A Guide to Digital Experience Management for Higher Education


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Article ImageDigital experience management (DXM) refers to providing highly satisfying digital services to customers through an effective blend of strategy, process, and technology. DXM fundamentals remain more or less the same across industries, but the modus operandi may vary based on your objectives. Education is a rather vast field, and this article focuses on DXM for higher education (higher ed) organizations such as colleges and universities.

Waves of digital transformation are sweeping across industries, and higher ed is not immune to these changes. In fact, higher ed may even be at the cusp of a transformation enabled by the creative ferments of digital technologies. Things such as classroom learning, teaching curricula and methods, and student assessments and evaluations-?essentially, almost all the traditional approaches and conventional practices-are being re-examined to see if they can be improved on or delivered better using digital technologies.

However, while the digital future may hold tantalizing prospects, it is not certain if higher ed is ready to step up to the plate. Traditionally, higher ed has been "digitally shy" and lags behind other industries in terms of its preparedness to take advantage of newer digital opportunities. 

Take, for example, web content and experience management (WCXM), a key piece of the DXM puzzle. The data in the chart on the right is a summary of the WCXM effectiveness scores, self-assessed by organizations in different industries. The effectiveness framework considers several dimensions, such as organization capacity, digital capabilities, and systems maturity. Higher ed institutions self-report the lowest score among the 12 different industries (not all are shown in the chart) that we track in our benchmarking application called RealScore. 

However, compounding this problem are the expectations of the higher ed customers (i.e., students). Students are perhaps the most digitally savvy cohorts you'll see anywhere. They are accustomed to best-in-class DXM practices in their daily consumer web interactions and expect the same from higher ed. Such expectations are raising the bar for DXM in higher ed. In short, not only do higher ed organizations have to excel in their core missions of teaching and research, but they also have to demonstrate a high degree of DXM competence.

Here are eight DXM recommendations for higher ed organizations.

Address User Experience Issues

Usability and user experience (UX) issues have not received much attention in higher ed. Enterprise systems in other industries got UX upgrades due to the trend in "consumerization of IT," but less so in higher ed. For example, higher ed organizations subscribe to a plethora of research journals and data repositories. These contain a wealth of information for students and faculty members, but the search interfaces are rather unintuitive. Similarly, other systems also do not shine when it comes to UX.

Segment the Audience

It is not elegant to refer to students and other stakeholders as "customers," but it certainly is useful to apply audience segmentation strategies to improve DXM. Students are the main education customers, but higher ed also targets several other audience groups, such as:

  • Prospective students and applicants
  • Parents/families of students
  • Faculty members
  • Operations/administrative staffers
  • Alumni and donors

Rather than a one-size-fits-all website, optimize the digital interactions based on the audience group, presenting the content and functions most relevant to that group. 

Use a Modern CMS to Tailor Content and Communications

The digital engagement needs of audience groups will be different. To serve their needs effectively, you'll require a CMS that supports delivery of dynamic content, customized based on explicit and implicit preferences. The ability to easily create microsites for specific purposes will also be handy (e.g., a microsite for scholarship applications). 

Think Beyond the Traditional LMS

As to the student experience itself, higher ed organizations usually implement a learning management system (LMS) to handle the digital aspects of classroom learning. Fundamental changes are happening here. The digital content in the traditional classroom is expanding, and virtual classrooms and online courses are on the rise and are increasingly supplementing (or even substituting) the face-to-face classroom experience and interactions. But a traditional LMS does not enable these emerging and innovative learning models.

Experiment with Emerging Ed Tech

With increased focus on learning outcomes and evidence-based learning, several new learning models have emerged. Chief among these are blended learning, adaptive learning, and flipped classrooms.

  • Blended learning is the use of both digital and face-to-face instruction. It can accommodate the learning preferences of individual students (e.g., text versus video).
  • Adaptive learning advances this even further. Here, the software platform dynamically adjusts to a student's needs based on his or her level of performance and interactions up to that point. Such platforms often employ machine learning techniques.
  • A flipped classroom, as the name suggests, flips the traditional classroom model on its head. The instructor uses classroom time for problem solving and group activities instead of providing lectures. The students watch lecture videos outside of class and may attempt assigned problems on their own. Armed with data on student performance and progress, instructors can accordingly devote face-to-face time on areas requiring attention.

Note that such ed tech tools and technology as well as the recommended practices are still emerging. Mainstream adoption at scale may be a few years away, but as these approaches mature, they can enable personalized learning at a level that wasn't possible before. The pace of adoption of ed tech in your higher ed organization depends your current state, but it requires a shift in mindsets and a great deal of change management.

Gain Data Management and Analytics Proficiency

As you can imagine, the foundations of the newer ed tech approaches are based on data and analytics. Individual-level data and data in the aggregate can be leveraged. Individual learner data can be mined (within the permissible limits of privacy and adhering data protection requirements) to develop a custom learning path. Aggregate data can be leveraged to enhance the courses, change the curriculum, and improve instruction methods. 

Leverage a Best-of-Breed Technology Strategy

From a systems and tools perspective, no single platform on the market today can meet all (or even a majority) of the scenarios mentioned here. To realize the DXM and digital transformation goals, you will have to integrate several systems, such as CMSs, learning management systems, portals, and analytics tools. Often, you may also need to partner with external consultancies for implementing DXM projects.

Appoint a Chief Digital Officer

Not just in higher ed, but in practically every industry, digital transformation requires cross-functional collaboration across departments and teams. In response, enterprises in several industries have created a new role-that of a chief digital officer (CDO). Higher ed can use a comparable playbook and create a CDO position to take charge of digital transformation and DXM.

Similar to enterprises in other industries, higher ed organizations are embracing digital, but sometimes hesitantly. Technology-enabled changes brewing in higher ed will require a fundamental shift in the way you approach digital transformation and digital experience management.