Earlier this month, the Motivis Learning team had the honor of participating in this year’s Eduventures Summit in Boston, where instructors, college and university leaders, and technology vendors from across the country had the chance to speak about and wrestle with new practices, models, and technologies meant to “remaster” higher education.

Throughout the event, the central theme was that despite alarmist headlines that the higher education sector is failing, there is still significant innovation and experimentation happening. The challenge remains, however, to disseminate and institutionalize the approaches and tools that show real promise in addressing the genuine problems of efficacy and affordability in higher education.

In our lunchtime session, we presented on the promise and practice of personalizing the learning experience. It’s something we’re particularly passionate about, so we are always eager to share what we’ve learned in our collaboration with learning organizations across the U.S. and around the world. You can download our presentation here.

The conversation throughout the Summit was wide-ranging and provocative. Here’s our take on the four most important takeaways that resonate with what we see in our work.

Competency-based education or not, schools are innovating around teaching and learning

Though the CBE market has not grown as quickly as some early observers predicted, it remains a hot topic. A steadily-increasing number of schools are exploring how to move beyond a pure seat-time model, and are experimenting with learning models that emphasize demonstration of mastery. It’s the diversity of these models and experiments that is most striking.

CBE continues to defy easy categorization, frustrating efforts to gauge the early success of CBE programs and replicate emerging best practices. This diversity, however, speaks to an exciting and positive trend: Schools are focusing on how to improve teaching and learning, innovating around assessment, and devoting resources to rethinking how they can serve their students most effectively.

Is there really such a thing as an “online learning market” anymore?

Academic programs delivered fully or mostly online are now commonplace, even mainstream. Enrollment growth in such programs outpaces the growth in more traditional, in-person programs. But nearly two decades into the online learning revolution, why do we still treat delivery mode as a defining factor in academic innovation?

Online delivery helps drive accessibility, and puts education within reach of many learners for the first time. Most students now expect at least some of their experience to be digital, but just “going online” does little by itself to improve learning and student success. As a result, maybe the time has come to de-emphasize the idea of a distinct “online learning market” and instead focus on how technologies and flexible delivery models can drive better outcomes and lower costs at scale.

Student experience is not an accident or an afterthought

Regardless of what you teach or how you teach it, student experience is ultimately what matters. For higher ed institutions, taking the student learning experience seriously can differentiate in a crowded and competitive market for enrollments. For students, a learning experience that addresses their goals, challenges, and needs both inside and outside the classroom shows great promise in improving retention and completion, and boosting employability after graduation.

It’s not just the content, technology, or programs you provide to students, it’s how they’re all woven together to create a genuine learning experience. At the Summit, we heard again and again about the emergence of the “experience officer” and “experience designers,” suggesting that schools are taking a more deliberate and holistic approach to cultivating their students’ experience.

EdTech is messy, and that might be ok

It’s become common, almost cliche, to bemoan the abundance of educational technologies. And it’s a fair criticism: There are so many vendors and competing solutions that don’t work well together, creating every IT director’s nightmare. The flip side, however, is that the specialization and proliferation of technologies means instructors and students are more and more likely to find the right tool for their specific goal or task.

In an attempt to maintain some semblance of order in their data and IT management, institutions have typically discouraged this proliferation. Instead, they’ve prioritized enterprise-wide process and order, which tends to stifle experimentation in teaching and learning. But, maybe we’ve been viewing the problem incorrectly.

As a number of Summit presenters suggested, rather than accepting this trade-off, it’s time to rethink what’s happening with enterprise technologies. Instead of imposing rules and process that limit innovation in the classroom, enterprise systems need to become more flexible platforms that overcome interoperability problems and more effectively balance administrative and pedagogical needs.

If you were at the Summit and want to continue the conversation, or if you missed it but are intrigued by these issues, let us know. We’re always eager to connect with other innovative educators.