EdTech After the Pandemic | How Universities Can Compete Post-COVID

For the past 22 years, K16 Solutions CEO Dr. Thomas Waite and his team have been pioneers in the development and advancement of online and blended education, bringing unprecedented technology to market.

I was attending a Giants spring training baseball game on March 15, 2020, when I heard that the country would shut down. Like many of us, my first thought was that I didn’t think it would last. I thought it would only be a week or two.

When the shutdown crawled into April, I could feel that universities would need to adapt fast. I knew that many in higher ed were not prepared to teach online, and I couldn’t help but think about how students would suffer. And I knew what the possible impact to K12 would be if the shutdown was to last. 

As the pandemic progressed, all schools had to navigate a new world of digital transformation. Some adapted better than others, and some are still taking the lead in transforming to keep up with a post-COVID era of higher education and communication.

In writing this article, I aim to help universities adapt to this new era so that they may provide the post-pandemic student with the tools they need to be successful.

First, let me explain my thoughts on what the pandemic revealed about our wonderful world of higher education so that we may move forward from these mistakes and, even more importantly, position ourselves so that they never happen again.

What did the pandemic reveal about higher education?

1. Universities didn’t have the tools they needed to adapt 

Some schools didn’t even have an LMS, and many of those that did weren’t using it properly. In fact, some schools learned that many faculty and students had never even logged into their LMS before. For those institutions, there was no efficient way for students and their professors to communicate with each other, sometimes halting the learning process altogether.

2. Digital literacy for both faculty and students was and still is a more significant issue than we ever realized

In many cases, there was an unexpected realization that neither faculty nor students had received proper training on navigating their LMS, and both struggled to complete the most basic tasks and assignments. Previously successful students struggled while faculty stress increased to an all-time high. Understandably, student enrollment went down, causing a strain on schools’ finances.

3. Many institutions didn’t know what they didn’t know about technology or their own IT

Institutions during the pandemic were stuck with old, clunky technology–or worse, multiple LMSs–causing serious issues with resources and student/faculty experience. Faculty, staff, and students weren’t aware that their LMS didn’t suit their needs until they were forced to use it. This caused many institutions to jump into a panicked, accelerated LMS migration project.

How have institutions begun to recover?

Universities don’t want to be caught off guard ever again like they were during COVID. Many have begun to recover and strengthen their systems by engaging with EdTech partners at record levels for new insights and tools.

Since schools now know what they need in an LMS, many have completed quick LMS migration projects to a new platform that genuinely suits their needs. Being on a suitable LMS has made all the difference in providing in-depth, robust courses and better communication between students and their professors.

Perhaps most importantly, many colleges have adopted a hybrid model, blending in-person and virtual teaching to allow students more flexibility in their learning. If students can’t make it to class, they can attend online, even from their dorms. Learning never needs to stop again. 

Sadly, given this technology has been in place and constantly improving for nearly 20 years, none of us should have been caught short. But if anything good is to come of this hard lesson, we’re now seeing a transformation that’s allowing a more diverse range of people to interact, consume, and thrive within their formal educational journey. 

How can universities reinvent and compete in a post-COVID era?

First, let’s establish that institutions must now compete for their students like they never have before. One of the most significant changes to higher education after the pandemic is that students have more choices. Not only do the students know this, but they now demand a service experience that many institutions never thought they would have no choice but to provide in order to enroll and retain students.

Universities can’t afford to stick to the status quo anymore. They must continually look for insights and tools to provide their students with better experiences–or another school will.

Below are some ways universities could reinvent and compete in a post-COVID era:

1. Implement asynchronous mix-and-match programs

The modern-day student has different needs now than they did in the past. Many have jobs, children, or other personal reasons that may keep them from attending class at a specific time, even online. For these reasons, creating an asynchronous, mix-and-match program is imperative to make your program competitive. 

Asynchronous mix-and-match learning programs allow students to access the hosted LMS 24/7 to learn around their schedule. Some instructors have worried that this flexibility may give students too much freedom, but asynchronous learning has plenty of benefits. What’s more, students have come to expect that freedom in the post-Covid era.

2. Allocate more budget to IT infrastructure

It literally pays to invest in IT; any institution that doesn’t is losing out on money that could be given back to students in tuition costs. Allocating more budget to the IT infrastructure can allow schools to scale the delivery and consumption of technology to lower their costs and, more importantly, provide a better learning experience. 

3. Create a digital literacy program

Digital literacy is essential not just for re-enrollment rates but for the greater impact your institution can have on your community and the world as a whole. 

Just because a student knows how to share a cat video on TikTok doesn’t mean they know how to engage in discussion in an online course. Many don’t know the basics of using academic technology such as Excel or their LMS. A lack of understanding of how to use academic technology creates a barrier to learning that feels defeating, increasing withdrawal rates and lowering re-enrollment. Many professors also struggle with these tools, which makes teaching online more challenging. 

Universities need to create a digital literacy program that gives students and professors the basics they need to be successful. This sort of program can include:

  • Designing mini assignments that get students familiar with the tools they will use
  • Providing faculty with flexible training hours that allow hands-on learning
  • Creating a mini basic digital literacy course that all faculty and students must complete

Final thoughts

Higher education has never had to adapt and change so quickly. Staying one inflection point ahead of these changes requires a constant and honest assessment of what currently exists and what’s needed to move forward. And academics need to be able to adapt without committees or fear, but with personal responsibility, urgency, and innovation that is more than just a marketing spin. 

Some of this innovation requires data and digital insights that no one in the industry has been able to provide yet, but it’s something that my team is working on. Our newest solution will allow unprecedented transparency into the student lifecycle–something higher education has only dreamed about for decades.

As a final thought, I would like to encourage leaders in the EdTech world to make innovation a practice, not a buzzword. It’s the only way that higher education can adapt to this post-COVID era we are now living.