Education used to be a relatively straight forward business. But just like every other sector it has been disrupted by technology. It’s not just the curriculum and teaching methods that have changed – most importantly it’s students’ expectations. At a time when changes to catchment areas mean that higher education is more competitive than ever, even younger students are becoming more selective in where they go to school. And it’s not just the Ofsted reports that turn the heads of students, but how the educational establishment has embraced technology.
Let me give you an example. The other day a friend was telling me about his son. He wanted to study medicine and had an interview with Cambridge. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, asked him what attributes he thought he would bring to the college, to which my friend’s son replied: “I’m not sure that is entirely relevant – what will you do for me?” Apparently Mr. Williams was speechless, but this anecdote outlines just how the world of education has changed and the tables have turned.
At a time when students are paying a premium for their education, they’ve become a lot fussier about where they invest their money. Educational establishments have had to get smart and a lot of them have realised that technology can be a differentiator for them. And when you think about it, it’s a no-brainer. This is a generation that has grown up surrounded by technology companies. From Apple to Twitter, they are without question the most digital-savvy generation ever. Most won’t remember hours spent in Waterstones – now, books are online entities downloaded direct from Amazon. Music is consumed via multiple devices through varying platforms (YouTube, iTunes and Spotify) and the suggestion that they should be seen without the latest smartphone glued to their hands is, well, unthinkable.
But it’s not just about being digitally astute. Recent research from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s innovation and futurism division has also found that this is a generation of doers. From coding through to a new website or their own label this generation – known as Z – want to create. The research also found that they want to be part of debates and feel involved in world issues.
How do they fulfil these ambitions? Via technology. This means that it isn’t just the technology that educational institutions have to compete on, but also the experience. This is a self-servicing, automated generation. Think about how you resolve an issue with your Mac or iTunes account – you head to the community. They don’t have time to register IT problems which then fall into a black hole ticketing system that they know nothing about – they want to be empowered to resolve the issue themselves, whether that be just before class or at 3.30am.
Generation Z is ambitious and confident – if you can’t help them achieve their goals then they’ll find an organisation that can. To create brand advocates of their students, educational organisations need to bring the flexibility and agility of eCommerce, experience-centric IT into their establishment.
The days when educational establishments held all the cards are long gone, it’s time to wake and smell the virtual coffee that one of your students has just programmed and brewed.
Stacy Leidwinger is VP Product Marketing at RES Software.