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Canadians have high-tech expectations for higher education: poll

More than half of all Canadians say university degrees will become much more individualized in the next 50 years

July 8, 2020  by CM Staff

More than half of all Canadians (56%) say university degrees will become much more individualized in the next 50 years. PHOTO: Athabasca University

EDMONTON — According to a new study, Canadians expect more technological advancements when it comes to higher education.

These findings come from a new study entitled “The Future of Learning,” which was commissioned by Athabasca University (AU), an online post-secondary institution. The poll was conducted on the Angus Reid Forum panel, and it paints an intriguing picture at a time when many traditional institutions, parents, and students are grappling with the potential of a virtual Fall semester due to COVID-19.

69% of Canadians say they would find more value in taking courses that were specifically designed for the virtual environment, as opposed to campus courses that have transitioned online due to the pandemic.

“It has been fascinating to get a peek into Canadians’ future expectations of higher education — the ‘cutting edge’ vision of our next chapter is almost unimaginably different from our reality today, and that is exciting for us,” said Neil Fassina, president of Athabasca University, in a prepared statement.

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As for the future, 54% of poll respondents feel that just as “bite-sized” content has risen in popularity on social media, micro-degrees will also emerge, enabling people to hold eight or nine such degrees one day. Close to six in 10 (57%) also believe robots with artificial intelligence (AI) will one day teach students alongside professors. And more than half of all Canadians (56%) say university degrees will become much more individualized in the next 50 years.

Fassina is particularly interested in one key point of contention uncovered in this study, namely: the extent to which technology and AI will impact human connection. Canadians appear divided about the future of this issue.

Six in 10 (62%) Canadians feel that with technology increasingly dominating our daily lives, universities will need to re-emphasize social and emotional intelligence. In addition, the vast majority of Canadians (77%) say they learn best from connecting with others personally — be it online or in-person. At the same time, Millennials and Gen Xers (63 and 61%) are substantially more likely than Baby Boomers (49%) to say they learn best from watching videos.

“I do believe we have a greater responsibility in higher education where if people want to study, no matter where they are in life or geographically, they should have that opportunity,” said Fassina. “Making learning more accessible and flexible is the road we have chosen to pursue over the next 50 years.”