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Top 10 strategic technologies in higher education
Thu, 25th Feb 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The use of technology in higher education is set to take centre stage this year, with new research showing education leaders are focusing on using technology to enhance competitive advantage and support emerging business models.

Analyst firm Gartner says the focus is a shift away from former areas of focus such as reducing costs and driving efficiencies.

Jan-Martin Lowendahl, vice president and analyst for Gartner, says in order for institutions to thrive in the increasingly competitive education ecosystem, they must become more innovative and it is often technology that will underpin that innovation.

"Higher education is still mostly considered a conservative and slow-moving industry, with the majority of innovation coming from outside the traditional education IT organisation," Lowendahl explains.

"However, it is only a matter of time until all this innovation will impact the institution and, ultimately, the CIO,” he says.

Worldwide, higher education sector spending is forecast to grow 1.2 percent to reach US$38.2 billion in 2016, according to Gartner forecasts.

In New Zealand, technology spending in the higher education sector will total NZ$268 million in 2016, an increase of 4.1% over 2015.

Higher education institutions in Australia will spend A$1.7 billion on technology products and services in 2016, up 4% from 2015.

Gartner has identified the top 10 strategic technologies for the higher education sector that higher educations CIOs should have a plan for in 2016:

Adaptive Learning

According to Gartner, institutions are increasingly looking to adaptive learning to help solve the challenge of providing scalable personalised learning.

Adaptive learning dynamically adjusts the way instructional content is presented to students based on their responses or preferences.

It is increasingly dependent on a large-scale collection of learning data and algorithmically derived pedagogical responses, Gartner says.

It takes two major forms: (1) textbooks, where algorithms are packaged with content from a publisher for an end user; and (2) platforms, where end users add their own content to an adaptive learning environment.

Predictive Analytics

Gartner says predictive analytics involves extracting an analytical model from multiple sources of data to predict future behaviour or outcomes.

Predictive analytics are seen by higher education leaders as a key part of strategies to improve student success and save money through improved retention, the analyst firm explains.

A majority of the higher education analytics tools currently on the market claim to use predictive analytics, but there are relatively few tools that truly implement predictive analytics, Gartner says.


Customer relationship management is now a widely recognised tool for tracking and managing relationships with constituents, including prospective and current students, parents, alumni, corporations, benefactors and other friends of the institution, says Gartner.

The company says CRM systems have two primary objectives — automating and improving student-centric business processes, and gathering data to produce analytics to improve institutional decision making.

CRM technologies can be implemented to support all phases of the student life cycle — recruitment, enrolment, engagement, retention, alumni, career services and continuing education.


According to Gartner, exostructure strategy means acquiring the critical capability of interoperability as a deliberate strategy to integrate the increasing numbers of partnerships, tools and services in the education ecosystem.

When done right, Gartner says an exostructure approach enables institutions to leverage services from the cloud, rather than having to bring them inside the campus walls.

Enabled by standards, it can allow the institution to adapt faster. With the increasing interdependencies in the education ecosystem, Gartner says it sees it rising in importance for at least the next decade.

“The future belongs to exostructure rather than to infrastructure,” it says.

Open Microcredentials

Microcredentials in the form of various badges or points have existed for some time in digital social environments in general, and in learning environments in particular, Gartner says.

“A key problem is that these environments are proprietary, which makes it difficult to display achievements outside of them. The aim of open microcredentials is to remedy that problem,” the company explains.

For education institutions, issuing open microcredentials is a low-cost, high-value, technology-based capability that will provide more value and motivation to students, Gartner says.

Open microcredentials is still relatively immature as a technology, but it is gaining traction in the education community. According to Gartner, it is a clear strategic technology with a relatively small investment involved, thereby making it a ‘low-hanging fruit with good ROI'.

Digital Assessment

Digital assessment refers to the application of digital technologies to create, administer, report and manage tests and examinations.

Gartner says it is an increasingly important aspect of online learning as it feeds into a number of growing areas such as analytics, adaptive learning, competency-based education and new regimes of scrutiny, transparency and accreditation.

Many institutions are making increasing investments in new assessment technologies.

“Often the impetus for these investments is coming from disparate parts of the organisation, driven by different assessment needs,” Gartner says.

“Assessment tools are becoming a critical aspect of achieving personalisation at scale.

Smart Machines

“Smart machines are an exciting new trend on the list that promises to take adaptive learning and analytics, for example, to a new level that approaches algorithmic education,” Gartner says.

“As globalisation and political belief in a market force approach to higher education continues to increase competition, smart machines will be a key differentiator in helping the institution articulate its value, as well as deliver value to a student, leading to building a better brand,” the company explains.

Smart machines can be used for analytics, student and faculty advice, as well as in improving research productivity.

OER Ecosystem

Open educational resource ecosystems are pieces of educational content and media that are findable, freely available, and increasingly include tools and services to improve quality and production of open content.

The OER ecosystem is not new as such, but is increasing in importance to help drive down costs for students and increase control of educational content and channels, Gartner explains.

“OERs exhibit the five characteristics of openness — that is, users can retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the content freely,” the company says.

“CIOs have typically not been closely involved in supporting content used as textbooks or lecture material, but this is changing as the use of OERs expand.

Listening and Sensing Technology

Listening and sensing technologies are a broad collection of virtual capabilities that range from social listening and sentiment analysis through capture and interpretation of social activities, such as tweets to technologies that operate in the Internet of Things.

According to Gartner, in higher education, the use of social listening tools and social harvesting tools is in a very nascent stage, and when employed, it is most often used to aid in recruiting and enrolment.

However, Gartner says there is potential for it to play a significant role across the entire student journey, but most institutions are at very low maturity levels with these tools.

Collaboration Technology

The need to find people and ideas and communicate and collaborate on a global scale has always been fundamental to the higher education community, Gartner says.

“Collaboration technology is a sweeping definition of technology that facilitates research, education and outreach effectiveness for a team.

“It is certainly not a new trend or capability. However, it has increasing importance in a globalised online education ecosystem where many team members are geographically scattered,” the company says.