Analyst Report

Rising to the Challenge: Digital Transformation and Student Engagement in Higher Education

Challenged with digital disruption and generational behavior shifts, the higher education sector has not been immune to the upheavals of our age, but it has been generally slower to adopt technological responses to them. The current generation of digitally savvy students have been passively trained by years of social media, e-commerce and online entertainment to expect a high-level user experience in all their digital interactions, with no exception for their educational institutions. Add in declining enrollment trends and changing demands around flexible coursework and online delivery, and it’s clear educational institutions can no longer afford to ignore digital transformation.

As a term, digital transformation can be broadly applied to anything from organizational change and culture to product development and design, but in higher education there are two categories relevant to this industry. The first relates to engagement, where what is known about a student is utilized to deliver relevant communications at the right time, in the right manner. Ideally that can be done across a number of channels, depending on the context, including chatbots, text mes-sages, emails, mobile apps and more. The second category enables the first: a foundation of data where student information—gleaned through website clicks and visits, academic performance tracking as well as other sources—can be used to determine how and when that communication should occur.

Taking a cue from the commercial sector, many educational institutions are now turning to customer experience firms to map the student journey and life cycle. That allows them to zero in on the moments where they can support student needs digitally by providing relevant information, and therefore deepen engagement. “At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people and emotions,” says Matt Tredinnick, vice president of marketing, customer engagement solutions at Precisely. “Whether you’re a bank or a university, understanding what the people you deal with are going through—and being able to intervene with the right message at the right time—is important.”

Digital transformation and student engagement in higher education