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Guest Blog post by Peter O’Reilly, Senior Advisor at NobleStream, an edtech consultancy in higher ed.


We all create silos out of fear, necessity, and sometimes by chance. By finding the path of least resistance we can secure ourselves in a position that allows for survival but not necessarily growth. Of course there are ways to promote growth, evolution, and dare I say…innovation. However that requires collaboration with the people, departments, and separate units from which you’ve separated yourself. My focus is higher education but I assume this  is endemic in most sectors. As I see co-dependencies become increasingly obvious in the higher education and the Edtech space, I wonder: how different could this possibly be from corporations trying to drive change? We’re all human, right?

Many of the silos I see in higher education exist partially due to disparate technology. I do not want to start a chicken and egg argument but let’s pose the question for fun: Do silos grow further apart due to delayed decision-making or is the distance created by the lack of communication between tech and higher ed? The answer is likely yes to both. We see  new flashy technology  solutions arise every year in the Edtech space while the problems continue to compound. Why can’t institutions keep up? Or why can’t Edtech deliver the right product fast enough?

In February, Mark Leuba wrote in  Educause Review  that we may still be 12-18 months away from having the right systems to fully support Competency-Based Education (CBE). Since we know that is typically how long it takes an institution to make an enterprise system change, should we be expecting large-scale change in areas like CBE 2-3 years from now? Yikes! In that time we’ll have 30 new tech companies with various new “value-adds” to programs considering CBE. I do not envy the vendor vetters at these schools.

Currently we have a flood of institutions searching for new LMS’s (shout out to our friends at e-Literate…Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein understand the  better than anyone).  Cut to an LMS-related Edtech salesperson frantically Googling new sales targets…you’re probably too late!  Many have chosen or are close to choosing their post-eCollege LMS – likely Canvas –  but how do we know their new choice will keep up with the developing world of CBE? How do they make such a daunting transition? And that is where the co-dependencies make themselves most obvious.

No matter how technology and institutions advance, we will always yearn for a unified view of the student experience or lifecycle. From their first engagement with admissions (tracked in the CRM) to financial aid (SIS) to course-by-course success (LMS) the data behind that experience looms large over the CIO. I see various companies offering the capacity to connect disparate technology systems through either back-office integration or student-facing platforms that “sit on top of” all other systems. One of these approaches – likely the latter – will become commonplace in coming years as solutions begin to more easily communicate and students demand a better perspective of their personal  student lifecycle. How do I know my course plan is leading me to a job? How can I connect with industry experts to better prepare myself for a job? What other extra-curriculars should I engage with to develop job-ready skills? See the pattern?

Beyond any rhetoric we can regurgitate, we should strive to understand what a unified view of each student will mean to an institution…and the student.

I think it is simple. If we better understand a student’s path to success or failure, we can react quicker and find ways to meet students where they are. We will have the ability to move back and forth from CBE courses to traditional settings, capture all outcomes and competencies and track them in that unified student profile, facilitate relationships with industries that align with those competencies, and deliver relevant content at the right time.

Call it what you want but I feel that we’re close. I am surrounded by it every day, in every way with leaders in education and leaders in technology. The marriage between tech and higher ed is imminent.

Questions or comments? Email Peter.