The academic year has been rocky for universities and the wider education and learning and development sector. Moving to digital learning has been challenging, exacerbated by the additional strain caused by social isolation – leading to many students feeling dissatisfied with the value of their education experience.
Students questioning the financial value of their educational experience is a dangerous prospect for all education providers. If digital learning persists long term without an increase in standards, then it could impact the perceived value of the experience – reducing course enrolment and the price students and companies are willing to pay for learning experiences. This, in turn, risks reducing revenue per head.
Many of these factors are beyond the control of the education sector – by closing libraries, switching to virtual classes and limiting social contact educators are simply following government guidelines. However, this does not let them off the hook – to compensate for this growing dissatisfaction, the entire education sector must become more student-centric and justify its value in the face of this significant disruption.
For learning providers to remain competitive and appealing to students, they need to deliver a seamless onboarding process, continually engage students throughout their learning journey, and maintain that connection with their alumni networks.
In a digital learning environment, the traditional model of educator interaction and oversight over student needs and wellbeing needs rethinking. Where data is currently fragmented, providers must create a robust framework for student communication – powered by strong CRM – enabling them to stay in regular contact with their students, even when regular face-to-face contact isn’t possible. When registering for a new course, requesting support services, getting pandemic updates – students must receive frequent, personalised responses and updates through automated emails and dedicated online communities.
Regular student communications must also be personalised to specific students and their needs if they are to be effective. The recent Salesforce Global Higher Education Research Snapshot noted that 77% of students report that receiving personalised messages would help them feel that their school cares about their success. In the long term, this ongoing communication helps foster a sense of trust, connection and wellbeing in students.
When students have finished their studies, this conversation must continue. Whether that’s advertising new courses to adult learners, or a university tapping into an alumni network for fundraising, there is a direct financial incentive for providers to keep former students engaged. When a new fundraising drive launches, it is essential to be able to tap into an existing, well-established network of engaged alumni – which will be instrumental in driving interest and accelerating fundraising efforts.
Staying connected with international students presents educators with an even more profound challenge. As the number of international students in UK Higher Education grows to record levels, so do the challenges of keeping this particular student population engaged.
China, for example, is the largest source of international students in the UK. But state censorship of Western media giants such as Facebook and Twitter means that Chinese students have a strong preference for other social media platforms – like Weibo and WeChat. The presence of learning providers on these platforms is notably lacking. An article from the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute notes, “As of January 2018, just over half (82/163) of UK universities had a public account on WeChat, whilst 73% (119/163) of them had a Weibo account. Meanwhile, all of the 163 universities had a Facebook public account in 2018 and 162 of them had a Twitter account.”
The disconnect between educators and international students poses a significant risk to long-term student engagement. If providers wish to maintain the valuable international student market, they need to use every available channel to reach and engage their students.
The education sector is on the precipice of transformational change. The changes felt over the past year and throughout 2021 will mark a significant shift in how the education sector operates. Even with the deployment of a successful COVID-19 vaccine, the transition to digital services is a permanent one. When face-to-face interaction is no longer a given, providers must ensure they have a robust digital engagement strategy providing students with access to the information and support they need, when they need it.
Salesforce empowers educators to manage this change. Our solutions help education providers to connect, engage, and retain students throughout the learner lifecycle and foster stronger relationships. We are designed to support the entire education sector – including higher education, apprenticeships. professional development, and adult learning. By providing a single source of truth, we make it simple for education providers to offer tailored, personalised communications to their students, ensuring long-term student satisfaction, trust and wellbeing.