Universities have always been places where ideas and cultures clash, resulting in changes that can impact the world. The student of tomorrow has rapidly evolving expectations of the digital capabilities available to them. In all aspects of their lives, technologies converge, evolve and ultimately set a standard that quickly becomes an expectation.
While much of the business community refers to technologies like wearables, mobile, AI, the internet of things, and personalised communications as separate to each other, the truth is that they are all converging. The customer of the near future will not see any of these as separate. Nor will they care about the individual technologies at all in most cases. What that customer will be looking for is one simple elegant interface that combines the best of them all to deliver the right experience at the right time. What they will be looking to interact with is a digital assistant.
Digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or the next generation of screen-free assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are still in their infancy in terms of intelligence and utility, but research is already showing that:
- The younger demographic is adopting digital assistants rapidly – with 34% of millennials turning to their virtual assistants this past year.
- Expected usage rates by millennials are expected to hit almost 40 million users by 2019 – that’s 4 times the adoption rate of baby boomers.
- Millennials are turning to digital assistants before other interfaces like screen based search.
- Millennials trust digital assistant interactions more than human interactions.
- Millenials expect these interactions to provide exactly what they want.
This research falls right in line with our experience within the higher education space. Talking to students and designing new interfaces has shown us the opportunities Universities must embrace to define a singular way to connect with their students, from first contact through to Alumni.
While much of this future state relies on still-emerging technology and abstract concepts, it is important for Universities to recognise this opportunity and start preparing for the post-screen world today. To make better sense of how these technologies will converge, let’s explore this experience as a story.
Digital assistants in Universities
We start our story with Emma. She is about to finish her senior year at school and go off to University. This will be a highly emotional time for her, as she is about to leave an environment she knows very well – her home, circle of friends and places she knows. She will soon join a University where she will be expected to quickly familiarise herself with the environment, while settling in to a new home and social life.
While she knows roughly what she wants to study, choosing a course is very complicated as there is a huge amount of information available from each University. There is real risk that Emma could get overwhelmed with the process and become uncertain what to do next.
While browsing online, Emma sees an ad for University X. Rather than offering to send her more information, University X simply says, “Let us help you realise your dreams. Download our assistant.” She downloads an app to her phone, connects all of her social media accounts and then creates a basic profile including who she is and what she likes.
Through a series of prompts, the assistant starts a conversation about Emma’s hope and dreams: What does she want to do for a career? What does she value? What activities does enjoy? This process enables the app to better understand her requirements and guides her to the courses she may get the most out of. Once she has decided on the course that best suits her needs it continues to assist her through the application process.
Later, the assistant informs Emma that her application was successful, and then changes functionality to start preparing her for what to expect on orientation day and her first few months of University by providing content that is suited to her needs. When Orientation day arrives, the assistant tells Emma how to get to the University, offering suggested routes and the best time to leave home to get there on time. It also sends her photo of the person who is going be her initial contact.
As Emma begins to settle into University life, the app continues to assist her, telling her about clubs and activities that she may like to join based on her preferences or previous events she has attended. This helps her get socially connected – a big factor in ensuring she doesn’t drop out in that first year.
Over the rest of that year the assistant monitors Emma’s attendance and grades, and offers to set up face to face meetings if there are any warning signs. It continues this kind of support throughout her time at University, ensuring she is up to date with new developments within the University and her course.
Much of this could be achieved with the technology available now. Over the next couple years three things are going to happen that make this scenario much more likely:
- This type of experience will start to become expected by the market, especially at the younger end.
- AI and other uses of data will start to make the outcomes much better for the customer.
- Universities will be looking for competitive advantages that help them build brand and improve student outcomes. Getting this kind of system up and running will not be simple.
- It will take experimentation and evolution. So the sooner you get started the faster you will learn what work for your brand, and students.
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