Digital strategy in FE: Embracing the change
The pace of change in technology is affecting every industry and education is no different. Students’ expectations have and continue to change.
The speed with which Further Education has embraced this change has not necessarily been as rapid as in other sectors. Certainly, some institutes are starting to take advantage of the available technology and are making it relevant to the student experience in order to help deliver better outcomes; other institutes have been more cautious in how they move from traditional delivery to digitally-enabled delivery. This, of course, is not surprising – there will always be an adoption curve with some spearheading change, and others lagging behind. ’Digital’ represents a huge opportunity for FE providers to both do things better and do better things.
Paul McKean, Head of FE & Skills at JISC, observed: “For FE to embrace and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital, they will need to be more Instagram than Kodak.”
So a shift in mindset to one of digital-by-default is a prerequisite to organisational transformation, and to ignore it could prove to be quite perilous.
"Take advantage of the available technology - in order to help deliver better outcomes"
What may be slowing FE providers’ transformation to digital is the difficulty of forming a clear, cohesive strategy that applies to all areas of their delivery. Much of the work or discussion to date has been around classroom technologies and associated hardware, with FELTAG, the government’s subsequent response and the House of Lords’ “Make or Break Report” all looking to address how digital skills become embedded in programme delivery. However, to develop a truly cohesive digital strategy providers must also look at their back-office systems which are fast becoming more than back-office. What if the digitisation of back-office could bring not only efficiency savings, but bring alive critical information that measures and drives the quality of learning and student success? That would allow us to have a holistic view of learners and teach them better, be more responsive to their needs and enable learners to manage their own learning. What if ‘back office’ really needs to be ‘front office’ delivering real-time data to both learners and tutors and joining up their digital student experience?
Delivering a digital vision for FE is something Tribal has been working on for some time now, in order to help providers embark on their own digital transformation with that cohesive strategy. And it starts way before the student even walks through the doors to enroll. Recruiting the digitally innate generation of students has changed with technology not simply taking the processes online, but enabling providers to start adding value via the process. So, for the digitally engaged enrolment, by the time enrolment day comes around, students have been kept informed and engaged, have already made contact with peers on their course through providers’ private social networks, and are ready to learn. And that’s just the start of their experience. Those very same private social networks provide safe and secure environments for collaboration, communication and student support, enabling the organisation to deliver the vision for student experience. And this also stretches to the notion of the ‘parallel VLE’, conversational learning spaces that unify the student experience through communication and collaboration.
"To develop a truly cohesive digital strategy providers must also look at their back-office systems which are fast becoming more than back-office"
The point of a cohesive digital strategy, of course, is to ensure providers are improving the quality of delivery and influencing positive outcomes. Naturally, this needs to be achieved without jeopardising the financial position of the organisation, so the adoption of digital technologies must help achieve operational efficiency and excellence. To improve the chances of meeting this aim, providers may look at the mapping of the digital student journey; optimising student touch points; the reporting and management evolution this facilitates; as well as the technical infrastructure options available to glean the maximum benefits from their digital strategies.
The digital landscape may pose some daunting questions for providers, but it is undeniably influencing learners’ decisions, experiences and expectations when it comes to post-16 education. Those providers able to embrace a digital-by-default mindset and adopt a cohesive digital strategy will find their organisation benefitting from more streamlined operations, a student experience that more closely matches student expectations, and students that are more engaged through learning and communication channels appropriate to their generation.
"By the time enrolment day comes around, students have been kept informed and engaged, have already made contact with peers on their course"
So one question FE leaders might wish to consider is, “How well does your digital strategy meet the expectations of your students?” This will undoubtedly be a catalyst for self-assessment, debate and sometimes difficult decisions, but the resulting strategy should be beneficial for all stakeholders well into the future.
Tribal recently hosted Digital Empowerment Week – a series of webinars designed to help FE leaders and managers gain insight into the digital technologies changing the face of Further Education. The content made available is relevant to Student Services, Marketing, Admissions, Quality, Finance and MIS departments and can be accessed below:
- Recruiting the digitally empowered learner (webinar recording)
- Is your admissions process counter productive? (removed)
- The future of teaching, learning and assessment (webinar recording)
- What if back office needs to be front office? (blog)