Fast Forward Five: A Look at Higher Ed Web in 2017

Hundreds of higher education Web professionals head to the HighEdWeb conference each year to learn the latest and greatest in our exciting and ever-changing industry—that is, what is happening right now. And faster than we can master these new skills, we return “home” to our campus to find the higher ed stork has left behind a new bundle of joy—in the form of a new trend, device, or platform.

Adaptability is no doubt one of the most important traits of a higher ed Web professional, for what we learn today will be different—or even obsolete—tomorrow. Some changes take time, others explode on the scene. Some fizzle, others fasten. Some go almost unnoticed, others revolutionize the way we do things. Many require a learning curve.

LINK asked a few dozen forward-thinking higher education Web professionals where they thought the industry would be in five years and how the Internet will play a role. From completely personalized student services to on-the-go classrooms and many visions in between, our panel shares their predictions.

“I see the way we use these tools to communicate with students changing drastically…”
Corie Martin, Manager of Creative Web Services Western Kentucky University Public Affairs
I think there are a couple of ways to look at the future of higher ed from a Web communication standpoint.  There are so many tools out there and I think some of us are really over-saturated. In the future, I see the way we use these tools to communicate with students changing drastically.  I see us dialing it back fundamentally to use the tools to develop deeper connections with students by offering super-interactive customer service.
In the age of mobilized instant gratification, I see 100 percent customizable student experiences on the horizon for higher ed.  We’re already on the way.  By creating completely customized experiences for our students, they will receive an individualized education.  From their initial college search to how they register for classes, communicate with their professors, and reach out to university administrators as they need assistance, this “iGeneration” is accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it.  It is our challenge in higher ed to adapt to their needs and expectations.  Five years from now, offering a customized student experience won’t be an option.  It will be a necessity.

“Higher education will have fewer technical specialists…”
Alaina Weins, New Media Communication Specialist
University of Michigan-Flint
In five years, I think higher education will have fewer technical specialists, and we’ll see more integration of the Internet, social media, and technology into every job function. Today we see institutions trying to catch up with technology and the progress of the Internet by creating positions, or evolving existing positions to be technology-focused. Eventually (or already) this won’t be enough. Technology is becoming such an integral part of society and the way people communicate that it can’t be separated out for the specialists to manage.

“Higher education will see a continued growth in distance and online learning.”
Robert Heyser, Manager of Web Development
Tarrant County (Texas) College
I think in the next five years, higher education will see a continued growth in distance and online learning. I could see where there will be a shift, and the majority of an institution’s students will be online rather than on campus. Video lectures including interactivity with students are fairly easily accomplished now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it optimized for mobile users and devices, creating a mobile, on-the-go classroom.  I believe higher education will continue to see growth as people find they have new and easily accessible/attainable avenues to achieve their academic goals, with online learning helping place the opportunity at their fingertips.

“I expect social media to be further ingrained in all of our business processes.”
Jesse Lavery, Digital Media Specialist
Allegheny College
I expect social media to be further ingrained in all of our business processes. No one social network is a silver bullet/cure-all. Instead, we have a lot of room for innovation when it comes to supplementing and enhancing our daily work in specialized ways. Maybe it’s utilizing LinkedIn to engage alumni communities. Maybe it’s location-based services adding value to campus tours. Maybe it’s utilizing Twitter in gathering and cultivating prospects. Regardless, we’ve only scratched the surface and I’m excited to see how it grows along with the current generation of young people who have never known anything else BUT a smartphone.

“The future is that of hybrid learning spaces: in-person courses with enhanced web elements…”
Ma’ayan Plaut, Social Media Coordinator
Oberlin (Ohio) College
What does the future of higher ed look like, especially as it pertains to the Internet? I think the future is that of hybrid learning spaces: in-person courses with enhanced Web elements and communities of learners online coming together in virtual space — it’s not massive online open courses (MOOCs) and it’s not necessarily traditional online education. It’s bringing the Internet into a traditional classroom, and a human element to online learning. So much of learning — at any stage of the game, not just in higher ed — is peer interaction, and the Internet is uniquely positioned to supplement that on either side of the equation.

