The past year has been one of the most challenging and transformative the education sector has seen for some time. The sudden shift to online learning in order to abide by global lockdowns was one that had an immediate impact on a sector which was already undergoing a slow but definite digitalization. It also, much to the disappointment of hundreds of thousands of students globally, cancelled or delayed plans to study abroad, either on a student placement, internship or as a full-time foreign student.
The digital revolution in education preceded the pandemic, in fact the e-learning industry had already started to see monumental growth. As many as 34% of college students reported taking at least one course online during their degree studies even before Covid-19 hit. At EHL our digital transformation began back in 2017 with the adoption of novel learning technologies, gamification and the development of Virtual Reality training courses launched in 2019.
“The blended learning approach was set up to enable us to use digitalization to improve our students’ learning experience. Our philosophy has been not to cut costs but to maximize the individualization of learning content for each student.” - Dr. Achim Schmitt, Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at EHL
As reported by Forbes, the Learning Management System (LMS) market continues to grow; the market was reported at $2 billion in 2013 and currently stands at over $6 billion. The education tech market as a whole, referring to the combination of language apps, virtual tutoring, video conference and online learning software has created an overall market for online education that is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.
The growth in education tech is undeniable, but has thrown up a whole new set of questions and concerns for universities around the world. How will institutions reliant on international students to sustain their business models adapt and survive? In this online and borderless world, is there still a significant value in physical mobility in education? The answers are complex and ultimately give the (buying) power to the student - or customer - to shape the future education offering.
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What does education mobility mean?
For a multicultural university such as EHL with 3 campuses in different locations and a cohort of students from 116 different nationalities, education mobility has been a strong suit for EHL, a USP even, but thankfully not the financial underpinning of the school unlike many others.
Many more universities around the world rely on revenue produced by foreign students to make up a large proportion of their cohort, whilst most will offer the enriching experience of a study abroad placement that is attractive to domestic students. Covid-19 exposed these woeful vulnerabilities with many students having their study abroad plans thwarted.
Undergraduates this year are wrestling with potentially unfair exam results as well as a shift in mindset. Applicants have a lot more to consider when it comes to applying to study in far-flung destinations, socio-economic factors, as well as student experience in the current climate.
Whilst overall university applications in the UK were up last year on 2019, the Guardian newspaper reports that 23% of students are opting for universities closer to home and their support networks as a precaution in case of further interruption by the pandemic. This is a clear indicator of a shift in consumer behavior.
This new trend sadly goes against the positive outcomes of studying abroad that are plentiful and well documented, such as an increased pool of top universities to pick from, gaining confidence and new intercultural skills, and increasing employability. Universities should work towards finding solutions to this downturn in studying away from home by increasing levels of care and support to foreign students.
The shift to e-learning: an alternative to mobility?
« Covid-19 has created an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate digitalization and create a new learning environment that is a much better fit for today’s student. Any organization failing to embrace digitalization risks obsolescence, as a new wave of education start-ups is waiting to grab the baton. Investing in the digital education revolution today is an important priority for all education providers », Maxime Medina, COO & Deputy CEO, EHL Group.
Schools, colleges and universities around the world have had to grapple with technology in order to continue teaching. At EHL, we have taken great care in thinking through the key components of a successful online module:
- Micro-learning: Shorter attention spans means learning content can be broken down into digestible snippets.
- Knowledge checks: Lets teacher and learner know they are on the right track.
- Interactive and engaging content: Utilizing the different technologies and formats to make learning more memorable.
- Gamification : Interactivity and competitivity requires students to be active learners.
- Socialization : Connectivity and discussion feeds creativity and idea sharing.
Opportunities for universities to adapt to a blended growth model
The new personalized value proposition: online learning and mobility in the mix
- Enables greater flexibility (pace, timing, location, emphasis on certain aspects).
- Online learning components provide the theoretical basis that can be put into action, known as a “dual learning system”.
- Allows educators to focus and customize what specific customer groups need.
- Experiential and blended learning options can help to create “customer loyalty” for life-long learning, because self-paced training from multiple locations (on and offline) will enable students to choose the training that best suits their needs.
- Domestic, foreign and study abroad students will exist but fit into the more flexible blended learning approach.
- Removing the physical mobility barrier, students can study virtually anywhere in the world with minimal effort, broadening the market.
Challenges for universities to adapt to a blended growth model
A long road to digitalization
- Universities adapted quickly during the pandemic adopting quick-fix e-learning solutions but many still have a long journey to a full digital transformation.
- Digitalization requires a large investment, meticulous planning and management.
- Management, academic and administrative staff alike must be re-skilled in new digital platforms and processes.
- Sustainability is an increasing factor for students selecting a university - a balance must be struck to ensure a responsible business model.
- The ‘campus experience’ must translate to the online offering too, maintaining connectivity and culture online can be tricky but not impossible.
- Universities must redefine their value proposition and adapt their marketing strategies.
The bottom line: opening the gates of education
The laundry list of challenges is equally as long as the list of opportunities, however this is not an optional journey for education institutions if the consumer trends are to be taken seriously.
E-learning and mobility can coexist making education more inclusive than ever before. A blended approach drawing on the best of both worlds appears to be the model of choice for the world’s leading universities.
The primary benefit of attaining digitalisation is the ability to choose, for universities to pivot at a moment’s notice when the next disaster comes along - be it in the shape of a pandemic or other unknown threat - and for students to choose an individualised program to suit their needs and lifestyle. This blended approach with personalized ‘pick and mix’ elements feeds into the notion of ‘lifelong learning’, a business model that will ultimately sit more favorably on the bottom line.