From curricula to teaching to enrollment, stakeholders generally share wide agreement about strategies to improve student success across higher education. There is great enthusiasm for the adoption of new platforms and strategies, such as competency-based education, adaptive learning and personalized learning. Many institutions are looking to new delivery models to help them adapt to the changing landscape.
A central assumption behind this enthusiasm, of course, is that technology plays a significant role in furthering institutional efforts. It is not always clear, however, precisely how technology helps colleges achieve their aims.
Would a learning management system, for example, fully satisfy the need for competency-based education, adaptive learning and personalized learning? If not, would any additional technological solutions be necessary and, if so, which ones? Finally, assuming an institution selects the right solutions, how does it measure their ongoing effectiveness?
There are certainly some complicating factors to these questions, such as the myriad of products in the marketplace and rapidly decreasing IT budgets. More foundationally, however, the primary challenge to responding effectively to these questions is ascertaining how to align a solution to a given strategy. The core issue, then, is understanding the educational and institutional strategy in enough detail to determine where and how technology should fit and how institutions can leverage technology most effectively.
Create a Middle Ground During Tech Conversations
A perception exists that technology and business teams speak in different languages. For example, technology experts may use terms such as “application processing interfaces” and “cloud service,” while business leaders discuss “student success” and other initiatives. These two languages may make it difficult for stakeholders to understand how best to ensure that a particular technology fully supports an institution’s strategy.
There is a middle ground, however, where teams can focus on the key components underlying a strategy. Abstracted from technology and aimed at business outcomes, these components are the key success factors for an initiative. They allow a shared understanding of what is needed for the strategy to be successful and help institutions ensure alignment between technology and strategy.
Let’s take the case of competency-based learning. An institution may determine that it needs an enrollment management solution, and administrators ask IT to search for one. Based on this information, a technology leader may select a solution that works on a traditional, term-based enrollment model.
However, if administrators had determined that a critical success factor for the competency-based learning strategy was appealing to non-traditional students who may want to enroll outside a traditional term start date, then the selected enrollment solution would not be quite the best fit. Furthermore, an institution can better measure the ongoing effectiveness of its enrollment management solution by evaluating how smoothly it handles flexible enrollment start dates for its students.
Support Stakeholder Collaboration
The toughest part of this is getting both technology and business stakeholders to collaborate and think through the components of a strategy. Smart institutions, which seek to ensure effective alignment of strategies and technology, need to call both sets of stakeholders to the table to provide their perspectives on various initiatives.
Furthermore, institutions adopting this approach need not fully develop the exact owners or processes for each component; they only need to reach just far enough to make the success factors for a particular initiative clear to both technology and business teams. No one team can go it alone to align IT and strategy. IT professionals, faculty and administrators should collaborate on campus and engage with one another to ensure that their technology solutions fully support their strategy.