred on lectures and towards more interactive and individualised learning experiences. The availability of digital tools and platforms provides educators with the ability to offer content in novel ways, including the incorporation of multimedia components, simulations, and virtual reality.

Student participation can be facilitated and a feeling of community can be fostered through the use of online discussion boards and collaboration platforms. Nevertheless, this transition necessitates that teachers update their teaching practices and the abilities they already possess to effectively engage students in the digital arena. It is imperative that educational institutions invest in faculty development programmes to provide educators with the necessary technology skills.

The function of educators is shifting in response to the increasing prominence of technology in the educational system. The primary job of professors used to be the dissemination of knowledge; however, as a result of technological advancements, their role has shifted to that of facilitator and guide in the learning process.

Students have easy access to information, which makes learning information through rote repetition less important. Instead, educators need to devote their attention to developing students’ problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, and digital literacy.

Faculty members are now responsible for the curation of relevant information, the design of compelling learning experiences, and the prompt provision of feedback. This transition calls for new opportunities for faculty members’ professional growth as well as a rethinking of the criteria used to evaluate them.

The environment of testing and credentialing has been completely transformed as a result of technological advancements. Students receive rapid feedback from online assessments such as quizzes and simulations, which makes it possible for them to follow personalised learning routes.

Individuals now have access to other kinds of recognition, such as digital badges, microcredentials, and online portfolios. These allow students to demonstrate their abilities and expertise beyond the confines of traditional degrees.

While these innovations improve flexibility and recognition, they also raise questions about the value of traditional degrees, as well as questions regarding standardisation, academic integrity, and academic freedom. Institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to negotiate these complications and investigate innovative methods for properly assessing and credentialing students.

Technology’s integration into higher education is a double-edged sword. While it presents significant challenges, it also offers tremendous opportunities to expand access, enhance pedagogy, and improve learning outcomes.

Institutions must adapt to the digital age by tackling issues of access, providing faculty development, reimagining the role of educators, re-evaluating assessment methods, and promoting lifelong learning.

Embracing technology’s transformative power can position higher education to thrive in an ever-changing world and empower learners to navigate the complexities of the digital era.

If higher educational institutions fail to rapidly transform, it is my fear that they will negate their relevance or that in the decades to come we may find them completely redundant.

• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of


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