Preparing for digital transformation in higher ed: 5 recommendations
As a result of COVID-19, shifts in the sentiment of college students, and deeper adoption of online technologies, the way universities operate has fundamentally changed. In fact, 83% of higher education institutions are considering or engaged in a digital transformation (Dx) strategy.
Dx requires colleges and universities to rethink the technology they need to get new courses and programs in front of their widening audience of students quickly and with quality — including choosing the right curriculum management system to create and maintain consistent course information across departments and disciplines.
How an institution plans and manages these technological transitions will have a huge impact on how successful they will be. Change management will be more important than ever in this adoption process.
How digital transformation is driving change in higher education
The digital shift in higher education means that not only are students seeking more (and more flexible) online learning options, but institutions need better and more connected technological systems that support how they offer their high-quality academic products.
Colleges and universities are adopting and onboarding a host of new platforms to help them keep pace, including student information systems, learning management systems, digital badging, and — a significant but often overlooked piece of the ecosystem — a curriculum management system.
An example of Dx in higher ed: Liverpool John Moores University’s new curriculum management system
Let’s consider the curriculum management system as one element of Dx in higher education. Many institutions are moving toward digital curriculum management systems which reduce administrative burden, unlock higher-value and more strategic opportunities, and integrate better with downstream systems.
This change often marks a departure from long-running manual processes (such as spreadsheets and word documents) and/or older, less robust online platforms that aren’t intuitive and don’t integrate well with other elements of an institution’s digital ecosystem.
Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), a UK public research institution , was experiencing these pain points when they decided recently to make the change to the end-to-end CourseLoop Platform.
“Both of our existing [curriculum management] systems were really complex with clunky and unintuitive IT systems,” says Alison Cotgrave, Academic Registrar at LJMU. “There were so many complaints about them over the years that we decided to replace them by purchasing CourseLoop.”
For LJMU, they were especially drawn to CourseLoop because it allowed them to build their own system into the new system without having to completely change their processes.
“The CourseLoop Platform is being built around our systems,” says Cotgrave. “We’re going to be doing the exact same thing, but we’ll be doing it in a system where we can track progress and is more intuitive. Because it’s easier to use, it’ll make academic staff feel more ownership about their modules [or courses] and it’ll be much easier for them to make changes based on student feedback.”
For holistic digital transformation, the curriculum management system must be included as a foundational system within and integrated with the wider technology. As demonstrated by LJMU, the curriculum management system is important to their overarching digital transformation because:
- It enables them to address institution-wide pain points without having to change the way they operate internally.
- It makes it easier for staff to do their jobs – and do it well.
- It gives them a robust system to uplift their productivity, freeing up resources to focus on more strategic and higher-value activities, such as curriculum design and the student experience.
“[CourseLoop] is going to be really transformative in the way we manage our curriculum.”
Liverpool John Moores University
The role of change management in curriculum digitization projects
Presenting and managing this change to a new curriculum management system was an important step for the LJMU team in bringing key stakeholders on board.
Change management offers a host of benefits, including “improved communication, increased productivity, improved decision making … [and] improved employee morale,” says the International Institute for Management Development. Without it, institutions face higher costs, slower turnaround for launching new programs, inability to meet student needs, and a host of other consequences.
While there are many different models of change management that may work best for your institution, here are our top five recommendations for successfully adopting a new curriculum management system or other technological improvement into your ecosystem.
#1 Set a clear vision
From the very start, develop a clear intent and strategy that your institution is aligned on that will lead you to accomplish your goals — whatever they might be.
“Knowing what leadership wants to achieve — and having a clear vision of how much better things will be if the contemplated initiative is successful — is key to effective alignment and core project communications,” says a recent piece from Deloitte.
When charting this vision, it is also important that you give yourself and your institution enough time to succeed. The journey from researching vendors for a new curriculum management system to procurement to implementation can be anywhere between one to two years (or sometimes more).
When you think about your vision, consider some of the following:
- What are you trying to achieve? What are some different options that could help you reach your goal(s)?
- What will success look like? How will you measure it?
- What kind of culture shift will this potential change create, and how will you prepare to manage it?
#2 Seek buy-in early in the process
Ideally, stakeholder engagement (and, by default, the change management process) starts during the project ideation and business case development phases. After all, “... successful change management initiatives start at the top, with a committed and well-aligned group of executives,” say the authors of an article in Strategy+Business.
However, make sure you identify all key stakeholders, which for a curriculum management system include those who have detailed knowledge of the day-to-day operation of academics and will use the system the most — faculty, chairs and program directors, course designers, and subject matter experts, depending on your institution.
“In my experience, getting employee buy-in is crucial,” says Graham Glass from CYPHER LEARNING. “That’s why I always encourage companies to… seek employee feedback before implementing new technology. Employee needs and opinions should come first. By making them feel valued in their opinion, you will not only increase loyalty and retention, but you’ll also know you’re implementing programs that actually work.”
#3 Demonstrate the benefits for your team
An important aspect of change management is WIIFM — “What’s in it for me?”
Rather than positioning your new curriculum management system as a boon to your institution’s strategic goals, remember that faculty and other everyday users will want to know how it benefits them. Understand their personal drivers and consider approaches such as:
- Demonstrating new time-saving and stress-reducing capabilities and resources that aren’t available in existing systems
- Promoting the new curriculum management system as a unified source of truth across platforms, which means no misinformation about programs for students
- Incentivizing adoption with a rewards system
- Demonstrating negatives of staying with older processes, such as taking longer to create, propose, and launch new programs and courses
LJMU provides an excellent case study for engaging faculty staff early and clearly demonstrating the benefits of a new curriculum management system. After a CourseLoop demo and training session for their academic team, one stakeholder had this to say:
“As we were going through the workflows, from an academic perspective in particular it’s going to be so much easier to know where the data is, what it looks like, and what we need to do … You can see exactly what your piece of work is up to and who needs to do what. I was very, very impressed.”
#4 Train your users
As you select your new technological platform, establish internal training programs and systems to support your key users throughout the process. Consider some of the following ways in which you can include institution-wide stakeholders and their teams — many of which LJMU used for their transition to CourseLoop:
- Involve representatives from all relevant areas in committees and/or strategic groups
- Plan a layered rollout that includes preliminary and ongoing training for new and current users
- Offer both in-person and online training, as well as scheduled and on-demand options (like knowledge articles) where possible
- Invite stakeholders and users to demos so they can ask operational and functional questions
- Include them in testing to troubleshoot common problems/issues
Another option is creating an ambassadors program of faculty and staff at various levels throughout your institution who can champion the benefits of the new system. “This will demonstrate to the learners that there are mentors and role models to lean on with any questions or challenges, especially if they are within their … direct team,” notes Caroline Faulds, a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council.
#5 Continue managing change
Remember that your journey isn’t over once you have your new curriculum management system in place. The technology adoption life cycle shows us that not everyone will jump on board to your new system right away, so make sure you have a plan for the stragglers, including:
- Establishing success criteria for monitoring and evaluating the change (i.e., measuring the rate of adoption/acceptance)
- Persuading late adopters to join in, perhaps with individualized motivators
- Ongoing support post-implementation, such as training for new employees/users and retraining for users who need a refresh
By creating a solid, long-term plan that considers a variety of perspectives from across your institution with benefits-oriented goals in mind, you can successfully implement new technologies as part of the higher education digital transformation.
CourseLoop provides an end-to-end curriculum management software built by higher education experts with hands-on university experience to create better solutions for today’s students, administrators, and academics.