Universities’ ability to offer these new learning experiences is possible in large part thanks to emerging technologies such as analytics

Analytics: The secret sauce to unlocking new educational opportunities

Universities’ ability to offer these new learning experiences is possible in large part thanks to emerging technologies such as analytics

The higher education market has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, as many signature college experiences were abruptly shuttered and replaced by online learning. What was once inconceivable – virtual orientation, registration, testing, and even graduation – was made a reality, thanks in large part to secure, enterprise-grade cloud systems. Now, universities and colleges must prepare for a new era of education, where a hybrid campus including remote and in-person students may be the norm.

Whether in person or remote, learners today act differently from the traditional students of just a few years ago. Responses to a recent digital learning survey indicate that the majority of students–73 percent–somewhat or strongly agreed that they would like to take some fully online courses in the future; 68 percent indicated they would be interested in taking courses offering a combination of in-person and online instruction. 

This new breed of student wants an array of class offerings, just-in-time communications and intuitive experiences that go beyond the textbook. These students–many of whom are juggling jobs, children, and aging parents–also expect their institution to provide the latest mobile tools to help them schedule classes, monitor progress, and get academic assistance, all without ever setting foot on campus.

Universities’ ability to offer these new types of educational experiences has been made possible in large part thanks to emerging technologies such as analytics. It’s critical that schools have access to data that shows that their programs are leading to student satisfaction and success in school and careers, and analytics platforms can provide that insight.

Let’s explore some areas where analytics can help reshape the higher education experience.

New Learning Opportunities

The pandemic has allowed for the development of new academic programs that may have previously been cost-prohibitive or constrained by space. There is now opportunity to create new programs that aren’t bound by space limitations. At the same time, traditional four-year institutions don’t want to lose their identity or typical experience. Using analytics, schools are able to run scenarios, such as offering more courses online, to determine what makes the most sense for their institution. In addition, analytics will help universities focus on those on-line experiences that are providing the most satisfaction to their students and make improvements to those that are not meeting the need.

Schools can also use analytics to judge how additions to academic offerings impact the larger campus community. With key insights gleaned, data-driven decisions can be made on projects like curriculum enhancements, capital improvements, revenue, and technology investments.

Recruiting New Students

When it comes to recruiting, many universities target student archetypes that mirror the historic makeup of their student body. But the pandemic changed the game. Students who once wanted to attend university across the country from their hometown may instead opt to stay closer to home due to travel uncertainties. Students who originally planned on attending a four-year university might consider community college due to pandemic-related financial constraints. All this to say… historic archetypes aren’t necessarily representative of the new student in this next era of education, and schools will need to update their methods. But this isn’t a bad thing.

This is a massive opportunity for universities to recruit a wider (and sometimes new) type of student. Analytics can help schools find and attract students that may not have previously been represented in their campus population, creating a campus that represents diversity in geographic, ethnic, financial, or socioeconomic backgrounds.

New Teaching Methods

Oftentimes, we think about how this next era of education will impact students, paying less mind to a crucial group: faculty and staff. They, too, are weathering this new reality, and their working methods will likely change. Professors, for example, may need to adjust tried-and-true lesson plans to suit new modes of learning. But how can professors ensure that student engagement and quality of learning remains the same?

Analytics can help. Professors can use data from their LMS and on-line delivery platforms to adjust their teaching styles depending on class interaction statistics. This can be particularly useful for very large class sizes, as it enables professors to monitor student engagement in real time and address needs as they arise.

As new course offerings and teaching models are tested out, universities can use these same engagement analytics to see how effectively these approaches are in serving their student body, and ensure students are staying on track toward a degree. For example, schools can capture and analyze data to track how frequently students are tuning into online classes, offering crucial insights to counselors who can engage absentee or struggling students to offer support.  Department liaisons and student peers can play a key role in student retention and success.

While universities rethink their offerings and strategies, concrete, meaningful data and analysis will help universities carve a path forward… one that will serve the institution, and its staff and students in this next era. With the insights gleaned from multiple data sources, schools can offer new programs and reshape campus life. As the education sector, especially universities, adapt to the new models of learning brought about the pandemic, the institutions that embrace new approaches brought on by technology are the ones who will attract the new breed of student for the next generation of learning.

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