There was a time when student engagement was all about educational institutions reaching out to students and potential students. But there were only a few ways to get that done: advertising, public relations, events. And the schools controlled the discussion. Because it wasn’t really a discussion as much as a series of one-way broadcasts from the universities to the students.
But things have changed as new technologies have taken root in higher education. Social media, chat apps, mobile…now, not only can the students and potential students talk back to the universities, but they can also talk to each other. So the schools no longer have control of the discussion. While there are significant upsides to this turning of the tables, there’s also a downside…the schools, to a very great degree, are in the dark about the tastes, preferences, and habits of their students and potential students. This is especially true in talking about “digital body language”. What technology do those students and potential students use? What are their technology habits? How can they be reached? How can we learn more about what is important to them? The real crux of successful student engagement is hidden in distracting complexities.
A real challenge in all this comes from a distraction over platforms. There are lots of social and communication platforms out there coming and going: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Webchat…you get the idea. Platforms come and go, and nobody has any idea of the next big thing. But you can’t ignore them, because your students and potential students are already there.
Another clear shift is that the days of individual and isolated decision-making are gone. People want to check in with the groups that are important to them and know what other people are doing before making a decision. So we have different people, all with different needs and hot buttons, all interacting with each other in a variety of networks to influence individual decisions and choices. So decision making is much more complex.
These complexities distract from the real point of student engagement - schools learning about and adapting to their constituencies by talking with and listening to students and potential students.
To eliminate the complexities and efficiently get to the crux of student engagement in today’s environment, schools need more analysis in order to get the planning, design, and execution of the education process matched with the needs and wants of their students and potential students. In other words, you have to learn about digital body language without getting wrapped around the axle about platforms and social networks. You have to be able to engage in the discussions with your students and potential students where they are, when they are there…while not getting bogged down by the platforms and networks yourself. It’s a challenge. I’m sure we’ll hear more at Alliance.