Jan 22, 2018

What Can Educational Institutions Do to Remain Relevant in the Digital Age?

by Digital Marketing Institute

The arrival of digital has transformed the way society interacts. For those charged with providing education that is relevant and applicable, this poses challenges to the default traditional model.

Digital can be a differentiator. Becoming a digital leader can help a college, university or training provider stand out from its competitors and have the edge when it comes to college selection.

So for educators, the quandary is how to remain relevant in a digital age. And how can they win over key stakeholders resistant to adapting to a new mindset and raft of innovative technologies?

Despite increases in federal aid, the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities in the US is falling for the fourth year in a row - National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

1) Develop & Implement a Digital Strategy

While adopting and understanding digital technologies can help progress digitization, the real change needs to be made at the strategic level. This requires a vision led by senior management that filters down through departments at all levels.

Even for the most established educational institutions, digital is having an influence on the way things are done. Take the University of Cambridge, a university with centuries under their belt made digital strategy part of their mission in 2016. The aim of this was to:

  • Build and maintain a shared understanding of the needs and priorities
  • Support students throughout the learning cycle
  • Ensure quality and equity of the student experience
  • Provide maximum effectiveness and efficiency of resource for students, staff, and administration
  • Enable and propagate innovation

Realise that while a digital strategy can help drive change, faculty staff may be resistant to taking ownership of unfamiliar technology and feel burdened with yet another demand on their time. In addition ensure that IT departments are involved, but in the right way - as supporters of the introduction of change.

To help drive this transformation, ongoing training supports should be embedded into the digital strategic plan. Change requires knowledge and a recent report estimates that technology skills have to be updated every 3 years to have continued relevance.

While this shift in strategy may seem like a daunting prospect, the benefits of creating and implementing one can help an institution differentiate itself from competitors and enjoy a good return on investment.

2) Create digital ambassadors

 Create digital ambassadors

With change comes resistance and the success of embracing digital can’t just be left to assumptions and hope. While digital transformation is a well-known concept in the corporate sector, the education sector seems less aware of the threat a lack of digital adoption poses.

Creating in-house ambassadors that believe in the power of digital to bring change and drive innovation can go a long way to progressing transformation. Ambassadors can also help to combat the reluctance to adapt to a new digital strategy.

According to The Chronicle Review, digital technology can be used to increase understanding of the humanities as well as open new areas of research. Resistant faculty members may be won over by demonstrating how digital can enhance their research, promote interdisciplinary collaborations and increase student engagement with their field of study.

When it comes to using digital platforms, most academics are aware of the need to have an online audience for their research. They benefit from being connected with a cohort of fellow experts around the globe through social media channels. These connections allow them to consult about forthcoming research, publication opportunities as well as accessing materials that they may otherwise have difficulty tracking down.

Ambassadors in-house that can relay the benefits of digital to the institution but also to the everyday work of employees across disciplines can go a long way to paving the way for digital.

3) Investigate and Use New Technologies

Technologies such as VR and AR can be used to provide a more immersive digital experience to existing and prospective students, while cloud-based IT can help the adoption of a modular and scaleable approach to data.

For example, VR technology is already being used to allow potential students to take virtual tours of campus facilities. Existing students could use VR for virtual field trips while VR tours could engage with alumni by showing the changes which have taken place on campus since graduation, as well as allowing them to continue to experience the university traditions such as homecoming rallies or large sporting events. Existing and potential donors could be wooed using VR to “visit” future capital investment projects like new athletic or faculty facilities.

When talking about new technologies, this extends to social platforms. While many educators use social media platforms, are they the right ones? Today’s digital natives are on a variety of networks and use them all differently i.e expiring content, visual, real-time etc. Know your audience and engage with them on platforms that they use in a meaningful way.

After all, how can universities meet the expectations of digital native students if they fail to speak in the same language? Technology can add value to a student/educator relationship and a student’s experience, so learn how to use it!

4) Adopt New Learning Methods

 Adopt New Learning Methods

Online learning is becoming more popular amongst students and busy working professionals as a way to upskill. Universities or colleges that provide an opportunity for collaboration through online learning offer a blended model that provides the best of both worlds.

For example, Renmin University in China created blended courses that combined class lectures with exploratory project-based and collaborative learning. The result? 98% of students took part in online discussions and activities which correlated with good performance.

Online learning and digital innovation can also improve diversity among learners by making courses more accessible to students with disabilities. While online lectures and seminars allow professionals and working students to follow a course at a time, place and pace that fits in with their lifestyle.

Technology has the power to make education more efficient, scalable and accessible. These benefits can make or break an institution, so considering alternative options that can enhance the learning experience can help to remain relevant in the digital age.

Learning institutions should not be afraid to embrace digital and instead recognize the many ways it can be used to enhance professional reputation, attract new students, engage with alumni and attract donors.

Failing to implement a digital strategy may result in what digital natives call ‘FOMO’ – ‘fear of missing out:’ on potential students nationally and globally, on attracting staff members, donors and research collaborators.

Digital is inescapable. Stay relevant and future-proof your institution by finding a way to embrace digital that suits your institution’s needs.

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