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Digital Transformation in the Education Sector

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Written by Niels Christian Laursen

Digitalization has significantly impacted the education sector in the last years - and, especially the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way of teaching, attracting students, as well as interacting. Even though we've seen in practice how digitalization has helped students stay in school during the pandemic, there are still challenges in the education sector that could be improved by following and implementing digital trends. In this blog post, Umbraco Gold Partners Great State, Jaywing, Pentia, and Spindogs are sharing their thoughts on challenges in the education sector and how digital transformation can help overcome them.

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Digitalization has touched nearly every aspect of our lives. More than 3.5 billion of us have access to the internet, and more than 5 billion are estimated to have a mobile device, half of which are smartphones. This level of connectivity has influenced how we see the world around us and engage with others.

So it’s no wonder that these digital transformation trends have heavily impacted the education industry, too. From primary school educators to higher education, the digital transformation has affected classrooms and how teachers reach their students. These changes have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed schools in countless countries worldwide. As a result, many schools and teachers turned to technology to help students bridge the gap and stay in school.

In this blog post, Umbraco Gold Partners Great State, Jaywing, Pentia and Spindogs-  all of which have worked with education services providers to improve their digital offerings - have come together to share their thoughts on challenges in the education sector and how digital transformation can help overcome these challenges. 

 

Challenges in the education sector 

According to Doug Nestor, Head of Business Development at Great State, the education sector is currently experiencing a variety of challenges, both from the world outside its walls (e.g. political, economic, technological and cultural changes) and within its walls. This host of forces continues to interplay amid the uncertain backdrop of a global pandemic.

Key among these challenges are:

👉 How to prove the value of their offer – This is a particular challenge given the rise of new entrants into the education sector, the eroding importance of a degree certificate, and the increasing transparency of the university experience. Education providers will face increased difficulty recruiting and retaining high-quality students.

👉 Fragmented structures between faculties and departments – This often leads to complex, siloed legacy systems, and duplicated processes. Many universities will struggle to make centralized, holistic changes, even when they recognize the need to do so. 

👉 How to assess students effectively for the modern era – Assessment is at the core of education, but many will grapple with how to assess appropriately across faculties, different course types, and learning styles with the shift to more modular learning, not to mention how difficult it is to reduce cheating in the digital age.

👉 How to cater to increasingly diverse needs – Universities continue to recognize the importance of and difficulty of attracting and catering to a variety of student needs, whether those be educational, social, or pastoral. 

👉 Limited resources and skills to drive transformation – As universities reach an inflection point in their evolution, driven by the forces of the modern world, many must transform themselves with limited money, time, and skills. 

👉 Underinvestment in digital – The investment in physical vs. digital for universities has been out of line for a long time, with impacts across the board from cybersecurity and information governance to inadequate user experiences for the modern age.

 

The impact of COVID-19 on educational institutions

COVID-19 has been an accelerant rather than a disruption to the macro trend. COVID-19 or not, student expectations of organizational or brand experiences have changed radically. Speed, ease of access, personalization, intuitive design, and integration are rules of delivery that, consciously or not, most people and especially younger age groups expect of service whether it’s a bank, a retailer, travel or education.

Doug Nestor, Head of Business Development at Great State

Brian Taylor, Managing Director at Jawing, says that the impact of COVID-19 is real and well-publicized for students, but for the establishments themselves, it has meant a significant shift not just in digital learning, but in the way students and their parents research and choose educational institutions. To respond to the demand, many schools and universities have embraced digital open days, virtual tours, and digital access to student ambassadors.

Within education, some changes made by COVID-19 have remained in the UK, such as online parent evenings and distribution of key materials to parents through webinars. Universities can take similar ''wins'' by keeping the digitized lecture and WhatsApp group for discussion guides.

Brian Taylor, Managing Director at Jawing

Andreas Rask Lundsgaard, Business Development Director & Partner at Pentia, brings up the crucial impact of reduced social interaction between students, peers, and teachers on educational institutions due to COVID-19.  Social interaction at schools and universities promotes good communication skills and teamwork, dialogue and discussions, and overall well-being. If we remove it from the equation, we are removing a huge, valuable part of the education system. 

