Top Education Trends for 2011

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As the student population increases and technology continues to change how we live our lives, the country’s higher education system must adapt quickly to keep up with the times.

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, a record 19.1 million students entered two and four-year colleges and universities in fall 2010, an increase of about 3.8 million since fall of 2000.

From how professors lecture to specialized programs, here’s a look at the top education trends experts are forecasting for 2011.

Accelerated Programs Gain More Steam

Accelerated degree programs entered the education scene around 1997, and have gained significant traction in recent years and show no sign of slowing.

These programs target “non-traditional” students who tend to be older and have more responsibilities (full-time job, kids) compared to the average college student.

“Colleges set up these programs so [students] can finish their degree on weekends or now online in 2 1/2 [to 3] years,” says Dr. Kathleen P. King, professor of higher education at the University of South Florida. “

High unemployment and a weak labor market have forced many older adults to return to school, increasing the demand for accelerated programs for students who want to get in and out quickly to focus on getting hired, according to says Dr. Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University.

“In 2011 there [will be] pressure to find more ways to graduate students in greater numbers and to do that in a more timely way,” says LeBlanc.

Online Classes Replace Large Lectures 

Colleges are facing severe budget shortfalls, which may force technology-hesitant professors to embrace the idea of online courses.

“With those budget cuts, cutting faculty and then hiring no faculty, it's competitive to keep a faculty position,” King says. “If we’re going to lose students, we’re going to have to change what we do to keep our jobs. There's a whole different dynamic than higher education has ever experienced in the United States.”

Online classes could eventually phase out mass lecture-style classes.

“I think more and more faculty are trying to find ways to move away from that lecture style--having more student-centered style teaching in the classroom and moving away from what some people call ‘the sage on the stage,’” says LeBlanc.

Although the experts agree that changes in teaching methods will be gradual, only time will tell how online learning will be received by faculty and students.

“Some people do quite well in online courses,” says Steve Peha, founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. “But in general, it's tough to beat the social energy of learning in a group.”

Professor Harness the Power of Social Media 

Facebook and Twitter have long been popular with college students for social and networking purposes, but expect these online giants to have a bigger presence in classrooms as well.

“Marketers in higher education know that they need to keep up with the latest technologies because their target audience--college students--tend to be very early adopters of these,” says Karine Joly, executive director and web advocate at Higher Ed Experts.

Leblanc expects faculty to use social networking to engage with students, for example, a professor might post a question to students on Twitter,  making a connection outside the classroom.

“I think we will continue to reach out to students in all those ways and I think that it's going to permeate into the classroom more and more,” he says.

King says that although many professors are still figuring out the best way to use social media to their advantage, the increased interaction with students will be a very useful innovation to help create strong communication between students and teachers.

While changes won’t happen overnight, more technology in college lecture halls is inevitable. LeBlanc says the key to success for both students and faculty is figuring out how technology best suits their learning and teaching needs and run with it.