Attendance at university courses and conferences has dropped dramatically after the lockdown, and even those who attend seem less engaged. As a result, many universities are concerned not only about the impact on academic achievement, but also about students not taking advantage of the vital interactions and in-person learning offerings of social support. However, encouraging students to come to campus is becoming increasingly difficult, even as students themselves champion in-person learning; more than half want to learn ‘above all in person,” while two-thirds prefer blended in-person and online instruction.
While technology has enabled a greater shift to remote and on-demand learning during lockdown, it does not replace in-person learning experiences.
But, when students face varying demands on time and resources, there is a need to prove the value of attending campus while meeting changing needs. Many commentators have asked if the boardroom is dead, but evidence suggests the answer is a firm ‘no’. A fully online future for FE and HE is neither realistic nor desired – neither by students nor by educators. However, blended approaches can combine the best of both worlds, where the right strategy and technology can help bridge the gap between in-person learning experiences and remote learning.
Upgrade post-pandemic cloud
Colleges and universities have been forced to change due to the pandemic. Without the ability to host in-person conferences and seminars, platforms such as Zoom and MS Teams have presented themselves as learning lifelines. The rapid adoption of cloud technologies to support this change has provided the impetus for continued innovation. The transformative mindset imposed on universities by the pandemic can now be capitalized on to drive even better experiences, both on and off campus.
Such an approach leverages the cloud to provide a rich, connected learning environment where students have access to an “always on” curriculum, as well as integrated digital information resources and seamless communication tools. , all of which provide enhanced experiences in the classroom and beyond.
This means going beyond basic cloud delivery to integrating digital innovation designed to improve the student experience, regardless of location. It is no longer enough to deliver webinars via MS Teams, but to create immersive and engaging digital learning environments that can provide seamless engagement and communication across multiple touchpoints.
Research suggests that cloud capabilities can help reduce student churn by around a third, by focusing on a holistic student experience. For example, by removing attendance limits and ensuring that students receive the same experience onsite, at home, in the halls or abroad. Such agile learning can only be powered by the cloud, and so universities should consider investing in cloud transformation first. The learning is, don’t cut the trip to the cloud now that the lockdown requirements are met. See it as a springboard.
Omnichannel student experiences
Implementing an immersive and engaging digital learning environment can provide seamless communication between students, teachers, and staff across multiple touchpoints. One of the key benefits of a sophisticated cloud-first approach is the ability to leverage multiple communication channels with students, using data to drive personalized learning and student experiences. Whether online, via social media, instant messaging or over the phone, communications technology can help cost-effectively simplify contact with students, expand channels and increase digital communication, providing access snapshot to information that can help personalize interactions.
Students now expect to have the same experience with their education provider as they do with commercial brands and services, which can only be achieved by harnessing data and applying it within connected platforms on the cloud.
To look forward; it’s closer than you think
By investing in cloud infrastructure now, universities can lay the foundation they need for the future, where digital learning and communication technologies will continue to advance. For example, virtual and augmented technology (VAR) is in the early stages of adoption in education, with immersive technologies facilitating learning through 3D models and interactive 360° videos. Not only can this provide highly engaging learning experiences, but it also allows for greater accessibility for a range of needs.
With the development of the metaverse, there may be a time when students can interact with educators in an online world. As described in detail by education think tank, The Brookings Institute, “The metaverse is upon us. Soon it will be as ubiquitous as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook (now Meta)… Make no mistake, the metaverse is coming.
Having the foundation of a strong, adaptable, and agile cloud infrastructure in place makes any implementation of next-generation technology a matter of upgrading rather than reinventing. When it comes to education and student expectations, change is constant.
Generation Alpha, now in their early teens, grew up immersed in technology and the online world. They will expect their higher education experiences to mimic, if not exceed, those with which they grew up.
None of this means that the lecture hall or the campus will cease to exist. As Brookings reiterated, the Metaverse and other technology-enabled learning experiences will not replace collaborative and social in-person learning, but will enhance it. Whether it’s always-on support, online and interactive learning experiences, cloud connectivity, consumer apps, or Metaverse-enabled labs, educators need to set the stage now for a near future.
By Fraser Sutherland, Head of Government and Education at Maintel
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