Professional Development

3 takeaways on how higher ed is going digital during COVID-19

A report from Further Insights talks to university leaders about how things changed at the end of the spring, and what the fall will look like.

University of Baltimore.

(Courtesy photo)

The cap-and-gown photos while distancing and remote commencement ceremonies are bringing another reminder that life at universities changed significantly this spring.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought closed campuses, meaning many universities had only the length of spring break to make a switch to remote instruction to close out the semester.

It put a spotlight on efforts to take higher learning digital. It’s an area where, in the months before stay-at-home orders, the team at digital marketing and media firm Further Insights was already seeing struggles, as the higher education was “10-15 years behind the digital curve.”

So when his team saw change happening, CEO Andrew Schuster said they decided to gather a team of experts to identify problems and solutions. This week, they released findings in a paper titled “Higher Education Digital Trends in the Era of COVID-19.”

“The market will likely become much more competitive now that online learning is a necessity, and schools that have comfortably relied on the campus experience will now have to find other ways to differentiate,” said Schuster, who grew up and cofounded news quiz startup NewsUp in Baltimore before moving to Austin, and runs a company that still has a presence in the area. “As a firm rooted in market research, we hope that the report and its broad range of perspectives can be useful to institutions who are trying to figure out how to maneuver through this crisis.”

Here are a few takeaways on where digital tools can be applied:

The student experience

During the spring semester, university leaders interviewed for the paper said students appreciated more communication and the use of digital tools like Zoom and Canva. Henry Mortimer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Baltimore, told Further Insights that regular check-ins via Zoom helped to build camaraderie. Engagement also followed to respond to the crisis, as Mortimer said he helped supply 3D printers so students could make components for masks to protect healthcare workers.



Even if campuses reopen in some form, many leaders are fearing dips in enrollment. The company recommends applying digital tools to recruitment in marketing, as well as virtual tours. In the non-digital variety, those interviewed said dropping fees also helped with enrollment.

Digital learning will be with us

Since the pandemic may present challenges for in-person instruction going forward, online learning is likely to continue into the fall in some form. The report recommends that universities make quick decisions, as these can help to ease concerns in a changing environment.

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