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3 Forces Shaping Ed Tech in 2017

Ovum's latest report examines the key trends that are expected to impact higher education in the new year.

ed tech trends

Sometimes predictions about coming trends in a given segment seem willy-nilly. First, we're marching in this direction, and then suddenly, it's a new year and we're marching in that direction. Not so with Ovum in its recent report, "2017 Trends to Watch: Higher Education." There, the industry is expected to follow in the same direction it has been heading for the past year. The key watchwords: use of innovative technology in teaching and learning, improvement of the student experience and an overall IT strategy that focuses on IT agility. The main difference: Colleges and universities have made "significant advancement" along the way.

Institutions Will Support the Use of More Innovative Tech in Teaching and Learning

As Research Analyst Navneet Johal explained, a major part of innovation will center on the learning management system and the use of alternative content, particularly to support the needs of adult students. These learners are becoming so ubiquitous in schools — expected to make up more than four in 10 postsecondary students in the next five years — that Ovum has suggested renaming them from "non-traditional students" to "new traditional."

The resulting changes in student demographic will influence the expectations institutions have for their online learning platforms. An Ovum survey among 474 IT leaders found that schools have a "weak perception of the quality of all major learning management system solutions." In the coming year, Ovum asserted, vendors of those applications will put a greater emphasis on personalized learning and support for "a range of pedagogical techniques," enabling students to move forward at their own pace and with greater interaction among students and faculty.

Alongside that progression will be a greater push to use open educational resources (OER) and videos to "enhance" and "open up access to" teaching and learning, said Johal, who wrote the report. Johal said she expected textbook publishers to position themselves "as learning companies that promote better learning outcomes for students." To make that work, however, they'll need to do a better job of "providing the capabilities to keep students engaged and help them succeed."

Schools Will Leverage Technology for Improving the Student Experience

High dropout rates are convincing institutions to do everything they can to improve the student experience. As Johal explained, "Retaining students is not very easy, especially for North American institutions. If they do more around the student experience and give students more value for money in the higher education experience, then they're more likely to retain those students and help them succeed."

Therefore, she added, learning analytics is "going to be a huge part of improving and measuring how well they're doing from a teaching and learning perspective and how they can improve student success and retention."

An important aspect of learning analytics is that it needs to be made available through "tools that can be used by nontechnical advisers and faculty," the report noted.

According to the Ovum survey, nearly 40 percent of schools have "fully deployed" analytics specifically for tracking student learning and progress. The analyst firm expects that number to rise over the next year. It will be up to IT, Johal wrote, to help stakeholders from faculty to student advisers "identify, assess, implement and enable access to solutions best suited to improving student outcomes."

To reach the same goal, the coming year will see a blossoming of the stalwart student information system. As Johal asserted, the SIS has become the "backbone of what goes on at an institution. If that system fails, then students don’t have access to records, faculty can't have access to attendance."

At the same time, she added, "These systems are just so old and they're not really modern or up-to-date." Therefore, SIS vendors — including Oracle, Ellucian, SAP, Unit4 and Workday — have been "moving forward and transforming their systems": moving to the cloud, becoming more modular, adding new features and functionality.

The SIS has become the largest area for strategic investment, according to Ovum's survey. Nearly 56 percent of institutions plan "strategic or minor investment" specifically in the SIS over the next 12 to 18 months.

The Next-Generation IT Strategy Will Focus More on IT Agility

Slowly, steadily, schools are moving their core applications to the cloud, not for cost savings so much as for agility and flexibility. As Johal wrote, "The accelerating rate of change and the drive for innovation are generating harsh pressure to not only do things cheaper, but also quicker."

"I think we're long past the whole 'cloud will save institutions money,'" she told Campus Technology. "It's not about money as much as it is about a shift to re-allocating resources toward innovation as opposed to maintenance."

Another aspect of this broader trend is that the role of the IT organization is changing. "Typically, we still think of the industry as a whole as sort of maintainers of systems and the go-to support for technology," Johal said. "But, really, given the need to improve the student experience and retain students, given that it is a turbulent time in higher education right now, I think more and more institutions moving forward will recognize the potential of IT to really transform the institution — whether that be digitally or bringing new ideas to the table and just ensuring that innovation is front and center. The department won't necessarily lead all innovation, but it will certainly enable it."

The report is available with registration here.

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