Evolution is a funny thing. It (usually) arrives un-announced, disrupting without prejudice and providing a trail of disorder to what was once considered the norm.
The digital evolution is no different, like its older sibling the industrial evolution, it possesses all these characteristics. In fact, it is a text book case for social and industrial innovation as its evolution has fundamentally disrupted many of the key economic indicators that define the way we live today.
But what impact does this have on humanity? Specifically, our unique ability to possess higher level thinking, our desire to learn and our distinctive need for interaction with each other.
Recently, the Higher Education (HE) industry has seen an influx of commentary discussing the impact of the digital sphere on its future. Debate has even gone as far as to centre on whether government intervention is required to ensure their survival (Source: http://www.theconversation.com/live-stream-future-of-higher-education-symposium).
There is no question that the emergence of digital has impacted HE Institutions. Not only have their traditional business models been modified, so have their approaches to the recruitment, attainment and completion of student enrolments. This is highlighted by The University of Auburn which, in addition to a selection of education courses, provides students with the opportunity to engage in;
- A student rooftop garden. (With city views!)
- A 400 metre oval track that weaves through an indoor gym and;
- A recreational swimming pool (Complete with a climbing wall)
It is clear that HE institutions are no longer positioning themselves as a learning haven, but as a combination of physical and digital experiences that are rife with extra activities.
This is a justifiable move, made to counter-act the impact that digitisation has had on the HE sector. In particular, the threat of Massive Online Open Colleges (MOOC’s) which, according to the New York Times, have seen increased growth after three of the biggest category players received significant financial backing (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html).
At the core of this new education paradigm is a trend in providing the consumer “flexi-study”. Which is, the ability to study in one’s own time, at their own leisure and in a setting that suits them. This appeals to the ambitious and curious individual who now has more choice in education topics and institutions than ever before.
However, an offshoot of the flexi-study trend is that online learning has distorted – or completely removed – the united student learning experience. Education is siloed when undertaken solely in the digital sphere, it contains no platform for peers to discuss topics, let alone develop a sense of comradery.
As recent academic research shows, a unified sense of “togetherness” is a key pillar of the student learning experience (Source: http://lytics.stanford.edu/datadriveneducation/papers/yangetal.pdf). Not only does this provide comradery, it also allows an opportunity for students to discuss subject matter and share their perspectives. These are fundamental needs that bind the student learning experience. MOOC’s have removed this unity, and in turn, provided an opportunity for brands to fill this un-met consumer need.
Brands can act as an enabler to fill this need and create a meaningful experience with the audience. Today, media agencies are in a unique position to facilitate and enable such an experience. This can be done by analysing the competitive landscape, understanding the needs of the consumer and (where relevant) recommending that a brands behaviour be in line with the fundamental elements of the student learning experience.
Furthermore, agencies are able to enhance this brand experience by creating and curating social content that reflects the needs and behaviour of audiences.
Regarding online activity, there is two distinct types of consumer behaviour. They are:
- Searchers (People who are actively looking for content that appeals to them) and;
- Browsers (People who are perusing the internet for entertainment)
For agencies to further enhance the student learning experience it is imperative to have a thorough understanding of their client’s brands and their audience’s needs. Then, understand where the audience sits on this browse or search content spectrum and from there develop a content strategy that encompasses everything and is effective.
As the communication evolution continues, media agencies will have opportunities to investigate and analyse the intersection between brands and audiences. This will allow us to provide thorough and comprehensive recommendations to our clients and their evolving operating landscapes.