Improving Student Experience in Higher Education

Ken Moire // Digital Strategy
Visualization of higher ed student interacting with technology

July 2023

Digital Transformation for Higher Education Institutions

Digital transformation in higher education is revolutionizing the way that students learn. When higher education institutions (HEI) invest in student experience and education technologies, they can positively impact the school's reputation and return on investment (ROI).

Digital Spending in Higher Ed

Artificial intelligence, adaptive learning, and virtual/augmented reality are exciting technologies radically changing the education landscape. Yet, while these technologies are already shaping methods and tools, the investment in education technologies and a school's ability to create student experiences that deliver value must catch up to stay relevant today.

Harvard Business Review describes 2020 as the "clear inflection point," where the value proposition of higher education came under scrutiny as students, educators, and government leaders came to grips with virtual learning and the effects of the pandemic.[1] While many schools were already investing in digital before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated the pace of digital spending and adoption.

Although estimates show spending in EdTech will double between 2020 and 2025 (from $227B to $404B), spending in digital represents only 4% of the total spending in education and training.[2] Given the challenges to traditional learning models today, the gap threatens to derail institutions from meeting their goals.

Positive Student Experiences Increase Educational Value

In a previous article , I described how self-service experiences for businesses deliver better customer value. The same is true of higher education. The key to creating a positive student experience is providing students with the tools and resources they need to succeed. While learning tools have been moving online long before COVID-19, educators faced additional challenges when students started staying away from the classroom.

This pivot meant that to deliver value, HEIs had to change the curriculum to meet students where they were (geographically, in the classroom, or online) and with a personalized approach. This change required completely rethinking traditional teaching methods, including classroom-based and lecture-based learning, to virtual, hybrid, and multi-modal learning.

As technology and teaching methods evolve, schools must place student experience at the center to stay relevant. A positive student experience increases the perception of value and can enhance an institution's reputation. In turn, this improves the ability to attract more students, top faculty, researchers, and funding.

Digital Enablement in HEIs

Digital enablement in higher education means empowering students with the tools and resources to succeed – not only in learning but also in navigating their student careers, from onboarding to graduation, with minimal third-party intervention. Tools that use data to automate and facilitate learning, communication, and workflows streamline processes and provide greater adaptability in learning models. In addition, technology affords students the flexibility to make their education work alongside other priorities like work and family life.

While the level of investment and digital maturity varies by institution, there are areas where institutions are making strides in the student experience, as described below.

Learning Management Systems

Most institutions have already adopted Learning Management Systems (LMS) that provide access to course materials, facilitate communication between students and faculty, and allow students to submit assignments and assessments.

LMS are commonplace at colleges and universities and central to the student experience, with studies revealing that 56% of the faculty report using LMS daily. The percentage of students who use an LMS in most or all courses is also 56%.[3] Given the varied types of learning, these are impressive adoption rates. However, the value of LMS over time will rest on the ability of these platforms to evolve with new learning trends and be customized to meet the needs of students.

If LMS have become ubiquitous in higher ed, what other technologies can enhance the student experience and deliver educational value?

Adaptive and Personalized Learning

Adaptive learning platforms provide learning programs tailored to the student. Artificial intelligence and machine learning in adaptive learning platforms monitor student progress and identify where students need additional support.

On the other hand, personalized or customized learning takes student input to tell the platform their preferred learning method, giving them more control over the experience. Adaptive learning has shown particular success for historically disadvantaged students.[4]

Both approaches help students avoid falling behind and improve course-completion rates.

Hybrid Learning

Also known as blended or mixed-mode instruction, hybrid learning combines online materials and interaction with physical (face-to-face) classroom methods.

This technology-mediated learning experience increases the acquisition of knowledge by students. Reports have shown that student achievement is higher in blended learning experiences when compared to either those fully online or entirely face-to-face.[5]

Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are bridging the realms between the digital and physical. These technologies provide access to the world and engage students in previously unattainable ways.

Geolocation data overlaid onto maps and interactive 3D models enhance our physical world to provide meaningful context and insights. Can't make it to the Louvre in Paris? You can still explore the Mona Lisa with a gaming console headset.

The possibilities of these technologies are nearly endless, provided the resources needed to create content and obtain the required hardware to power these experiences are available to teachers and students.

Impacting the Student Experience

When adopting a digital and innovation mindset, schools need look no further than their departments to identify areas to improve the student experience. For example, read the case study for an application Spry Digital created for a renowned prehealth program.

Activating data across functions, such as single sign-on for software, advisor scheduling, or access to digital libraries or knowledge bases, can deliver value with tangible results. In addition, incrementally fixing minor student experience issues and improving workflows can create the perception of a more significant change.

In conclusion, investing in education technology enables students and creates value. Of course, technological advances warrant an examination of teaching methodology. Still, if colleges and universities can focus on the areas that improve the student experience, they can begin delivering better value today.


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    Meet the Author: Ken Moire

    Ken Moire, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Spry Digital, has over 15 years of experience in creative services, ranging from brand strategy, brand identity, product design, marketing, user experience, interactive design, and development.

    Ken currently leads our digital strategy efforts and brings his user experience expertise to the table. He combines his creative background, vision for the future, and attention to detail to our client engagements. Over Spry Digital’s history, he has helped envision and evolve brand identities, voice, and messaging.