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If you are interested in understanding how emerging technology is affecting higher education and you haven’t ever taken a look at the NCM /Educause Horizon Report, I strongly recommend that you do. The Horizon Report is probably the best annual report I have found to help understand emerging tech trends in higher ed and to get a bit of insight into what’s coming down the proverbial pipe. Yes, it has a heavy technology focus, but these days, with technology as the driver of the massive disruption we’re seeing in the pedagogy, delivery infrastructure, and the business models of higher ed, I believe you need to understand this technology to understand how to market in this space.

With that said, let’s turn to the report. I found three interesting pieces in this year’s report that I think are particularly relevant and important for higher ed marketers. They are in the Key Trends Accelerating Adoption of Ed Tech in Higher Ed section of the report.

1) Fast Trends Driving Change in Higher Ed over the Next 1 or 2 Years:
    The Ubiquity of Social Media

Social media is now ubiquitous and reaches into all ages and demographics. It is not just for the “kids” anymore. Educators and marketers have worked hard in recent years to learn how to apply social media to reach their primary audiences and to effectively engage with them through it. The new information that you need to understand and digest is that it now truly reaches everyone, not just the high school kids most of your recruitment practices traditionally target. In fact, the fastest growing demographics for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the older members of the general population. Here’s Facebook as an example.

Facebook user statsSource

The 35- 54 age group now accounts for 31% of all US users. The 54 + years group is 16%. I think the lesson is that eventually every demographic finds one form or another of social media that serves them well and that they will embrace a platform (or two) eventually. As marketers, it is now your job to go out and identify the social media levers that reach into all the secondary segments for your institution, (lifelong learners, continuing ed, distance ed, parents, alumni) and create relevant and informative content and campaigns to engage with them there.

2) Fast Trends Driving Change in Higher Ed over the Next  5 or More Years:
Agile Approaches to Change

Higher ed institutions are increasingly experimenting with and adopting the methods of technology startups. The “Lean” approach of tech companies uses tech as a catalyst for promoting innovations in a more cost effective manner. The “Agile” approach equips companies to quickly change processes and workflows.


I’ll leave it to you to determine if this assertion matches with your institution’s general personality and emerging practices but the point I do want to make is that you should be thinking about adopting these approaches in your marketing department. In a nutshell, agile marketing is all about creating a plan, executing rapidly, evaluating it , then improve and repeat. In higher ed, tight budgets, a rapidly changing marketplace, and expanding digital marketing technologies makes the agile approach, at least in my mind, a necessity. Furthermore, an analytics supported approach, like what we use at HEM is a key part of this; without it you can’t effectively measure and/or evaluate your activities

If the Horizon Report is correct and your institutional leadership and practice are headed this way, now is a great time to get ahead of it and to start thinking and managing your marketing in this way. I recommend it. It has worked well for me and many of the higher ed clients we have worked with.

3) Fast Trends Driving Change in Higher Ed over the Next  5 or More Years:
    The Evolution of Online Learning 

women at computer


I find it kind of surprising that the report talks about online learning as driving change over the longer term. In my world it is clearly doing it today but I guess in the more general context it is still only emerging and maybe more importantly, evolving rapidly. For example, the initial madness surrounding free MOOCs for everything seems to have passed, and is slowly being replaced by smart commercial interests who are working out their business models and moving forward. Add competency based and prior learning credits, virtual and corporate universities and online and low residency degrees to the mix and you get a whole new landscape of brands, programs, and courses to worry about as competition to what you currently market at your school.

From experience I can tell you that marketing these newer kinds of programs is very different from marketing the traditional college or university program or course. You have to have both hands firmly on the wheel of your digital marketing and you must see your audience in a different light. It is highly competitive, feels much more “retail” and will turn on a dime on you if you’re not paying attention. I am not trying to scare anybody here, I think it is actually much more fun, but beware; you need to stake out your institution’s new position in this landscape before somebody else gets there.

So here’s a challenge for you if you want to try and get your head around these three trends. Pick a new online program at your institution, develop a social media campaign for it, targeting the 35 + years old market and use an agile marketing approach to develop the campaign and manage it.

If you do take a look over the report I’d love to hear what you think the most relevant trends are to you and what you think their impact will be on your marketing activities and institution.