Monday, October 12, 2020

The Pandemic-Induced Digital Transformation in Higher Education

Both students and universities have been deeply involved in digital transformation since the beginning.  In fact, the origins of the internet can be found in the labs of great research institutes and universities, and Facebook was first conceived by students at Harvard University. 

As students and university staff (and the rest of the connected world) rapidly adopted these internet-based, wireless, mobile and cloud-based applications in their personal lives, they also recognized the value these innovations could offer all aspects of operating a university.  Software solutions for enterprise resource planning systems, facilities management, course management and enrollment systems were all rapidly implemented, and classroom and teaching technologies followed slowly behind.  

Many universities and professors have moved slowly to implement and employ teaching and learning technologies.  This slow adoption, however, is rapidly changing as a result of both competition and the global Covid-19 pandemic.  The pandemic has reprioritized just about everything.  Every university today is now upgrading and rethinking operations and classroom strategies.

While one might guess that universities and staff are the source of reluctance to move into the digital era, often it is students and parents that are hesitant to embrace online learning environments.  They want more and expect more from an expensive investment in a university education.  Dr. Jack Crumbly, Associate Professor and Management Department Chair at Tuskegee University explained to me that parents are often looking for universities to do more than just educate their children.  They want help transforming them into responsible and self-sufficient adults.  Students, on the other hand, are looking to leave the house and to develop an active social life where lifelong personal and professional networks of friends and relationships can be established.  All of these motivations point to a need and desire for a continuing if not enhanced physical presence.  

The key theme I keep hearing from all of my interactions with university staff is the desire for great "experiences."  Parents want to invest in a university experience that will help transform their children. Students also want a transformational experience, although their motivations, and the types of desired experiences are likely different.  Let's not forget that educators themselves want a better teaching experience and all of this still needs to be operated on a budget.

The big want for many institutions of higher learning today is for better physical experiences enhanced by digital technologies, rather than replaced by them.  This guidance should give focus to entrepreneurs and innovators.

Once the massive pandemic-induced learning curve becomes manageable for educators, then serious optimization and improvement will become their focus.  Look for a great deal of accelerated innovation in the near future from higher education, and a complete rethinking effort around operating models and budgets.  

Watch for my new interview series on Higher Education and Pandemic Inspired Digital Transformation later this week.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.