Author: Shivam Bansal

Posted On Jun 08, 2022   |   10 Mins Read

In the context of higher education, digital transformation is more than making your in-person programs available as self-paced eLearning material. Digital transformation of universities is about ensuring equity for students and supporting educators in providing quality education to students in an affordable manner, irrespective of whether they attend classes physically or online.

EDUCAUSE research shows that 13% of colleges and universities are engaged in digital transformation, 32% are developing a digital transformation strategy, and another 38% of higher education institutions are exploring digital transformation. Looking at these statistics, it could be said that higher education is moving towards digital transformation at a fair pace.

But the question is, how is your university progressing in today’s digital transformation race? Is it keeping pace with the digital transformation in education?

Harbinger Group recently hosted a Power Hour on the Digital Transformation of Brick-and-Mortar Universities. The panelists for this interactive virtual roundtable were Priyanka Nair, Manager, Academics – L&D, Xebia; Matthew Alex, Founder, Beyond Academics; and Ahmed Naumaan, Professor, School of STEM, American Public University System.

The trio shared their expert insights on the importance of digital transformation in education and how to implement a digital transformation strategy from the teaching and learning perspectives. This crucial discussion was hosted by Ulhas Bodhankar, Senior Director – Business Consulting, Harbinger Group.

Digital Transformation for Effective Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning is commonly confused with other learning methods like blended learning, experiential learning, and flipped learning.

A hybrid learning model could be structured or unstructured. Structured learning is sequential, rule-based and can be taught anywhere and in a synchronous model as well as an asynchronous model. Unstructured learning requires critical thinking, critical reasoning, empathy, body language, and human teachers who can provide that human touch to learning and take students on a different learning journey.


In order to decide on an effective hybrid learning model, it’s important for universities to know:

  • What they are teaching
  • What needs to be taught in the classroom and outside of a classroom or remotely
  • What learning activities need to be done when students are with people
  • What kind of learning needs to be made available online, on-demand for students

Creating the best hybrid learning model requires you to closely understand structured and unstructured learning put the right content in the right form – online or offline courses, and present it in a way that delivers the desired results.

You see, hybrid learning, as the name suggests, doesn’t depend on just unstructured learning where human teachers play a role. The other half of hybrid learning requires you to embrace digitization and digital transformation. Education technologies like AI, AR, VR, LMS, interactive videos, AI-based teaching, and study assistants also have a significant part to play in implementing hybrid learning.

Digital Transformation Strategy for Freeing up Faculty Time

Some universities still follow the traditional approach of delivering education. Professors are seen spending a high amount of their time on non-teaching tasks. They are overburdened with administrative work. According to OECD, on average across countries, teachers spend half of their working time in non-teaching activities.

Digital transformation in higher education is the best option to automate administrative and other tasks for educators. Deploying the right education technology can help automate student registration, student attendance management, student performance management, and so on.

Furthermore, in educational institutions, the interaction between students and teachers is one of the factors that can decide successful learning outcomes. The value of an instructor comes in when they interact with students and can guide them right. In a traditional learning environment, content may not be delivered in the best way possible and the interaction between students and teachers may not be as expected.

Content can be delivered in a variety of ways, but when students are unable to understand a concept in a particular way, then there should be an alternative way to make them understand. For an instructor, it is essential to answer a student’s question in multiple ways, so that the student can learn better.

Then there is also the responsibility of mentorship that an educator needs to fulfill. The need for mentorship can arise anytime, anywhere for a student, not necessarily during university timings or when the student is at the university.

Not to forget, in-person interactions have reduced in the last two years, which has also been reflected in the education space. Nevertheless, embracing digital transformation can help educational institutions overcome most of these problems and shortcomings and ensure some of the best student and learning outcomes.

According to Ahmed, the biggest value that can come from distributed delivery and digitization of education is if they can increase the duration of time that a faculty member is able to spend with individual students or in group sessions with students, if they can promote that interaction between the faculty and students, either on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis.

Digital Transformation for Enhancing Outcomes

In a traditional higher education model, universities follow an institution-centric model. But times are changing, and everything is getting transformed, from curriculum to the mode of education.

It’s time for universities to follow a student-centric model and design academic sessions and curricula while keeping different types of students in mind who grasp classroom learning in various forms.

