Gartner: Student Success Biggest Driver of Education IT

Student success and the reinvention of academic credits top the list of business trends that currently influencing education, according to a recent report from analyst Gartner. In "Top 10 Business Trends Impacting Education in 2015," the company advised CIOs to understand the impact that business trends are having on education in order to address them early and to align their IT investments with those trends that "have the most relevance" for their institutional strategies. While the report addresses both K-12 and post-secondary organizations, several trends are more relevant specifically to higher education.

1. Student Success and Engagement
Schools are increasingly concerned about determining how best to respond when a student appears to be at risk of failing. No more "sink or swim," noted the authors. Data conundrums heighten the challenge of getting a handle on student success. On one hand, data related to student engagement may exist in different systems that aren't easily integrated or standardized; on the other hand, education leaders need to balance concerns about student privacy against affordable and "reliable" methods used to collect and use student data. On top of that it isn't easy to analyze or interpret the data accurately.

Gartner suggested that CIOs work with other education leaders "to define what student success looks like in concrete terms" and to put in place technologies that can "enable, automate, measure and personalize intervention efforts."

2. Reinventing Credits
The traditional diploma is under attack, as employers increasingly perceive a mismatch between what they want in new hires and what education is producing, suggested the authors. This trend is near the top of the ranking due to the rise of MOOCs, badging, competency-based education and partnering between institutions and employers to define relevant skills and outcomes.

Gartner encouraged CIOs to give their organizations a means to issue and revoke badges "equivalent to existing diplomas" and to collaborate with teachers in exploring the use of micro badges related to accomplishments and skills.

3. Competition for Students
This business trend ties directly to the increased focus on vying for students in higher education. In "developed" countries, institutions face a decrease in the number of "traditional" students and an increase in the number of non-traditional students who need to change careers or "top up" their skills. The bottom line: Student recruitment will become a "key competitive advantage."

Gartner recommended that CIOs understand how their IT organizations can best support student recruitment and work with their institutions' marketing departments to apply digital marketing efforts borrowed from consumer segments.

4. Rethinking Business Models
As federal and state funding streams dry up, institutional leaders are rethinking how they sustain their current operations, the report said. Because of the importance of IT in supporting business model change, CIOs are "increasingly involved" in those discussions.

Gartner endorsed two plans of action: increasing the agility of "core systems" in IT to support the business of the school, no matter what that looks like; and adding value at the "executive table" by sharing IT perspective regarding opportunities and threats to the current business model.

5. Retreating Political Responsibility
No longer is it a given that politicians will support the idea of free or heavily subsidized higher education, putting their confidence instead in the support of "market forces" and individual choice. The result ties directly to changes in business models, noted Gartner, which advised CIOs to "understand the implications for institutional funding" (including IT funding) and to figure out how IT can improve institutional competitiveness and bolster revenue.

6. Competency-Based Education
As schools focus more on proven mastery than seat time to gauge how well a student is doing, that introduces multiple changes into the school, including on the technology front. Gartner's analysts suggested that CIOs understand how the onset of competency-based education will affect the technology underpinnings needed to implement it and collaborate with teachers and faculty in its adoption.

7. Learning Analytics
The data related to student learning is a crucial aspect of the top business trend in education identified by Gartner — student success. The consulting firm pointed to three levels of use for learning analytics:

  • First, there's the data generated through the learning management system;
  • Second, there's the data that comes from student information, constituent relationship and campus card management systems; and
  • Third, there's big data, where schools come together to pool their data in order to develop more accurate predictive models.

Gartner pushed CIOs to be "proactive" regarding interoperability and privacy issues related to learning data and to engage in adopting relevant data standards.

8. Data-Driven Decisions
Beyond learning analytics the use of data can drive better decisions throughout a school's operations. This category of business trend incorporates the use of data warehouses, business intelligence, scorecards, analytics and big data, in general. The challenges that education faces in adopting data-based decision-making relate to a lack of skilled staff to manage the data architecture and analysis.

Gartner recommended that CIOs promote the use of data solutions "that are as automated and visual as possible," push for data governance standards and prepare the IT organization for a "growing demand" in this area.

9. Consumerized Expectations
This category of trend shifts tools and services away from institutional control and toward individual user choice. For example, in higher ed, students may choose to attend class in person or virtually; in K-12 students of a certain age are often allowed to bring their own computing devices for school use.

In order to remain relevant, the report stated, CIOs should work with their user communities to figure out how best to leverage "or at least mimic" consumer services and put in place policies and practices that accommodate "the growing power of the consumer."

10. E-Research
Researchers in higher ed "want more of everything," wrote Gartner — "bandwidth, storage and computing cycles." They also want to be able to collaborate globally with other researchers, using the cloud to pool resources and build capabilities, and tie research to gamification for bringing in crowds to help solve scientific problems.

CIOs and their IT teams can facilitate access to these services by providing some basics: "single sign-on, security and privacy." They can also serve an important role by acting as a broker to help researchers take advantage of IT services in-house and online.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.