Published on 2017/07/07
The EvoLLLution | More Than an Afterthought: Management Systems and Non-Traditional Divisional Success
Leveraging technology that improves back-end efficiency improves both the staff and student experience, while also allowing more space and time for creativity, innovation and growth.

For divisions serving non-traditional students, competition is just a fact of life. Given the low barriers to exit for students, it’s critical for these divisions to deliver a high-end experience at every stage of the student lifecycle—from the research stage to registration and enrollment to completion and beyond. Central to delivering a great experience is technology that often sits in the back of administrators’ minds: the management system. The Ontario Institute of Studies in Education’s (OISE) Continuing and Professional Learning (CPL) division recently invested in a new customer lifecycle management system to support the delivery of a high-end student experience and the management of their programs—especially important given their efforts to expand their target demographics beyond traditional teacher professional development. In this interview, Elisabeth Rees-Johnstone reflects on why OISE CPL decided to move on from its homegrown system and shares her thoughts on the impact their new system will have on both the student and staff experience.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did OISE Continuing and Professional Learning decide it needed to invest in a new system?

Elisabeth Rees Johnstone (ERJ): I have been working in postsecondary continuing education for a little while, and I have experienced attempts to build customized IT solutions to support the continuing education business, which has been a very painful exercise.

When I first joined OISE and saw that our legacy systems were designed more for traditional postsecondary students than professionals. I knew we needed a solution that would ensure the security of our data and also ensure that our customer experience was aligned with the needs of continuing education professionals.

Evo: Can you elaborate on why a system built for the traditional student experience doesn’t match what a CE student’s needs?

ERJ: If you’re exploring options to pursue an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree, the time and research you invest to inform your pathway choices can be significant. You’ll also typically go through a lenghty and multi-stage admissions process, including a waiting period to learn whether or not your application has been successful.

On the other hand, non-traditional learners want to be able to self-serve, to shop a bit to determine what they’re looking for and weigh-up options when deciding what they need. They want to know the system will remember their information. Offering an experience that’s quick and easy is key, and that’s a very different need than what students expect when applying to a formal undergraduate or graduate program.

Evo: What were some of the core issues with the homegrown system you inherited when you started?

ERJ: When I arrived here I was really concerned about the customer experience. We had three clunky legacy systems and an awful lot of paper-based administration, which meant that even trying to maintain some semblance of a quality customer experience was stressful for the team. Every task that looked automated to the learner was in fact extremely cumbersome and labor-intensive for staff. Then our IT partners told me our data was at risk, and if our legacy servers went down they might not be able to retrieve the data at all. That really was the last straw. Customer experience, staff experience, inefficiencies for workflow and critically, data security, were the core reasons for finding a new system.

Evo: What does it take to deliver a great staff experience? And how does technology play a role?

ERJ: We fundamentally believe we cannot deliver a great learner experience if we do not have a great staff experience, so that is critical to what we do.

When technology makes everyday tasks easier for staff, it helps to create a great staff experience, which in turn makes it easier to deliver a great learner experience. Nobody shows up in the morning wanting to do a terrible job, but when you’re working across myriad systems, lacking easy access to critical information, or held-up shuffling paper files, it creates a negative staff experience. The right infrastructure allows folks to really shine and do what they do best, which is ultimately to serve and deliver a great experience to learners.

Evo: Ultimately, what are the central characteristics to a great customer experience for non-traditional students?

ERJ: Learner choice and enabling control through a self-service model is critical to delivering a great learner experience. It starts with the first engagement a prospective learner has with your web presence and how they engage with your content, through to how well their concerns are addressed when they call your office for help. Is the process easy and seamless? Is the learner confident they’re going to get what they’ve paid for, and in the way they expect? Are we properly supporting them in whatever modality they’ve chosen, whether it’s online, blended or face-to-face? At every touch-point we want to ensure that we’re erring on the side of generosity.

Evo: What do you expect to be the key outcomes of moving to Destiny Solutions’ customer lifecycle management software platform Destiny One?

ERJ: When basic, time-consuming administrative tasks are reduced, it creates capacity to brainstorm and get creative. For example, having control over our web interface allows for all sorts of creative thinking about how we can grow and better serve our audiences. I look forward to the days we can realize aspirations of providing learners the option to create their own certificates, and to better recognize and engage with our alumni in meaninful ways. We’ve faced limitations in the past because our systems wouldn’t allow us to be nimble, and now with the help of Destiny One we have so many opportunities ahead of us.

We’ve also been working with Destiny Solutions to figure out how to ensure the seamless introduction of new technologies, both inside and outside of the classroom. We always ask stakeholders whether it was easy to engage with OISE, if they were able to access the information they needed when they needed it, and if we were responsive to their questions, particularly when something wasn’t easy to find. Having a partner like Destiny Solutions that helps us take care of those things means we can focus on innovating in other areas.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To learn more about how OISE is leveraging Destiny One to improve its student and staff experience, please click here.

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Key Takeaways

  • It’s critical for continuing education and non-traditional divisions to use systems designed specifically for the students they serve, rather than systems more suited to traditional 18-22 year olds.
  • The management system a division uses directly impacts their staff experience—by investing in a system that automates repeatable tasks and get away from pen-and-paper processes, staff time is freed up to focus on student needs and higher-value work.
  • Once the standard aspects of program management are taken care of, an institution can start to be innovative and creative in the way they deliver education—allowing students to build their own certificates, for example.
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