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Higher Ed Tech Trends to Watch and Implement | CEO Keys

By Steve Fireng

No doubt you’ve heard of the ASU GSV Summit by now. Along with SXSWedu, the ASU GSV Summit is the premier event for showcasing educational technology and what’s next for higher education.

For May’s CEO Keys, I sat down with Jon Gaunt, Keypath’s EVP of Strategy and M&A, to recap our Summit experience and add context.

What are the tech trends university leaders should be aware of?

Jon Gaunt: What we really saw fit into three areas One, the intersection of education and employment. A current gap exists between the type of skills employers want and the state of student skills upon graduation. Given the increasing importance of outcomes in measuring education success, higher education institutions are striving to ensure learners gain the right skills to improve their employability, and several burgeoning providers are attempting to solve this problem for schools.

Two, an increasing demand for skill-centric learning that is manifesting itself in boot camps and corporate training. Though the market is still small for coding boot camps, you see it growing year over year with the simple value proposition of faster learning at lower costs with effective outcomes. Boot camp programs were initially focused on coding but are now evolving into a variety of subjects, including leadership, project management, strategy, etc.   

The corporate upgrading demand is something we can’t ignore. Organizations are realizing it’s more effective to train current employees than go through the process (and expense) of hiring outside help and getting them up to speed. Numerous providers are solving this problem with technology-enabled learning platforms that present learning plans and content focused on teaching a particular skill. Significant investment activity and corporate acquisitions are surrounding this area, as demonstrated in LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com.

Third, the implementation of learning analytics. How do you provide insight throughout the university on what’s working and what needs improvement?

Steve Fireng: Right, we hear a lot of stories about spreadsheets transferred from department to department. It’s a manual process to extract insight into what students are really doing.

You’re seeing, too, that for the first time in a long time, students are shouting from the rooftops that they’re going back to school for a better job, which leads to a better career.

Schools are recognizing they need to improve serving a student from interest in a program, to enrollment, to graduation, to the student’s intended career outcomes.

JG: Employability is on everyone’s mind, and it’s a crucial consideration for us. It’s worth noting that there is a danger in going too far in one direction that schools should keep in mind. It’s not only about preparing for a job. The goal of the program should also be to create a well-rounded person who will attain long-term success as a result of his or her learnings.

How do institutions meet the skills challenge?

JG: In order for it to work, you have to engage with students from the onset,  and work with them throughout their entire program. Ask the important questions: “What are your goals? Where do you want to go? How do we create curricula? How do we create a career path?How do we create extracurricular activities that are just as important?”

SF: And what you do with the answers to those questions needs to integrate with the learning analytics, so everyone is working toward the same outcome.

JG: It sounds contradictory, but it’s developing individualized learning plans for the masses.

From the student perspective, you see technology like Seelio used to prepare students and help them self-identify their skill gaps. This helps students focus, improve, and ultimately present a better story of who they are and what they can do. Universities want students to share their stories. These act as powerful recommendations in a time of technology permeating everything we do.

We’ve called today’s students the most tech-savvy generation ever. What are the implications for university leaders?

SF: Students are beyond seeing advertising. They are researching tuition, outcomes and rankings, all without university involvement. They’re checking Facebook, Pinterest and other social media to get a better idea of what the actual student experience is.

Marketing is not a great tagline and pretty pictures. It’s about the integration of media channels students are using. Marketing can position your program, but it cannot guarantee your program is viable or structured correctly. You have to get those things right first, and then allow marketing to enhance programs.

JG: Building a world-class student experience in programs that are relevant to end-market demands will be critical to long-term success for any university. Marketing and technology can help, but they can’t solve every problem.

SF: I’ve always believed that amazing technology will make a bad process worse. In our experience, it’s better to get the process right manually and wrap the right technology around that process to increase efficiency.

Wrapping up, how do you future-proof an institution?

JG: Focus, focus, focus is going to be key. Whether we like the world changing or not, it’s changing. There will be more competition for students, and those students are going to be empowered with more information than ever before. In order to be different, you can only stand out in certain ways. By trying to be good at everything, you will dilute who you are.

“Going online” as a strategy comes to mind as an example. That’s not a great strategy because the first-mover advantage is no longer there. It becomes: How do you go online where you’re strong?

SF: Yes, truly understand your strengths. What are you known for? What part of education can you own? Can you showcase the outcomes?

I’m going to overinvest in and overemphasize those things.

If you’re known as an engineering school, build robust programs and positioning around it, rather than emphasizing your education programs. If you’re known for educating young adults and not first-time students, that’s great. Use that to your advantage. Don’t deviate from what works and could more effectively be leveraged.

JG: Don’t be afraid to say “no” to the things outside your focus, or even to the things you’ve done for a long time that are no longer relevant. In short, figure out what to stop doing.

SF: If I had to reduce future-proofing to three areas, they would be 1) understand what you’re known for, 2) demonstrate the outcomes, and 3) overemphasize your level of investment and intention.

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