Using IT to support the virtual learning student experience

An industry leader explains how higher education can adapt to the continued challenges of COVID by providing quality virtual experiences for students and faculty.
By: | January 25, 2021
Getty Images: Nuria SeguiGetty Images: Nuria Segui

One of the most significant changes since the outbreak of the pandemic this year is that most, or even all, 19.6 million college students have chosen to continue their studies remotely instead of on-campus. Schools across the country were forced to rapidly change the way they deliver educational experiences—and for them to accommodate these changes, they needed failsafe technology support to deliver educational experiences in a remote setting for all students and faculty members.

Loren de la Cruz, Cherwell

Loren de la Cruz, Cherwell

Before the pandemic, the global e-learning market was expected to reach $336.98 billion by 2026, and here in the United States, it was forecasted to reach $6.22 billion by 2022. However, we are now on track to exceed these numbers.

This growth is attributed to the fact that 30% of American students are enrolled in at least one online course, and nearly 90% of both undergrad and graduate students consider the quality of their online learning experience to be “about the same” or “better” than the classroom. For faculty, administration and staff, there has been a 159% increase in remote work from 2005 to 2017, a number that has certainly grown. Despite these developments in the last few years, nobody could have anticipated an immediate need for 100% remote learning.

With an increased number of students and faculty working remotely it has become evident that higher-ed must invest in a stable yet flexible service management infrastructure, making Information Technology (IT) departments the focal point to support it.

Last March, most college IT departments had minimal time to prepare and experienced an exponential increase in chat, phone, and—if they were lucky—self-service IT requests and transactions.

To transition to remote or blended learning, universities must optimize infrastructures to make the user experience and transition as seamless as possible. This requires updating service management platforms to deliver what students, faculty, administration and staff want—and need—and how they’d prefer to receive it. Self-service, automation and omnichannel accessibility are vital.

For this to be a success, IT departments must take charge of the overall user experience. Leaders must solicit and fully understand campus user inputs and use them to build a foundation for the service management platform design. This will help create a platform that fosters learning, collaboration and innovation, no matter where it’s taking place.

Here are five strategies for universities to implement to improve student experiences for virtual learning:

  1. Automation – Automating as much of the IT process as possible will save time and enable IT teams with the ability to create their own templates and processes. It will also grant them the flexibility to adjust the platform as necessary to meet changing requirements. Automated notifications also provide users more visibility on the status of their IT requests, allowing them to feel more informed and assured that their questions and concerns are being resolved.
  2. Embracing a Low-Code System– Reliable and easy-to-use, either Low-Code or No-Code systems allow users to quickly deploy revised workflows, saving vast amounts of time, bypassing the need to create new code and bring in software engineers to implement changes.
  3. Self-Service and Knowledge Management– Self-Service Portals create a one-stop-shop for students to engage directly with IT, sometimes in real-time. Pairing this with Knowledge Management creates an accessible virtual library with the potential to cover all types of campus-related topics that students and faculty members can rely on to find answers when needed.
  4. Accessibility & Omnichannel Support– Accessibility and omnichannel support may seem like old news, but it’s essential. Universities must keep in mind that everyone has individual preferences. With remote users, it’s critical that everyone can access the network on different devices, not only for email but also to engage and work. Universities must be able to accommodate evolving technology.
  5. Security– With so many users accessing such a robust platform, both on-campus and online, network security becomes more vital. Revisiting governance, risk and compliance frameworks, and security incident response policies is essential.

While we cannot put a timeline on the pandemic and what disruption it brings with it, we can address its current problems and prepare for the future.  With almost a full year of COVID-adjusted learning in session at this point, an IT department’s service delivery capabilities have either allowed a university to thrive—or flail. Moving forward, we must remain agile and smart in how we build our technology structures for higher-ed and continue to evolve alongside technology and user preferences.

Loren de la Cruz is a product manager for industry solutions at Cherwell. She is passionate about connecting businesses of all sizes, across different industries, with the right technology solutions and services.