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Is the provision of online educational services a strategic imperative for Higher Education Institutions?

Author: Filippos Loizou, Head of Business Administration, P.A. College

Published: 04 May 2021

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Should evaluation of student satisfaction drive future planning?

The epicentre of an organisation’s strategic planning is its stakeholders and this holds true for Higher Education Institutions. Undoubtedly, students compose the far most important constituent in the Education Institutions’ stakeholder environment. The perception of parallelising students as typical customers of Higher Education Institutions may be considered undesirable nonetheless it is a sheer reality. Further, Higher Education Institutions are obliged to consider the delivery of educational services to students within the sphere of their multifaceted pedagogical role and responsibility to humanity at large. In light of this, Higher Education Institutions need to evaluate student satisfaction and the quality of the educational services provided, especially those pertinent to online educational processes, within the framework of the aforesaid dual prism. The results of the specific evaluation should guide the development of the future strategic planning and strategies of Higher Education Institutions. Ignoring this approach will induce long term implications upon the organisation which might be quite detrimental. Repercussions could span over financial, societal, environmental, and psychological dimensions. 

In the last year or so, there has been much debate on how online learning effectiveness compares to face-to-face learning effectiveness and the impact of online learning on student satisfaction levels. Unavoidably, students will base their degree of satisfaction on comparative means between e-education processes and conventional education processes. The comparative process is instigated on specific common evaluation dimensions which entail the effectiveness of subject material delivery, lecturer-student interaction, interaction amongst classmates, in-class discussions, in-class group work, communication, student assessment, and performance. Under each dimension there exist multiple and variable criteria based on the level of study and the education needs of each individual learner.

The environment in which educational services are delivered is configured by teaching/learning processes that encompass synchronous and asynchronous e-education, traditional methods of education, and hybrid methods of education. The three aforementioned pillars of educational services provision and any combination of them will institute a future strategic direction for Higher Education Institutions that may generate significant strategic competitive advantages. The form and complexity of this evolved environment will eventually drastically influence and possibly govern the choices of potential students in their selection of a specific Higher Education Institution and it should, thus, constitute the primary driver of Higher Education Institutions future strategic choices associated with the provision of educational services.

The synthesis of the methods by which Higher Education Institutions provide educational services should be based on in-depth analysis of all those parameters that generate high levels of student satisfaction and simultaneously produce the highest of results in terms of knowledge transfer, degree of learning achieved, and the officially recorded and published performance of graduates. Moreover, the impact of the much required technological advances should also be considered as the prime facilitator of many of these processes.

Indeed, a right worthy argument on the evaluation of e-educational services points toward the main measure that has traditionally been used to evaluate online learning, namely, the performance of students receiving online education compared to their peers engaged in receiving traditional educational services. This is a key matter that needs to be properly addressed to clearly substantiate the difference, if any, between the performances of students receiving solely e-educational services or blended education services as compared to those students receiving conventional education.

The aforementioned evaluation should be conducted on a continuous basis since online learning technology continually improves unleashing new and powerful capabilities in e-education. Furthermore, the aforesaid metric may not be the sole substantial indicator since any analysis on the value of online learning should include additional parameters such as flexibility, convenience, and ease of access. Online learning will undoubtedly contribute to the downsizing of the premises scale of Higher Education Institutions. Nevertheless, it will contribute to the betterment of other key areas and aspects of the institutions such as the number of students enrolled, since virtual classrooms can easily be created, and increased diversity of students in terms of age, socioeconomic background, interests, devotion, prospects, aspirations, and abilities. However, these progressions, such as rapid expansion in enrolments, may inhibit personalised instruction at the expense of quality, unless technological advances can alleviate any such predicaments. That is, technology developments should allow institutions to generate e-learning environments which can swiftly adapt to changing scales and types of instruction personalisation, curricula, assessment, and e-education provision types. Online learning should potentially and effectively not only simulate but outperform traditional educational activities for all the students that is set to serve. The evolvement of various technologies indicates that the potential exists and that the emergence of adaptive learning management systems as well as learning analytics is quite promising. 

The mandatory inclusion of online learning in an institution’s future planning will become a strategic imperative, and those Higher Education Institutions that neglect this opportunity will be at a competitive disadvantage. Online learning will become a key strategy that will enable Higher Education Institutions to achieve their strategic goals and fulfil their pedagogical mission.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.