EDUCATION has seen dramatic changes in the past few decades, but perhaps none as revolutionary as how we actually learn.

Students entering higher and further education are, by and large, digital natives and those heading back to learning at a more mature age are likely to be enthusiastic digital immigrants. There has also been a change in how universities and other education institutions are attracting students. 

With degrees in the same subjects available at many universities, students are focused on receiving the best possible overall student experience.

A priority in that experience will be a digital environment that not only supports their learning but also one that can allow them to move from education into the workplace smoothly. Beyond that, students are looking to connect digitally to personalised services as well as student societies and social networks.  

As Manoj Arora, Vice President of Business Engineering at CGI explains, that digital connectivity can be useful to students in most everyday situations.

HeraldScotland:

CONNECT:  Manoj Arora, Vice President Business Engineering for CGI, believes digital connectivity is useful for students in most everyday leisure and work situations.

“We did a series of focus groups with students last year. Their expectation of the learning experience, what it will be like, what the opportunities to join communities would be – they see university as so much more than simply a degree.

“It also served to remind us how young many students are when they start higher education. One student mentioned lacking the basic skills of being away from home for the first time; not being exactly skilled in the most everyday tasks like laundry and food preparation! 

“With the amount of content and number of digital channels that are now available, surely universities can do something to help that?”

While the students are technology savvy, that skill can sometimes be lacking in the academics. There needs to be a coming together of what is taught in the classroom and the process of how that is communicated to students.

“If you look across industry sectors, the higher education space is quite far behind in digital transformation,” adds Manoj. “That’s fine as everything goes at its own pace but I think it’s becoming more of a pressure point now.”

There’s no doubt that the role of universities in society is changing. There is global competition for students and (Scottish students at home universities excepted) the introduction of tuition fees has positioned higher education institutions as businesses. 

So universities need to address this changing audience – those who adopt and leverage new digital capabilities will stay relevant.

“One good example of that is Teesside University. In standard rankings it doesn’t come out particularly high, but it has decided to take this digital experience initiative far and is even providing all students with an iPad.”

Making the investment isn’t only financial – getting the most from learning platforms can take a significant investment of a university’s time. 

However, things are moving in some areas. There are staff and academics who are behind this digital transformation, recognise the benefit and are drivers of it.

Many academics are seeing how digital tools can boost classroom experiences and enhance student learning.  

This move doesn’t exclude some traditional teaching methods and while these digital natives are happy to embrace this form of interaction, it can blend with traditional methods so faculties can offer a seamless integration and the best of both worlds. 

All this needs the support of people and the process, which, when taking in the capabilities of some IT departments can be a problem.

Moving forward requires extra flexibility from inhouse policies and sometimes investment in updated technology and systems. All this is investment in a steady stream of new students, and meeting their digital expectations. 

Everyone has to be on board with digital transformation and see it as something which is empowering the work rather than moving it elsewhere.

Manoj adds that digital transformation in learning can have further benefits, extending beyond graduation, when students move on.

“The other area in which we can help address this is in lifelong learning and the alumni connection.

“That provides another opportunity for creating communities and promoting lifelong relationships with the academic institution,” he says.

“If universities can provide your students and alumni with these lifelong connections with development opportunities, then those students will not only feel part of that community going through their lives, they are also much more likely to be contributing to that. 
“That doesn’t necessarily mean financial contributions; that can mean being involved in helping students, running work experience programmes, and providing other benefits to a tight-knit university community.”

CGI has already made strides at the other end of the learning spectrum, working with Glasgow City Council to put 50,000 iPads into schools to help the journey to digital fluency for children who might not otherwise have access.

However, as the UK’s higher education sector looks at how it transitions into the digital age, it needs to take digital natives and enthusiastic digital immigrants 
into account. 

The students also need to work with the staff and academics as they adopt and integrate new digital technologies. 

We have some of the world’s greatest and oldest universities in the UK, but this digital-first approach will be a vital step in 
thHow digital can generate serious capitaleir continued success.  

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How digital can generate serious capital

Working with CGI as a senior consultant, Alex Mogull is currently helping Edinburgh on its journey to becoming a smart city

FOR Alex Mogull, senior consultant at CGI, working to improve the student digital experience has been a prime focus during his first year working with the company.

He studied Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Oxford, which at the time was considerably “dustier” than the digitally fluent educational establishments that he is working towards today.

HeraldScotland:

KEY TO SUCCESS: Although he is now an expert in digital opportunities, Alex, left, admits he knew little about the subject in his first post-university job.

Now working for CGI in Digital and CIO Advisory, he admits that in his first job out of university, he knew little about the subject.

“From Oxford I went straight into WPP Digital in London,as part of an agency called Cognifide.

“At that time I had no experience of digital really, but I embraced it and felt at home completely. 

“I absolutely loved the community and the culture of it. It was a tight-knit company with really bright people.”

At the time his role was to work with large marketing agencies, to show them the boundaries and the opportunities of digital. These are incredibly creative agencies, but sometimes when it comes to enterprise marketing technology like Adobe platforms they’re not necessarily all that fluent. 

“However, that’s not where their strengths lie – they concentrate on the creative aspect. They can partner with others for the digital.”

After a few years Alex took some time off and spent some time as a ski instructor, but just over a year ago, he was delighted to join CGI. 

His primary focus has been concerning the market exploration around higher education as an industry for CGI.

“However, I’m also working in close partnership with a number of councils in Scotland, particularly the City of Edinburgh Council,” he adds. That’s not just about education. I have experience in Smart Cities and digitised urban communities so it’s about taking Edinburgh on that journey to being a smart city. 

“It’s an exciting time to be in digital, where the applications can have huge benefits in almost every aspect of our everyday lives.”