Online learning and social reputation management to student engagement

Education is a domain where digital channels have had the maximum disruption. Even Ivy League universities are making their courses digital and available to anyone sitting across the world. The digital method of delivering education has disrupted the old paradigm by making it non synchronous – students can stop or continue studying when they want, because the course material is available at anytime.

Digital marketing has become indispensable for educational institutions at all levels. From having an updated website to active social media channels, and targeted advertisement campaigns to reach students, educational institutions have some learning to do.

Access to education has been disrupted through digital channels

Education has become much more democratic and open than before, where previously the best course materials were restricted to those who had access to elite institutions. Educational institutions like schools or colleges need not see this as a threat to their exclusivity – the pool of those who can benefit, and pay for education has become much more larger due to digital marketing channels.

Consumption of amateur content for learning has taken off

With even amateur educators and information providers are becoming big hits on platforms like Youtube. Students and those looking to learn new things have not shied away from consuming  amateur content which may be authentic and practical.

Learning together has become easier

It is easy for students to interact with their professors or teachers through digital channels in real time – helping them consume content in an interactive and engaging manner. This improves the outcome of education, but it puts a strain on the teacher or professor who has to stay up with the times and be available for the students.

Content can be carried and accessed easily

Students no longer need to lug heavy backpacks or books with them to access the content they need. They can access it just as easily through their mobile devices. Educational institutions have already started adopting devices like Ipads to deliver classes. In fact, even searching, finding, marking or collating information has become much more easier through a digital channel.

Students have access to contrarian views and content

With global access to content, students can often get access to educational content that is at odds or contrasts with what they have been taught. This may include factually wrong or politically colored content. This represents a challenge for educational institutions, teachers and professors. How do they discount the noise and absorb useful information?

Parents expect to be digitally connected

While students are engaging with schools and colleges through digital channels, the parents are equally interested in integrating with their children’s progress through digital means. This could include viewing real time mark sheets, or coverage of activities at the school, both educational and extra curricular. This represents both a challenge and opportunity. On one hand the parents become much more engaged in the students progress, but on the other hand the parents could react prematurely with incomplete information and deny the school the chance to allow due process to happen.

Both opportunities and risks can happen in real time – Schools have to be clued in to digital marketing channels like social media, so that they can control the narrative as far as parents are concerned.

Another challenge is to educate parents about new formats and courses crafted by the school or college to suit the needs of the job market. This requires some ‘selling’ by the school to educate the parents about the value of the innovative new courses available for their children.

Archival of data is expected on digital channels

Whether it is a Youtube channel, or a newsletter corner on the website, schools and colleges are expected to archive information and coverage of events almost indefinitely. This requires the institution or school to be digitally savvy and invest in the infrastructure required for storage and access. The website needs to have the requisite features.

Alumni networking has gone digital

With most established schools and colleges boasting of a large alumni network, the digitisation of alumni networks has fuelled more interaction and engagement. From a simple Facebook community to specific digital platforms designed for Alumni networks, schools should embrace the possibilities that a much more tightly integrated, accessible Alumni network can provide.

Media devices have now entered the institutions

Mobile devices are now available or carried within educational institutions. This means that all kinds of content can be captured and shared, some of which may go viral. Many institutions have banned the use of these devices, but the small form factor of mobile devices makes it difficult to enforce the bans. The school or college has to act quickly if video content from within the institution goes viral. Educational institutions have to be nimble and quick to respond to content that can be damaging to their reputation.

Online reputation can be damaged or built anonymously

Even students can go online and write negative reviews, which may even be unsubstantiated or fake. One cannot even rule out competing institutions, considering the level of competition in specific educational categories. This can damage the institution’s reputation. The School or College has to constantly monitor and build the reputation through authentic , positive reviews from happy parents and students. Reviews that are patently fake should be raised for resolution with digital platforms like Google and Facebook. Adequate legal and regulatory frameworks should be put into place and students should be sensitized to the implications of fake reviews.

The nature of priorities in education has changed

The type of jobs available for graduating students, and those who will graduate in the future – have changed. This necessitates a change in the nature, delivery and content provided by educational institutions. Students no longer have to learn material by-heart, as the information is available at their finger tips. They have access to powerful platforms that can allow them to become publishers and creators at an early age. They have computational power at their disposal that can make them bring their ideas to life sitting at home. Students have to be kept engaged and interested in the things that matter. Their behavior has changed with their regular use of internet mobile devices, with lower attention spans and erratic sleep cycles. Exposure to video games has also made students more accepting of new formats of education including gamified modules.

Skills have trumped degrees

Except for the very elite institutions, the value of degrees has been on a downward slide.  Many institutions are eliminating tests, and relying on more abstract methods of scoring student abilities. Companies are not insisting on degrees to award jobs. The networking benefits of studying in a college are not important now, with widely available social media connectivity.  There are new skills that are in vogue and the course material of educational institutions haven’t kept up with the needs of industry.

Online learning platforms are easy to deploy

From open source platforms like Moodle to enterprise software platforms for learning, it has become fairly easy to deploy online learning programs. It is not longer needed to spend large sums of money building platforms. Of the shelf software products can be installed, configured and launched within days. Educational institutions have to embrace these online platforms and create hybrid courses where face to face interactions are enhanced by online learning courses and programs.