5 Key Digital Capabilities for Scotland’s colleges

Guest blog by the Tribal team

With online enrolment and hybrid learning environments set to become ‘the new norm’ from September 2020, institutions and learners alike are left wondering, will the Student Experience ever be the same again?

The Further Education market in Scotland is reacting fast to the seismic changes of the past four months, showing resilience and innovation in the face of challenging circumstances. The FE Sector now faces a unique opportunity to rethink processes and focus on renewal. Confidence is now slowly returning in the education sector – making it the perfect time to prepare for growth. So how do colleges in Scotland rise to the significant challenges all around?

Industry experts believe that the answer could lie in embracing technology platforms which enable the delivery of high-quality teaching and support functions digitally.

Jason Folkett (Blueprint) explains:

“We are starting to see the emergence of digital portfolios on learner facing Apps which link directly into CRM systems and this is exciting from an engagement and recruitment perspective. Colleges are starting to implement a ‘one stop’ approach to admissions by using collegiate onboarding systems and a more holistic approach to planning is generating sustained business efficiency.”

A successful digital college set-up enables back-end process to be more efficient and front-end interfaces to be more intuitive. This in turn allows the student experience to be put at the heart of what colleges do from the very first contact. It’s why many institutions are considering cloud-based CRM platforms, custom apps and other digital technologies that either provide or integrate with all the functionality the institution needs – but can be deployed ‘piece-by-piece’, as the college has the bandwidth, resources, and buy-in to add new use cases.

So what are the five key digital capabilities that all colleges need to consider in 2020 and beyond?

1. Digital Enrolment

Some colleges are considering digital solutions to deliver entirely remote enrolment supported by video and live chat, or a hybrid approach where only brand new starters come onto campus, and returning students re-enrol online.

For some time now, paperless enrolment processes have been gaining momentum throughout the sector and are increasingly considered best practice. Rather than learners standing in a queue for hours, using a digital enrolment solution is proven to:

• Reduce reliance on manual processes, speeding up the process wherever possible,
• Authenticate enrolment without needing face-to-face contact,
• Provide real-time visibility of the journey for each applicant,
• Deliver compliant, targeted communications to students/parents/carers,
• Report management information at every step of the process to keep staff informed, and
• Maintain a single source of highly accurate student data.

2. Digital Participation

Whilst attendance has gone up since offering students online learning, recent insights from FE colleges indicate that participation remains an issue. For some institutions, a way of managing this may be to deliver via online platforms only to their highest achievers, and focus in-person support for other cohorts. Kev Gillard (AoC) advocates:

“Delivering programmes efficiently by having remote attendance alongside actual attendance so that students are all studying at the same time and pace will become a way forward…”

Of course, most FE colleges have already modernised teaching and learning delivery to ensure students have the materials, information and support they need for their studies, on demand and at their fingertips via virtual learning environments (VLE) and student information systems.

However, with more ‘live lessons/training’ moving online, further innovation is required to encourage participation during real-time sessions. Using polls, instant messaging and gamification features within software solutions could prove really useful in the terms ahead as teachers and students adjust to and make the most of ‘virtual’ contact time.

3. Digital Learning Communities

As well as participation during sessions, collaboration ‘outside’ of contact time is vital for individual study, peer-to-peer learning and developing relationships that are essential for wellbeing. As face-to-face collaboration is likely to be limited (or in some cases, non-existent) for some time, collaboration apps are now a ‘must have’ for colleges that want to nurture safe, secure and personalised communication between students, staff, departments and connected businesses.

Giving students a private social network in which to learn and support each other, this technology consolidates your college’s existing web portals into a single app, making access to class activities, self-learning, and social events simpler than ever before.

When asked during the aforementioned Tribal Group survey, students explained the benefit they get from their college’s collaboration app:

“I like being able to see all updates about the college and current events that are happening as well as messaging my friends, my tutor when needed, plus seeing my timetable and all of my course progression.”

“[I can] chat to friends privately, post pictures and literally do anything. It’s like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all in one but based on college friends so I can get information from others on my course.”

What’s more, these apps can be directly linked to supporting students’ mental health, as this respondent summarised:

“I’ve used the app for contacting my tutor while struggling with mental health issues. Additionally, with the Coronavirus, it’s been a way to check up on the status [of my classes].”

4. Digital Student Wellbeing and Support

As the previous point indicates, all FE colleges are anticipating an increased pressure on pastoral and welfare services and are busy preparing support for bereaved learners and those who have suffered illness. Colleges with older and adult learners are also conducting risk assessments around tiredness, travel and sensitivity to further infections.

Post-Brexit, pastoral teams can also expect an increase in the number of questions regarding right to study, student finance, and finding work. Keeping your college’s FAQs up to date and as detailed as possible will prove a welcome source of reassurance for both existing and potential international students.

Indeed, ensuring your Student Wellbeing services can be accessed digitally and students can find the support they need, when they need it 24/7 365, has never been more important – for student welfare, and for retention.

5. Digital Insights

A typical student now has many ‘touch-points’ with their college – including library records, tutorial log-ins, and sessions spent accessing virtual course-ware. With more and more of these touch-points now becoming digital, the capability to monitor them is increasing daily. Using intelligent software to analyse these growing data sets, educators can identify students who are struggling – and even predict who is likely to drop out. This means that the right support can be identified and signposted to help the student in a timely manner.

Once at risk of ‘drowning in data’, now colleges have the power to combine ‘learning analytics’ with predictive analytics, student service usage, business intelligence, and financial performance, in order to increase efficiencies and improve student engagement and success.

Indeed, studying your data trends now could help shape the rest of your digital transformation journey as you re-imagine the Student Experience at your college.

Blueprint’s Jason Folkett concludes:

“An ‘end to end’ business intelligence approach enables colleges to plan and respond with agility in an informed and measured way… In our experience colleges with fully integrated business systems are best placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities that the future holds for the sector.”

For more ideas on how your college can respond to market changes and strengthen the student experience, join us on our webinar ‘The five key digital capabilities that all colleges need to consider in 2020 and beyond’, on Monday 20th July, 11.00am – 12.00 pm BST.

Register here

You can also take a look at Tribal’s FE Digital Intelligence Hub. There you can access video resources, sign up for live webinars on topics like enrolment, and access a wealth of resources to support your transition to a digital focus.

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