July 16, 2021 - 564 views|
With these five mindset shifts, higher-ed institutions can immerse digital learning into their strategies and operations.
The news that online learning platform 2U is acquiring edX, a nonprofit platform run by Harvard and MIT, is yet another sign of the momentum of digital learning.
Among the deal’s synergies is 2U’s access to edX’s global learner base of 39 million registered users and 120 million annual website visitors. This increases 2U’s reach and stands to lower student acquisition costs, which typically account for as much as 20% of online program managers’ revenues.
Often overlooked amid the headlines, however, is the reality that technology is only part of the change that digital learning is inflicting on higher education. Equally important is the change in mindset among colleges and universities as they shape the direct-to-consumer (DTC) learning experiences that will engage today’s students.
How to make the higher-ed shift
To reimagine the college experience and make the transition to digital learning, higher-education leaders need to think like a tech company would. The following mindset shifts will propel them forward to immersing digital learning into their strategies and operations:
Out with the old culture, in with the new. This change is among the toughest for colleges and universities to execute. Many university leaders we talk with focus exclusively on the technology that the DTC model requires. But the reality is that DTC is an outside-in approach that puts the student experience first, ahead of any administrative and departmental priorities. It brings changes that ripple across campuses, especially the institutional mindset.
Thriving in today’s higher-education environment requires all campus functions — from recruitment and admissions to financial aid and academics — to move quickly and in seamless, connected ways. Reimagining the student experience will require organizational changes that break down siloes and emphasize collaboration.
Be willing to take risks. While bold moves don’t come naturally to higher-ed institutions, they can be an important differentiator. For example, when the pandemic halted college entrance exams, a nonprofit testing organization used the hiatus to overhaul the paper-based exams that millions of students took annually at its 7,000 centers. Our team built a new-generation platform that digitized the entire testing workflow, including online and mobile apps designed to appeal to Gen Z learners accustomed to multitasking and virtually interacting with their peers. As higher ed begins to emerge from the pandemic, the company is ready with a business model fit for today’s students.
View the CIO’s role as strategic. In our recent research, higher-ed leaders said they believe industry disruption will only accelerate; however, we see too many higher-ed institutions that still limit their CIOs to overseeing back-office operations. A talented CIO can help institutions think out of the box by spotting new business models and investment opportunities to drive enrollments and revenue.
For example, Arizona State University’s widely admired CIO helped ASU break ahead early in online learning with innovative programs like its Global Freshman Academy. By providing CIOs with a seat at the table, higher-ed institutions and their governing boards open themselves to emerging ideas such as adopting blockchain for digital credentials or applying mixed-reality simulations to learning.
Reassess your marketing strategies. Glossy direct-mail brochures are a common and costly rite of passage. The median public university spends 14% of its marketing and recruiting budget on student lists purchased to identify prospects, with one public university’s student data costs topping $2 million from 2010 to 2018. Building predictive analytics capabilities can help organizations reach targeted student populations more intelligently and fill seats more effectively than the basic demographics of lists.
For example, St. Mary’s College credits predictive analytics with increasing its applicant pool. When data showed that prospective students who visited the Maryland campus were more likely to enroll, St. Mary’s doubled down on personalized campus tours that deliver a more on-brand experience. Investing in data modernization, automation and robust platforms requires greater capital investments upfront, but it also creates better and long-lasting pull as universities seek to attract lifelong learners.
It takes a platform. The single biggest lesson to learn from educational technology players is the ability to respond to market conditions with agility, and platforms are at the heart of that flexibility. Ed-tech companies are able to pivot quickly and scale their business models in new directions.
For instance, 2U built momentum and scale by positioning itself not just as a provider of online degree classes for individual students but also as a provider of cloud-based software as-a-service (SaaS) platforms to colleges and universities. The strategy elevates 2U from a services-only business model to the SaaS model.
Now colleges and universities are beginning to take steps in the same direction: Last fall, ASU launched the University Design Institute, through which it scales the innovative approaches and solutions it has developed for its own campus to help other universities create online offerings and is even partnering on community-based projects such as supply chain improvements in Ghana and across Africa. Thinking like a tech company means investing in the right platforms and building the ability to scale.
Capitalize on higher-ed strengths
The most successful tech companies also know and relentlessly develop their strengths, which is why you don’t see Apple rolling out a social network or Netflix designing smartphones. It’s no secret that education’s disruptors offer curriculum options that are fast, dirt-cheap and job-ready. Coursera estimates students can complete a Google Professional Certificates program by studying five to 10 hours per week for eight months or less.
Ed-tech clearly knows its market strengths. At the same time, two-thirds of students between the ages of 19 and 30 still think a college degree is a good investment, whether in-person or virtually. Higher ed’s brand value remains strong in the wake of COVID-19: In another survey, 93% of students polled — both enrolled in fully online programs and studying remotely due to COVID-19 — expect a positive return on their online education investment.
The scalability enabled through digital can help colleges and universities press their pedagogic advantages and compete with online competitors’ lean operations. For example, at a time when applications to full-time MBA programs have declined, enrollment in the University of Illinois’ online MBA program has reached 4,000 — up from 114 since the program’s 2016 launch.
The key to capitalizing on the momentum of digital learning is to reimagine a student experience that taps into today’s youth by reshaping your institution’s mindset and approach to education.
Download our latest research report "The Work Ahead in Higher Ed: Repaving the Road for the Employees of Tomorrow."