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Saher Mahmood, Principal Research Analyst at Gartner & Robert Yanckello, Senior Director Analyst

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With lockdowns forcing schools, colleges and universities to close their doors and shift to remote learning, education institutions have had to respond quickly to continue operating smoothly. As a result, the industry changed dramatically.

In a short turnaround time, the sector was able to innovate rapidly and shift to digital solutions. 

Although the acceleration of investments in digital tools and initiatives – coupled with the distinctive rise of e-learning – has proven effective, the acceleration of digitisation has also created new challenges around security and insights into student experience, faculty engagement, and IT budgets.

For education CIOs who want to leverage the benefits of digital innovation, addressing these significant challenges and prioritising and optimising digitisation in their organisation will be critical.

Overcoming Security Issues and Enhancing Student Experience

In response to the pandemic, education institutions were forced to hastily reconfigure and adopt digital modes as the primary model of deployment. However, this shift has also exposed the vulnerability of virtual delivery and its potential for compromising businesses and student experience. 

According to the 2021 Gartner Innovation in Crisis Survey, education industry respondents recognised security and student experience as the top business priorities for the year.

As technologies advance and remote learning (including hybrid) becomes the new normal, education CIOs should leverage the increased volume of digitisation to make strategic IT investments that address challenges of security and improve student experience.

To address security concerns, partnering up with the security office will be critical to ensure organisations have a strong backup and incident response plans against attacks that can’t be prevented or detected.

To help enhance student experience and maximise engagement, schools, colleges and higher education institutions can leverage technologies, such as customer relationship management (CRM) to track engagement, analytics to support adaptive learning, personalisation for students learning at a different pace, and smart campus technology to address equity and access issues.

Faculty Engagement and The New Classroom

The COVID-19 disruption exposed students and faculty alike to new learning technologies, designs, and experiences – with many faculty and staff members adopting new digital working tools for teaching.

Given that educational institutions may adopt a hybrid education model as we return to normal, consolidating a new digital working model will be important.

This will help optimise faculty engagement with the hybrid approach to classroom teaching. Fortunately, the Gartner survey shows that 95% of education industry respondents are already working on providing tools and training to boost employee productivity.

To preserve this momentum, educational institutions will need to build operational equity for their workforce by increasing the percentage of automated business processes, thereby relieving the staff from manual intervention, and increasing their capacity. 

Increased Investment in IT in Education

Some of the challenges triggered by the pandemic for education institutions included learning losses, academic progress, student engagement, and drained budgets. In part, this could be attributed to the rapid and urgent spending on remote capabilities. 

However, increased investment forecast in technology budgets for 2021 can support digital-first delivery models, whether education settings decide to offer in-person, remote, or hybrid teaching. And while some of these investments may be cost-intensive, they can free up resources for other more critical tasks, particularly for those students who need personalised support.

As a result, leveraging technologies that aid operational efficiency and cost savings, such as collaborative tools, cloud technologies, and security solutions, can help education CIOs realign their efforts to overcome these challenges. 

Stakeholder Collaboration Is Key to Success

Schools, colleges and higher education institutions must not lose the momentum gained around digitization. In the last year, education institutions were able to pivot to new systems of working in response to COVID-19 disruptions, with many of these new approaches projected to remain for the long term. A collaborative culture between academia, administration, and IT through adequate representation of stakeholders in the decision-making process will enable the long term and enterprise-wide adoption of new initiatives.

Undeniably, the pandemic has caused major disruption for the education sector. Those centres that can embrace the gains made from the digital innovation achieved in the last year, while also addressing the vulnerabilities that came with it, will benefit from a more efficient and effective working model.

Saher Mahmood, Associate Principal Research Analyst at Gartner & Robert Yanckello, Senior Director Analyst

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