The overwhelming growth in online education is undeniable. Universities must adapt to changing market conditions or risk becoming obsolete. With few exceptions, colleges that remain solely ‘bricks and mortar’ will go out of business. Losing students to those who offer more flexible and convenient study options can be counted on for those that don’t adapt.

Transitioning to online education can be both daunting and challenging, especially when a university doesn’t have the forward-looking nature that a successful transition requires.

Success will come from an understanding of the significance of the problem and a willingness to adapt.

By taking these measures, universities can successfully transition towards online education.

Provide easy ways for students to connect, communicate and collaborate online.

Students need a community to thrive. In years gone by, robust discussions took place in classrooms and lecture halls amongst students and academics. Losing that critical part of the learning process would be detrimental to learning outcomes, so it’s important to facilitate productive communication using technology.

A key focus is to encourage online discussion among students. This culture is created by building content delivery around collaboration, rather than relying on students to make it happen.

Academics need to spend time facilitating conversations. Ultimately, that time investment will pay dividends as students learn to crowdsource support from their peers, rather than relying on email.

Embrace new technologies.

In a recent study, 73% of students surveyed recommended that their university review and change its digital strategy.

The introduction of new technologies is critical.  Existing systems do not meet the unique needs of online students, and will often leave them frustrated. Don’t rely on learning management system forums or emails for communication and collaboration.

Facebook will rarely work, and relies on an already actively connected community. It also carries significant privacy risks and affords very little control.

Purpose built platforms assist colleges in creating a thriving online ecosystem and are a much better alternative to platforms not made explicitly for education.

Personalize the learning experience.

It is imperative that online students are not overwhelmed with irrelevant or poorly timed information.

Provide both academic and administrative information when it is needed, and ensure it is always relevant. Dumping information is a recipe for overwhelmed students and a fast road to failure. For example, why provide students with a PDF at the start of the year with due dates when students can be sent push notifications throughout the semester?

Accept the risks.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Traditional Universities tend to be bureaucratic and have a very low-risk tolerance, which makes sense given one of their primary functions is producing high-quality research that faces heavy scrutiny.

Unfortunately, this risk-averse nature is in itself an enormous risk. Failing to introduce new technology and reticence to change will cause failure.

Technology implementations do not always go to plan. Issues may occur. Having said that, once it ‘clicks’ – the rewards are significant.

Set realistic expectations and encourage and facilitate continual improvement with a firm commitment to institutional change.

A strategic whole of institution approach is required.

University leaders must drive change, and a cohesive approach is critical. The most successful institutions have dedicated senior positions, such as a Chief Innovation Officer, to coordinate the changes that take place.

These dedicated staff members exist to drive the vision of the university. There will always be people that resist change, particularly when it has historically been avoided or siloed. Navigating this environment is complicated, and without senior staff support, it will often fail.

Invest in the digital campus.

The digital campus is becoming just as important as the physical campus, yet investment in online technologies pales in significance. Universities are still spending $100M on new buildings, yet skimping when it comes to the online environment.

Why not invest in world-class, modern platforms?


Universities are accepting that a tidal wave of change is coming. The next few years present a unique opportunity where some will excel, and others will fail. Those that invest in the future will succeed, and others will look back and wonder what happened.

Be Apple, not Kodak.