September 27, 2016
Prepare to be disrupted: How digital is reshaping education
By: Lydia Tallant

Did you hear about the university with 17 million students? It’s not a traditional university, of course, but an online one. This digital university, Coursera, as well as others like it—including edX, Udacity and Khan Academy—serves millions of students, offering hundreds of free courses from renowned universities including Stanford, Duke and the University of Manchester.

What does this online educational option mean to bricks-and-mortar universities? Simply put, it’s a threat … at least to those institutions that are unprepared for the digital disruption now hitting the area of higher education.

Digital challenges

Today’s global Education market is experiencing unprecedented levels of disruptors affecting the way in which universities compete and operate – and the majority of challenges to the traditional university are all related to the rise of digital:

  • Reduced barriers to entry: With no physical infrastructure required, as well as fewer faculty, and with the ability to offer a single course to thousands of students, expect more new entrants in the field of higher education.
  • Demanding digital natives: The Millennial generation, as well as those students now entering university, were weaned on digital technologies. They expect educational experiences to be as flexible, mobile and engaging as the learning and entertainment technologies they grew up with.
  • Digital complexity and uncertainty: Institutions of higher learning often move and change quite slowly with a focus on maintaining tradition - while new technologies and applications seem to appear almost daily.
  • Digital professional development: The skills needed to implement and run advanced technologies are often in short supply and developing those skills internally takes time.

How digital can improve education

Digital has the potential to improve the educational experience in many ways. Here are just a few:

  • Online classrooms make high-quality education available to more people.
  • Mobility enables learning anytime, anywhere.
  • Web-based learning makes more frequent, flexible interaction among students and faculty possible through online forums, often in real time.
  • Analytics can help to transform back office functions, allowing administrators to create a 360 degree view of the student to enhance their university experience.
  • Social media helps to build collaborative communities, increases participation and encourages debate.
  • Blended learning—combining in-person learning with digital—provides pedagogical variety and improves retention of knowledge.

Advancing your students’ educational experience through digital

What is the best way to handle digital disruption in higher education and plan your own digital future?

  • Begin with a vision that broadly sets out a digital roadmap – consider technology that works for the curriculum today, while ensuring it is flexible enough to evolve and shift to reflect trends in learning patterns and meet future requirements.
  • Implement IoT technologies across multiple layers of the campus environment to connect and inform university decision making to improve the day-to-day life of students, faculty and administrators.
  • Evaluate the student experience by assessing services from a student’s point of view; acquire knowledge about the needs of students, and harness their creativity.
  • Leverage leading digital marketing strategies to engage individuals throughout the student lifecycle and deliver a best-in-class integrated digital campus experience
  • Implement targeted analytics, leveraging behavioural and performance data analytics to support and guide student success, while attracting and retaining students.
  • Partner wisely: share investments, risks and experiences across schools and technology partners.
  • Finally, be transparent in everything you do. Involve faculty closely and provide targeted professional development to support the shift in focus towards digital capabilities. Succeeding in the digital age is heavily dependent on building trust and engagement among all the relevant players.

In the third part of this series, we will look at how digital is reimagining learning potential for the future by exploring the student experience. 

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