Student and parent expectations of education are changing.
At root, the assumption remains to gain a competitive advantage when leaving education with job-ready qualifications, skills and competencies. But today, often faced with scarce job opportunities and wide inequalities, students and parents are looking for more. They’re also wanting a high quality educational experience that offers personalised support, and seamless ways to plan and track individual paths to academic success.
Driven by these changing student and parent expectations, many educational institutions are engaging in a process of transformation, leading to a reimagination of the role that digital technology might play in delivering higher quality student outcomes.
At the same time, technology companies are advancing digital trends and changes that enable new approaches to be offered for virtually anything – from whole “digital architectures” to specialist cloud-based assessment platforms.
These new approaches promise a generation of great opportunities and outcomes – including innovative teaching and learning methods and improved student success.
But is all this really good news for students and parents? Can their changing expectations actually be met? The answer to both is potentially Yes.
Some affluent countries, such as the US, are watching age-old models for education being called into question and seeing educational institutions painfully restructuring or closing. In other countries, including the United Arab Emirates and India, these trends have not yet taken hold in the same way. Worldwide, organisations of all different sorts have started proactively working together to invest in digital transformation that will help students, parents and institutions themselves better prepare for the future of education and jobs.
The most successful educational institutions in the future, wherever they are located, almost certainly won’t see a need to “re-invent the wheel”. Instead, they’ll make progress by drawing on the experiences of successful digital transformation programmes in other sectors.
Specialists in the field, Mark Abell and Roger Bickerstaff, partners at international law firm Bird & Bird, offer two key lessons:
- Firstly, a working technology delivery platform is an absolute must. “Solutions need to be stable, reliable and provide high quality educational content to give any chance of success.” Any unreliability in availability, or difficulties in accessing the service, are likely to result in students and parents looking elsewhere.
- Secondly, working in partnership with a strong local delivery partner is also essential. The combination of a well-established institution with a desire to change and a local technology partner who can deliver the solution “on the ground” can be powerful. The role of the local technology partner is not merely to “embed and deliver” education services enabled by new digital solutions – it is also “to build a strong distribution network and provide ongoing support, training and quality auditing.”
Jisc (a UK-based not-for-profit digital infrastructure and services operator) has reinforced the need for local arrangements when successfully delivering digital change. Working in China, Jisc finds many universities choose to use local internet service providers (ISPs) for a range of services, including accessing overseas content. To improve quality of delivery and optimise the student experience still further, Jisc has partnered with two local ISPs to connect to a high-bandwidth network (ORIENTplus) delivering Chinese educational institutions access to UK content providers.
Two other practitioners (also working in Chinese education), Will Percy and Anne Keeling, have stressed the need for individual educational institutions to develop and keep good relationships with their technology partners. “Who are the people working for the company and do they have shared ideas about student learning?” If they don’t, “it doesn’t matter how great their system is, it won’t work for you”. Having a technology partner that is local can make building (and keeping) these good relationships much quicker and easier.
Some local partners may have particularly useful skills for educational institutions. For example, in the UK a number of digital marketing start-ups have locations near Oxford. This means the University and Oxford University Press can leverage local expertise to build best in class direct publishing distribution models, identifying the most efficient channels to acquire customers and grow. In other countries, India for example, educational institutions could take similar advantage of local software and cloud-computing expertise to deliver stable, reliable and high quality solutions that are also value-for-money.
There’s a range of benefits that local technology partners should be particularly good at delivering:
- Gold standard security certifications – to reassure students and parents that their information has the highest possible level of protection available. These will help the educational institution maintain compliance with national and international regulations and further protect data from any possible misuse
- Help for institution staff to truly understand their audiences and the marketing / public relations channels they use. This seems obvious but it involves speaking with people, mapping journeys that span both the digital and traditional spectrum, understanding emotional touchpoints and discovering where (and how) people go to consume and act on information. This is not about intuition or personal perspective – it’s about reaching out and gathering data about how people engage
- Digital content – additional material to complement the institution’s core offering, including for example mock-exams, question banks, links to other respected institutions’ content and wider perspectives from different sector commentators or specialists
- Student and parent support tools – including for programme comparisons (including suggestions for new or different academic resources and what courses might be considered in the future), online applications, student portal (including self-service tools for conducting student-related business), parent portal
- Training – personalised for students, parents and staff members. Talking face-to-face with people (and supported by how-to videos and web links) on a full range of topics – from log-on and password management to content management, assessment and reporting, data analysis, security, digital marketing
- Ongoing support – especially making software applications, cloud services, databases, security and quality audits all remain stable and reliable
So, can student and parent’s changing expectations actually be met? Potentially Yes. It’s clear that many educational institutions are looking to digitally transform, and along the way develop new business models. It’s also clear new solutions will need to be both well planned and well executed, requiring more than just content and technology. Not many educational institutions have the resources to fully develop digital solutions on their own. Therefore, partnerships with technology providers, especially local ones for “on the ground” delivery and ongoing support, will be key to successfully creating higher quality educational outcomes.
Students and parents will be taking note.