On the other hand, Andreas Rask Lundsgaard notes one positive impact of COVID-19: The rise of online learning and education ultimately reduces negative environmental impacts from manufacturing and transportation.

You significantly decrease your environmental footprint if you don’t have to transport yourself to your educational institution and the materials and books that you’re using are in a digital format.

Andreas Rask Lundsgaard, Business Development Director & Partner at Pentia

Digital trends can help overcome the challenges 💪

Technology can be an effective tool to help reduce workload, increase efficiencies, engage students and communities, and provide tools to support excellent teaching and raise student attainment.

Emily Harris, Marketing Manager at Spindogs

Emily Harris shared 5 examples of positive digital transformation that we should expect more of in the education sector: 

 

Automation 

The classroom has plenty of areas where automation can improve student and teacher experience. There are also roles outside the classroom that could benefit from technological enhancement. From onboarding a new student to helping people understand how and where to access school resources, these processes can easily be simplified and streamlined by way of automation to further free up educators’ time for more impactful work.

Information-sharing 

Much of the information that was exclusive to teachers in the past is now available to students online, which challenges the old model of teachers presenting content and students absorbing it. As a result, educators are now leveraging technology to create a different role for themselves in their classrooms. Instead of using class time to spoon-feed students information, technology is helping teachers use their time with students to advance problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills - exactly the type of higher-order skills that leading education specialists say should become the goals of education in today’s world.

Virtual reality 

In the era of digital devices, we have an opportunity to enable better learning with technology. Virtual reality can be used to enhance student learning and engagement. Virtual reality education can transform the way educational content is delivered: It works on the premise of creating a virtual world (real or imagined) that allows users to not only see but also interact with it. This type of educational immersion can motivate students to deepen their understanding.

Personalized learning 

When big data analytics and artificial intelligence are used correctly, we can create personalized learning experiences. It’s likely that every student would enjoy a completely unique educational approach fully tailored to their individual abilities and needs. This could directly increase students’ motivation and reduce their likelihood of dropping out. It could also offer tutors a better understanding of each student’s learning process and enable them to teach more effectively.

Chatbots 

Chatbots and virtual assistants offer students an outlet to share their stress and can improve their motivation to study and help manage their mental health. One additional benefit of having chatbots at universities to answer students’ questions is the large volume of data they can collect on student concerns and interests. Analyzing this data can help universities create innovative new services and programs to improve students’ educational experiences.

The need to deliver a compelling and engaging virtual experience that complements, enhances, or at the very least replicates, a real-world visit by a prospective student is a must. Beyond static images and video walk-throughs, this must deliver an immersive, two-way experience that showcases the best of the school or university and allows truly remote research.

Brian Taylor, Managing Director at Jawing

Security and protection against breaches in the education sector 

Doug Nestor from Great State suggests that utilizing cloud technology can help mitigate security concerns because newer cloud services require the cloud vendor themselves to manage underlying infrastructure security.

Nestor reminded us of the key  principles of defense that are crucial for all educational institutions: 

  • High-level defense – e.g. endpoint security, MFA, SSO, network security tools
  • Least privileges possible – grant the fewest possible permissions required for individuals to do their job
  • Robust processes – ensure leavers/joiners/role-change events are associated with an immediate review of access & privileges

Many industries can improve their digital security, and these principles are as applicable to the education sector as they are to any other.

Technology is not yet at a level where security can be ''ensured'' – but organizations can make best efforts to secure their systems and prepare for a breach so that if and when it happens, they are well-drilled on what to do and how to act.

Doug Nestor, Head of Business Development at Great State

Taken together, there is a lot of potential for the education industry to increase its digital offerings, engagement, security, and more in the wake of COVID-19. We hope that you got some ideas and inspiration for future solutions and digital improvements in the education sector. The possibilities are endless…

…especially with Umbraco 🚀

Umbraco allows you to get an outstanding digital setup for your educational website and deliver great digital experiences to attract and keep students. Go check out what makes Umbraco great for the education sector for further inspiration.

Last but not least, we’d like to say a big thanks and a #H5YR! to Pentia, Jaywing, Great State, and Spindogs, who took the time to share their thoughts and ideas on digitalization in the education sector 🙌

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