Let’s start by saying that a modern student portal does not look like a link farm. That might have been where portals started … but the internet has evolved a lot since then. Modern student portals should be a hub for information, engagement and interaction. It should look, feel and act like all the other social and engagement-based platforms people use everyday. That means it’s tailored to what each individual user wants to see, it’s mobile friendly and offers a way to interact with others.
You might not think that your school’s student portal is in the same category as social media apps, but you should. You’re competing for students’ attention with entertainment-based apps. If your student portal isn’t as easy to use, useful and engaging as these other apps, you’re going to lose mindshare. While you’ll never be YouTube, the portal experience shouldn’t be dated and boring just because it’s an educational tool. It’s time to think differently if you want to capture attention and have students actually use your portal.
So what does the “next gen” portal look like?
It’s Mobile Friendly
The reason we’re comparing your student portal to mobile-friend social media apps is because that’s the way students engage with online content. More than 90% of 18-year-olds own a smartphone. While they’ll also likely access the portal via a desktop, it’s no longer a “one or the other” situation. If you want students to regularly access important platforms, they need to be available on mobile and web. (Here’s more on why mobile matters when it comes to connecting with your students.)
When we say mobile friendly, we mean via a native mobile app. Mobile browsers have their place, but when it comes to a platform you regularly visit, odds are you’re not using a mobile browser. Think about how you use your phone. Whether it’s checking email, wasting time on your favorite social media platform, checking your bank account or even making a dinner reservation, you’re likely using an app from your home screen, not opening the mobile browser and typing in a URL.
As a society we’ve become accustomed to personalized recommendations online. From retail suggestions to recommendations on who to follow, online businesses have figured out how to get us to engage more by serving up things they know (or highly suspect) we’ll be interested in. Like it or not, this is another page higher ed should rip from the consumer playbook.
Now more than ever, students live in a consumer world. They’re used to being catered to — it makes life more efficient. An experience that doesn’t match that expectation will often be cast by the wayside, even if it’s an important tool like a student portal. If the portal isn’t tailored to what that individual student needs, it’s not meeting current consumer standards. No matter how important the information is, students won’t use it because the information isn’t important to them. (Psst, here’s why you should get granular with personalization.)
Which app are you more likely to use, one that is hit or miss on what it shows you or one that nails it every time? Now ask yourself, does your current student portal solution live up to those standards?
No one likes having to open multiple systems to get the information they need, but sadly that’s often the higher ed experience. More than a quarter of students report having to use two or more different platforms to find answers and access what they need to be successful every day, according to a recent Salesforce report. Luckily, a well designed student portal can streamline that process.
Thanks to integration capabilities, a modern student portal can (and should) act as a hub to everything a student needs to be successful. The portal should be a “one-stop-shop” for all a student’s information and single-sign-on access to other important platforms. This makes it easier for them to see what they need to do and actually get it done. Plus, only having to open one app means they’re more likely to actually do it.
It’s a Communication Hub
Schools are constantly trying to find ways to communicate with students that actually resonate. By making the student portal the one place students come for all their everyday needs, it makes sense that it would be an excellent communication hub as well. Modern portals should offer a range of communication options so that schools can choose the right delivery method based on message urgency. Things like in-portal notifications, announcement banners, being able to check school email from within the app, SMS/text message capabilities and even mobile push notifications are all part of a modern, robust communication strategy fueled by a modern portal.
Tip: Remember the “it’s personalized” part of a modern student portal experience. That definitely extends to communication. Any messages should be highly tailored to a specific audience. There’s no quicker way to have people start ignoring your messages than sending every message to everyone regardless of relevancy.
But a modern portal shouldn’t be a one-way broadcast tool. Creating a space for connections and collaborations is increasingly important to student success — especially as learning styles like remote classes and part-time student status are increasingly common. Modern student portals should enable students to connect and communicate. Whether it’s peer-to-peer chats, direct messaging with professors or group discussions, modern portals can be a digital footprint for the college experience, letting students connect and create community regardless of location.
Don’t Replace, UPGRADE
The concepts and elements of a modern student portal are particularly important to keep in mind when replacing an existing solution. When replacing technology or addressing a particular need, it’s easy to focus on that very specific task. Unfortunately, this means many organizations simply replace existing systems without considering the opportunity to upgrade. If your current student portal has poor engagement, why would replacing it with something that does the exact same thing make it better (even if it looks a little nicer)?
When it’s time to replace your current student portal, look for a modern solution that adds value, has modern features and functionality, and is designed specifically to meet the expectations of today’s students.