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5 questions education leaders should be asking about digital transformation

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  • Post published:August 3, 2021
  • Reading time:10 mins read

As the world changes rapidly before our eyes, I can’t help but wonder what the future looks like for the next generation. How are the learning and teaching foundations of today keeping up with these changes and preparing students for a tech-rich world?

Thinking back to the schools and universities we helped these last ten years adopt and achieve new levels of digital transformation, I realised there are still some resisting the changes happening right before them. Educators who are, instead of leading the change, complacent where they are.

The terms “disrupted” and “interrupted” come to mind. Our traditional education systems have been disrupted by digital alternatives for years and, more so in a COVID-19 pandemic, are being constantly interrupted. Educational models won’t (and shouldn’t) revert back to what they were. Instead, the need for innovation in education is escalating in today’s changing world.

Even though piles of information and stacks of options are available, the resounding “No thanks” or “Not right now” is alarming. And then it occurred to me: all that information might be too overwhelming to start with, and the terminology created by the digital industry may actually be adding to the confusion.

We have so much to tell you, so much to show you on your journey as education leaders of the future – but let’s start with these five essential questions.


1. Digitisation, digitalisation, digital transformation – what’s what?

These three terms have similar roots and are often used interchangeably, but there are significant differences you should be mindful of.

For starters, digitisation is the conversion of analogue assets into digital assets. You would have experienced this since 2020 when visiting a local business, where you provided your personal information on a paper form upon entering the venue, per COVID-19 safety guidelines. Behind the scenes, the venue staff likely had to then digitise that information by adding it into a spreadsheet on a computer.

Digitalisation is more about leveraging technology to find the best outcome for processing digitised information. Think back to the example above. By moving that spreadsheet from the computer to the cloud and sharing it with the rest of the team, that venue is effectively applying digitalisation to improve the process. An alternate version of this process could be to fax that spreadsheet, which would rely on everyone having the same piece of outdated technology, ultimately being a less worthy option.

Digital transformation is the newest term on the block, yet you would have seen it everywhere by now. The key ingredient to this explanation lies in how deeply it is embedded. In other words, true digital transformation is a deliberate and strategic approach towards adopting the best technological options throughout the business in order to improve processes and cultivate a people-focused, tech-enabled culture. If the venue above shifts to a cloud-based customer check-in kiosk, then they’re starting their digital transformation journey and are likely to adopt other tech solutions to improve the business.

You can start to see now that these are all connected: digitising leads to digitalising, which leads to digital transformation if applied correctly. So it’s clear that digital transformation is in every business’ future.

“Innovation that would have taken a decade has happened immediately. Going back to university this year will be as if it were 2030.”

Glyn Davis, Former Vice Chancellor, The University of Melbourne


2. How does digital transformation benefit the education industry?

We all rightfully blame the pandemic for many negative things that have since occurred, but we can also be thankful for the rapid shift towards digital transformation. I’m biased, but I truly think this is an exciting thing for the education industry.

For educators, it is the opportunity to innovate and rethink the way value is delivered to both students and other educators. Directly, schools can leverage technology to improve faculty training, improve research methodologies, and provide advanced learning skills to students. Indirectly or over the long term, schools can expect to see reduced traditional costs, improved ability to attract more students, and increased ability to attract funding.

For students, the desire for more flexibility and personalisation are now possible. Remote learning, augmented reality modules and interactive learning environments were unheard of by most until now. With these advancements in place, students can explore and engage in ways that better suit their individual pace and learning abilities.

Along with these, there will be an emergence of new jobs and opportunities to upskill as the entire institution acquires new competencies to manage, implement, measure and communicate on the new systems.

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.”

Suzie Boss, author of ‘Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World’


3. Which institutions are leading by example?

Digital transformations are happening right now, all around the world. Forward-thinking schools are not only embracing the change as a necessity, but as a challenge to find fun and revolutionary ways of cementing their point of difference.

Griffith University, for instance, developed Sam – an AI chatbot designed to answer hundreds of questions and provide support to students. Sam uses the latest in AI technology and Natural Language Processing (NLP), and is trained to handle any type of query as well as look up the knowledge base to help students find the best solution.

Ravensbourne University London moved its IT infrastructure from local data centres to AWS Cloud to support its video-on-demand solution for remote campuses. The university also uses machine learning capabilities to enable live captioning, translation, and transcription to further enrich lecture broadcasts.

Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the US with nearly 700,000 students, helped thousands of students transition to remote learning by deploying Amazon Connect to manage and reroute high volumes of calls, connecting everyone from parents to teachers to students to mental health hotlines.

“Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.”

Heidi Hayes Jacobs, author and education leader


4. What is the future of digital transformation in education?

Digital transformation can also be seen as the start of a never-ending journey to continuous improvement. The foundations we build now will only be layered on in the future. But what’s next in a post-pandemic future?

In the 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, a top trend for the future of education is the widespread adoption of hybrid learning models. Not only have students become increasingly attached to the new ways of learning and collaborating in the last 18 months, but the choice of moving between in-person and remote environments will be significant in minimising classroom disruption.

Another top trend identified by the report is the investment in faculty development. As new technologies become urgent necessities, educators will depend on training and support to keep their skills and tech literacy at pace.

These 2021 EDUCAUSE trends are actually quite surprising to me as someone who has enabled digital transformation in tertiary education and schools for over 20 years. In the early 2000s, my team and I were building hybrid e-Learning delivery models, augmented reality, and supporting solutions to enable online and offline collaboration.

These technology and solution options have been available for 10 to 20 years, so why didn’t this go mainstream? Was it the inflexibility of those solutions, poor implementation or change management, or a competing desire of education leaders to maintain a focus on face-to-face learning?

Regardless of what’s happened in the past, we believe education is primed for evolution. The competitiveness of our young people in the new world relies on us working together to give them better options.

In our own dealings with helping educators achieve digital transformation, we predict that e-Learning solutions will become mainstream and a core expectation. Online team collaboration on cloud systems will also become a necessity for educators just as they are now in the business world.

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for organisations both large and small to facilitate business continuity of team collaboration (on shared projects or processes) regardless of what is happening in the world around us. Cloud computing will also become mainstream as it enables the adoption of preconfigured serverless solutions that decrease costs and increase the speed of adoption and the realisation of educational benefits.


5. What are the obstacles in digital transformation?

The biggest risk in delaying digital transformation is being behind the curve (and competition) when it comes to the latest and best advancements in tech. While many schools have started their journey, some are still resisting or lagging behind.

In a 2020 EDUCAUSE report, 17% of surveyed education institution representatives said they are neither actively engaged in nor exploring digital transformation. The same report also shows that executives, boards and faculty are either not aware or lack understanding of digital transformation – while at the same time CIOs are highly aware and supportive of the process.

This digital divide between stakeholders means that the same team aren’t on the same page. Most likely, there has not been an easy or unified way to clearly articulate the benefits that come with digital transformation. As long as this disparity exists, it will be hard to achieve an effective digital transformation outcome.


Strategenics is here to help

The first step towards digital transformation is to remove misinformation barriers. To help with this, we’re offering Free Digital Transformation Review sessions, where you can ask us any question and break down all your fears or misconceptions.

As part of this review, we will undertake a Digital Transformation Readiness Assessment which identifies what benefits your team may realise through digital transformation and what barriers may stop you from achieving greatness.

Chris Mills

As the founder of Strategenics, Chris brings a wealth of technology and commercial experience to the team. With deep expertise in solution architecture, economic modelling, analytics and business transformation strategy, Chris is a hands-on leader who is passionate about creating positive and sustainable change with the power of technology.