“Content management and strategy will be topics that gain widespread discussion…”
Mike Petroff, Digital Content Strategist
Harvard University
We are just beginning to see a huge shift in how Internet users discover and digest content through mobile devices and tablets. The International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasted that by 2015 (http://bit.ly/MzrKHc), more U.S. Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs. Some higher education institutions are starting to launch mobile and responsive/adaptive designs for the Web, but we will likely see broad adoption within the next five years. Content management and strategy will be topics that gain widespread discussion during this massive change in the Web experience.

“Universities will need to make sure that all of their communications are mobile friendly…”
Melissa Niksic, Marketing Communications Specialist Loyola University Chicago
As far as higher education in general, I think more and more universities will continue offering online learning options for students in the coming years. From a marketing perspective, we have seen mobile marketing explode over the past couple of years, and I think that trend will continue to evolve. Universities will need to make sure that all of their communications are mobile friendly, from e-mails to websites to college applications.

“Administrators can no longer ignore the importance or impact of social media and technology.”
Tony Doody, Director of Programs and Leadership Rutgers University
I think the accelerating trend of accountability and outcomes-based assessment will continue to impact higher education over the next five years. Leveraging technologies’ capacity for “instantaneous feedback” will be invaluable in helping change practices and services in a timely fashion.  At any moment, we’ll be able to aggregate every post, photo, and comment across every platform and merge that with conventional analytics to immediately tell us (through statistics, comments, and stories) and show us (via photographs and video) student reaction to classes, programs, facilities, and services.  In traditional surveying, we sometimes ask the wrong questions. Through social media, students will be the ones identifying issues and positive elements that shape their experience. I think the statement “everyone should be good at social media” doesn’t go far enough. Just as critical thinking, writing, and public speaking are core competencies at many schools, social media skills and digital leadership/branding strategies should be required as a core competency so that students remain relevant and competitive. If this doesn’t fit within the academic framework, then it falls upon student affairs professionals to model and educate future students on good practice. Administrators can no longer ignore the importance or impact of social media and technology. Everyone doesn’t need to use it on a regular basis, but everyone has a responsibility to understand it well enough to advise our students. “Issues of affordability and answers to questions regarding value are crucial.”
Jason DeBoer-Moran, Director of Marketing and Communications
Concordia University St. Paul
There are a few things that I think that need to be high on the radar of anyone in higher education right now. I specifically think issues of affordability and answers to questions regarding value are crucial. These are the questions an increasingly skeptical public, political sector, and students are asking. How does this connects to the Web? The reality is colleges and universities that wish to succeed will need to easily demonstrate how their graduates are finding a value in their education. This will be tied increasingly to rich Web experiences that simply answer the question: Where is the value in this program/degree/major? Where are the graduates and what have they done?

We also need to think about how an online experience can reflect an on-campus experience. We often think of campus beautification as bricks and mortar, but it really is starting to come down to user interface design and instructional design: standardization of the teaching environment (developing a standard floor plan for the classroom). This has to be done in such a way that doesn’t inhibit the instructors’ pedagogical style while at the same time increasing the students’ ease of access.

“We are starting to recognize a fundamental shift in the ‘typical’ college business model, akin to the newspaper industry.
Danilo Yabut, Digital Design Manager
Elizabethtown (Pa.) College
In five years, I think colleges and universities will be in the middle of a major self-examination and retooling; at some institutions it has already started. With the rapid growth of electronic communications, colleges and universities will be forced to seriously re-evaluate (and then take action on) everything from the skills of their faculty and staff, to how the admissions process accounts for MOOCs, from the make-up of their leadership, to the make-up an delivery of courses. I think we are starting to recognize a fundamental shift in the “typical” college business model, akin to the newspaper industry.

“My hope is that institutions will use this potential threat [of online programs] as a chance to create an even stronger community…”
Aundra Weissert, Associate Director of Admissions
Washington (Md.) College
Higher ed is a corporation. The rise of for-profit institutions and online degrees is shifting the attention from the skill-building, self-discovery, critical thinking processes that are so important in education to the bottom line. As a recruiter, I don’t want to sell future potential careers; I want to build community and help inspire creativity, responsibility, and independent thought in individuals. But, even with the threat of online classes being offered from top schools, there’s so much value in the classroom and in the residential college experience. I don’t think online classes/schools are going to change that within the next five years. My hope is that institutions will use this potential threat as a chance to challenge their mission and beliefs to create an even stronger community and a stronger connection to the core values of education.

What changes do you see coming in five years? What has been the biggest change you’ve experienced during your tenure in the industry? Tweet at us with the hashtag