It’s pretty apparent that the world of education is changing. From the the early days of homeschooling to today’s on-demand education providers like Khan Academy, there is more choice, freedom and flexibility in education than ever before. Education Management Corporation, also known as EDMC, is one such organization that is changing the way students learn. With more than 130,000 students attending one of EDMC’s four higher education schools, EDMC is the second largest private sector educational provider in the United States. Recently, I spoke with Tracey Zimmerman, VP of Student Experience and Innovation, about how EDMC is harnessing the power of cloud and social technology, through Salesforce Communities, to connect students, faculty and staff like never before.
Q: Set the stage for us. What was the challenge you were seeing in regard to interacting with students?
A: One of our educational systems, Argosy University, has 28 campus locations, as well as a fully online program. With any program, you run the risk of students not being engaged and as a result, failing to progress and graduate–this is an even greater challenge for fully online programs. Argosy was launching a brand new competency-based MBA program designed for working professionals who can apply their experience and prior knowledge to test out of previously mastered subjects and focus their time on unfamiliar areas. This type of program gives students control over how quickly they earn a degree. Because each student progresses at their own pace, it is even more difficult than with a cohort-based online program for students to connect with each other, faculty, and staff. Our goal is to make sure all students persist, progress, and graduate, so we needed to provide a community-like experience where students can support one another, network with faculty and fellow students, and really get the most out of their MBA program from both a curriculum and a community perspective.
Q: What was your solution to providing an engaging student experience online?
A: Research has found that when an online community is available to students, they are more likely to be engaged, succeed and ultimately graduate, and remain a valued member of the university’s alumni network. In the past, we had several separate systems with one user interface and online experience to support students, including a separate social product. As a result of having all of these different products, we weren’t able to provide the best experience possible to the students, especially when it came to student engagement with the learning and broader university community. Between the unique flexibility needed by a competency-based program and the desire for a truly unified online student experience, we recognized that we would have to build something custom to suit our needs. Fortunately, Salesforce Communities launched just in time, allowing us to build, extend, customize and launch an integrated social layer into the student experience in record time, which is especially important to me, as that speaks directly to the innovation part of my position. We were able to use the Force.com platform along with substantial Visualforce customization to bring students an experience that is highly branded and unique, while still allowing us to maintain ownership of the experience. The fact that our community sits on the Saleforce.com platform means that each quarter we’ll benefit from new features and functionality that we can roll-out to our students, faculty, and staff–should we so choose.
The result is a highly engaging online experience that includes a customized learning plan for each student, the ability for students and faculty to create profiles and connect with one another around curriculum, as well as other interests and hobbies. It also includes the critical student management functions needed for faculty and staff to provide the support our students need throughout the course of their program. And the best part, is that the community allows them all to stay connected–no matter what course they are taking or where they are in the road to completing their MBA.
Q: Sounds pretty cool. What would your advice be to others weighing their options for a regular portal vs. a social community?
A: Even if you are the type of organization that, as of right now, thinks you never want to be able to have conversations with external customers and you’re really only focused on solving staff-to-staff communication challenges, why close the door on that possibility? Challenge your thinking, especially for marketing and customer service. It may very well not make sense for every single customer to have access to a social community, but even if you can leverage a social component to solicit user feedback and engage a limited number of power users, your organization can benefit tremendously from this direct customer interaction. The reality is that a lot of organizations are hesitant to engage in social conversations with external constituents, but the even bigger reality is that whether you are out there or not, people are talking about your brand or product anyway. You can let them go off to places where you have no control and no voice in the conversation, or you can facilitate and learn from that communication and become a valued part of that individual’s digital life.
If you are interested in hearing more about how EDMC is reimagining the student experience with cloud and social technologies, catch Tracey in the Salesforce Communities Keynote: Reimagine Every Touchpoint on Monday, November 18th from 2:30-3:30pm in the Palace Hotel Grand Ballroom.