The Campus of the Future: Digital Immersion

By Casey Evans
Sr Director of Strategic Learner and Program Mobilization, EdPlus at Arizona State University

There has been no time in history more deserving of a revolution than today’s world. Ripe with unknowns, but fertile with technology, the places where people find themselves tucked safely away from others can present all of the necessities of a digital classroom: access to the internet, personal computing devices, and a groundswell of content created to enable learning to continue. While almost a quarter of adults do not have access to broadband internet at home and this digital divide must be addressed,  digital immersion coursework is still our best tool to enable students to continue learning during this time of physical separation.

While distance learning took off at the tail end of the 20th century, and the new millennium brought technology that allowed asynchronous digital learning, it was mostly the non-traditional institutions that attached themselves to the phenomenon and made themselves “online colleges.” That very phrase disturbed the status quo, but since its inception digital immersion learning has grown rapidly beyond the bounds of “online colleges,” providing opportunities for educators to expand access to content and for learners to establish their own path, learn from reputable award-winning faculty and contribute to their local and global communities.

Simultaneously, educational technology has grown rapidly as start-up minded education ideators design tools and systems to increase learning efficacy and ensure student outcomes are met and exceeded. The result of all this effort and energy is the campus of the future: asynchronous, connected learning systems which enable students to get the best of both worlds - high quality education from research faculty who are making real-time discoveries that change the world, and the flexibility to be able to work, parent, maintain hobbies and live their lives.

With years of experience behind their belts, online innovators work tirelessly to engage learners in ways that are beyond the pedagogical structures of the classroom. From a one-person kitchen lab guided by faculty video interaction to vlogs detailing the result of those experiences that can be submitted for grades, digital immersion learning allows for individual attention. Faculty and academic support staff are empowered to be responsive to each person and give one-on-one feedback that is so often missing in the traditional campus settings. Tools and resources exist to deter cheating and ensure academic integrity exists in the digital world. Modality decisions put the student in the driver's seat, allowing them to take more control of what, when and how they want to learn.

The campus of the future is here today, open and ready to accept learners who are eager to continue to hone skills, master new techniques or acquire knowledge. As learners pivot to digital immersion opportunities, they are telling us what we should already know: “online learning” is simply the how, not the product itself. The product is education. And soon, perhaps, we won’t need to differentiate learning by its delivery.