For example, just think about your experiences with brands like Amazon, Uber, and iTunes. Hopefully, you enjoy their way of offering products and services in a personalized, responsive, intuitive, and transparent manner. And most importantly, they are allowing you the comfort in what you do in that ecosystem.

Similarly, universities offering higher education must build an ecosystem around the same model if they genuinely care about their students. Universities must build a virtual ecosystem by implementing digital transformation in higher education based on student experience and learning methods.


Digital Transformation for Student Retention

Digital transformation can be a major help to universities wanting to improve student retention rates in the higher education space. It can do so through the three P’s:

Personalization: One of the best benefits of digital transformation in higher education is personalization. With a digital transformation strategy, universities can personalize their offerings and education to their target audience, i.e., students or whoever they are serving. Whether you are looking to retain students or enroll them, personalization can play a big role. Your offerings or the education you provide need to be personalized to the outcome you want for your students.

Persistence: With digital technology, universities can stay connected to their students and build a consistent relationship with them throughout their course term. This can go a long way toward achieving successful student retention.

Pathways: Thirdly, digital transformation can help universities build robust pathways that lead to the value students are looking for. Digital transformation can help universities make their students feel valued so that they could better retain their students.

Apart from these three P’s, you need to have a solid strategy in place to better leverage technology or digital transformation to drive student retention in the way you want and at the rate you’re aiming for. We know that digital transformation in universities is a must, but you need to have a strategy before you do anything and look at things through a strategic lens. Then, apply technology to get the results you want.

Challenges Digital Transformation Can Resolve

One of the biggest challenges that digital transformation can resolve is, changing our mental models of education. Automating an existing process is not a solution to the problems higher education is facing today. It’s essential to understand the way we conceive education, how it is delivered, who gets it, and where and how to apply it.

We live in a world where people are very comfortable with where they are and still believe a 90’s setup will work in today’s scenario – but that’s not how it works today. In order to overcome modern-day challenges, people need to transform the way they are doing things.

In terms of education, universities need to adopt a well-thought-out digital transformation strategy that removes the dependency on a traditional setup to get a job done. Today, technology is not the biggest transformational challenge, as you can find and implement almost any technology you want. However, the willingness to embrace or leverage the right technology is a major challenge facing universities today.

Furthermore, by removing the degree criteria, you can expect higher education to transform the way it should be and at a fast pace. You can also expect universities to stay focused on meeting industry needs and educating students as per industry standards. What and how students learn then becomes a critical part of digital transformation in higher education. And that’s why trending concepts like micro-credentials and ‘skills over degrees’ have come to the fore.

Lastly, in the current scenario, student outcomes have been affected with disruptions in traditional classroom settings, the delivery of education, and learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of digital transformation in education could make this scenario even more difficult for students and universities to deal with.

How Can Harbinger Help Universities Modernize Content?

The answer is our award-winning xSMART Framework powered by automation to develop searchable, micro, accessible, responsive, and trackable digital learning material.

In terms of academics, it is important to identify what content could be reused and templatized so that universities are enabled to get a solution much faster and more efficiently. The xSMART Framework can help automate the process and identify more areas that need automation, depending on specific university needs.


Furthermore, the xSMART framework makes the content search easy in terms of instructional identifying learning objectives or metadata content tagging with relevant keywords. It also allows the creation of micro-lessons, considering the high demand for bite-sized learning nuggets.

Importantly, the xSMART framework not only modernizes your content but also ensures the modernized content is available to everyone. It helps comply with accessibility standards like Section 508 and WCAG 2.1 AAA. Not to forget, it enables you to create responsive eLearning content to ensure responsiveness across devices and the best user experience for learners.

Lastly, the xSMART framework allows you to think beyond SCORM to get deeper analytics on learner behavior and performance. It helps you implement additional tracking capabilities like xAPI and LRS to generate detailed analytics and insights to make informed decisions.

You see, the xSMART framework is a complete package that can enable universities to modernize content in a rapid and cost-effective way.

So, this was all about the importance of digital transformation for universities and how it can prepare them to better deliver higher education while achieving the desired outcomes.

If you would like to dive deeper into the concept of digital transformation for brick-and-mortar universities and understand how technology can be a game-changer in higher education, reach out to our EdTech experts at