The Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the disruption of the higher education sector.
We are seeing universities across the globe are shifting to online learning digital solutions, while adapting their business models to respond to changing student expectations.
Always a sought-after sector, higher education is now an increasingly competitive space, universities who have invested in the future of online learning will succeed.
Fortunately, there is much to learn from overseas examples. Australian educators can get a glimpse of the future, where students are returning to hybrid studies online and on campus.
To discover the lessons unfolding in real time, this article explores important trends in the higher education sector and how technology can play a role in addressing them.
Trend 1: Blended learning is here to stay
As students returned to studies across the UK, only two universities went back to entirely face-to-face learning. This illustrates that blended learning, including remote learning, is the new normal, and universities that are not already planning the digital transformation of their organisation will be left behind.
Now that students have had an experience of online learning, the landscape is accelerating towards personalised, customised, and flexible learning.
“Students want to enjoy the campus experience, as well as the flexibility to study online, to mix and match to suit their lifestyle,” says Bowker, “this is a key challenge for lecturers to plan, deliver and grade courses, while universities are looking to offer outstanding student experiences and enriched learning both online and offline.”
For universities to deliver more than the traditional curriculum, will require significant clear focus on digital transformation to integrate divergent systems and processes.
Delivering tailored, flexible, student experiences
Keeping track of individual student preferences, availability of courses, as well as the method of delivery is an enormous challenge for universities.
The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) undertook a significant customer experience transformation project. With the aim to engage with all students, regardless of their age, study level, work status, country or time zone.
By rolling out Salesforce prior to the pandemic, it meant that management, IT teams and business users now have a single view of the students and can enhance their experience swiftly during the pandemic.
Trend 2: Students now have higher education expectations
A growing trend across the globe is that students want to have the flexibility to design their own course, by selecting specialisations from various disciplines. This calls on the innovative capacity of the university to deliver not only with flexibility, but tailored to each student personally and at scale. Students want to mix and match their learning experiences across disciplines, as well online and face-to-face.
Adding value to the student learning journey
By viewing learning as a life-long journey, universities can now add value beyond the traditional curriculum to attract and retain students. For example, UTS were able to design programs that better meet student needs and drive loyalty across a lifetime of learning.
“Universities are now looking for ways to bring value to learning by leveraging experiences, peer networks and business collaborations,” says Bowker. “Value-added opportunities are part of many MBA courses, where students learn from their cohort of global students, as well as pre-eminent leaders in their field, with rich peer learnings that go beyond the classroom.”
Trend 3: Courses as products
Students want the ability to curate their own courses. In response, universities are now reconfiguring courses to create more opportunities to learn. Years-long courses are now divided into micro-credentials that can be mixed and matched according to student interests. This offers bespoke learning opportunities, where students can choose their own adventure.
The rise of micro-credentials
Universities can develop tailored degree plans to suit individual student requirements. With smart technology systems, students are given clear roadmaps towards graduation, while reporting on wellbeing to ensure student success.
Smart technology allows for collaboration across departments, and brings expertise in how to simplify, deliver and measure success for students.
“Universities can now zoom in on a single student to assist in their success. Administrators can see entire cohorts across multiple disciples, and match students to the courses that will meet their needs,” adds Bowker
Trend 4: Unis increasing collaboration with industry
Leverage partnerships with corporates is on a clear growth trend. The aim is to develop courses where students are actively solving real life problems, which then leads to jobs within the sector.
Students are looking for their own return on investment for credentials. With integrated technology solutions, universities are offering value-add experiences into the courses. This collaboration with industries opens up a win-win for students, business and researchers.
Partnerships bring value for business and students
Collaboration allows students to study with pre-eminent academics, and industry leaders. This increases the relevance of the experience for students as well as businesses.
“For example, students can learn directly from leaders at startups, who are innovating in the technology sector. They can test their theories with academics who have experience from diverging industries, and get practical learnings from fellow students in real time.”
“Other great collaborations are where corporates actively upskill their staff, some offer employees access to technology courses to keep innovating in their industry,” says Bowker.
Google describes universities as the third space, outside of home and work, where learning happens all the time. It is a space where students and employees are constantly evolving.
Trend 5: Single view of the student
The student journey used to be very linear, now it is a more circular experience that spans student life and now professional life. There are many functions that interact at different stages of the journey. Technology can help to keep track of these interactions and add value at every stage.
Data to support students, enhance learning experiences
To deliver unified campus and online learning experiences, it is important to have strong, secure and centralised data solutions.
Having access to accurate data at the right time is an essential foundation for any digital transformation project. This is where universities can break down silos, increase reporting across departments, and foster cross-campus participation.
Delivering quality education
To bring highly relevant content, quality learning experiences and job opportunities at the end of the student journey is the ultimate aim of higher education.
Universities are now the connector between students and the business world.
We know that leaders have long standing relationships with universities throughout their career. With the right technology, universities can maintain their role as smart connectors, to stay in contact with students long after they have left university.
The future of higher education is to keep bringing graduates together to foster opportunities. With smart technology in place, these networks will fastrack innovation, advancing research and building smarter solutions for the future.
For more insights download the The New Business of Connected Higher Learning whitepaper.