“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” The words of Charles Darwin are strikingly relevant to the world of higher education. Colleges and universities are in the midst of a pervasive and radical change driven by innovations in technology. Institutions must respond to change in a way that helps shape the future of higher education or find themselves in the precarious position of obsolescence.

In the ninth annual survey on the state of online education in America, Allen and Seaman (2011) reported that online enrollments reached 31.3% of total higher education enrollment in the Fall of 2010. This means that online enrollments increased at a pace that was “ten times that of the rate in all higher education” (Allen, 2011). The chart below depicts the consistent growth in online enrollments from the years 2002 to 2010, and it shows that online education is no longer a trend but a new standard.

In fact, the survey results show that two-thirds (65%) of chief academic officers (CAO’s) consider online education to be critical to the long-term strategy of their institution.

The flexibility and accessibility that online learning provides tends to attract students who are searching for ways to fit school into their busy lives. Not surprisingly, of the nearly 18 million undergraduate students enrolled in higher education, 32% of them work full-time and 25% of them are over the age of 30 (Hess, 2011). Indeed, “the most significant shift in higher education is the massive growth in the adult-student population” (Hess, 2011, para. 1). The internet is clearly opening the doors of higher education to people who would not otherwise be able to fit school into their life.

Here are some other interesting facts related to the technology-driven changes in higher education (Taken from the Cisco Connected World Technology Report)

Approx. 3,000 college students (18-24 years old) and young professionals (21-29 years old) were surveyed, representing 14 different countries.

– 66% students say that mobile devices (e.g. laptop, smartphone, tablet) are the “most important technology in their lives”

– 49% students report that the internet is close in importance to water, food, air, and shelter; one-third claim the internet to be as important!

– 55% of students say they could not live without the internet, indicating it is an integral part of daily life

– Approximately 90% of students and young professionals have a Facebook account

In short, the survey reveals that technology is an integral part of our lives. Students want information now and they want it whenever and wherever they go. Higher education institutions need to accept that online education, mobile learning (m-learning), and social media are not to be feared but embraced. This technology is here to stay.

According to Nielsen (2011), smartphones account for half of all mobile phones (49.7%) with Android devices holding 48% of the market and Apple holding 43% of the market. Multifunctional devices that enable internet access will continue to rise in popularity and significance because people rely on them for news, business, and education.

Technology has condensed time and space, making it possible for people to engage in academic, economic, and social activities across the globe in real-time. The wheels of change are certainly in motion and technology is driving a shift in the way institutions deliver educational services and facilitate learning (e.g. adaptive learning, gamification, academic/social engagement networks); technology is also influencing what is being taught and researched.

Arthur E. Levine, President of the Teachers College of Columbia University, stated:
“In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, the Yale Report of 1828 asked whether the needs of a changing society required either major or minor changes in higher education. The report concluded that it had asked the wrong question. The right question was, What is the purpose of higher education? (Levine, 2000) .

Institutions must respond to change or become irrelevant. This is the fundamental issue. As Levine (2000) stated “we must actively pursue answers, if our colleges and universities are to retain their vitality in a dramatically different world.”



Allen, E., Seaman, J. (2011). Going the distance: Online education in the United States, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/goingthedistance.pdf

Hess, F. (2011). Old school: College’s most important trend is the rise of the adult student. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/09/old-school-colleges-most-important-trend-is-the-rise-of-the-adult-student/245823/

Levine, A. E. (2000) ‘The Future of Colleges: 9 Inevitable Changes’. The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 27