October 5, 2023

Unleashing the Power of Data: Enhancing Student Achievement through Data-Informed Strategies

Q&A with Justin Rose, 
Senior Director of Product Management, Anthology

Why is the definition of student success changing, and what does it mean for institutions?

The way in which we think about student success has been evolving for decades, but that evolution has accelerated in recent years. Increasingly, our collective thinking about success has shifted from purely academic outcomes, such as retention, persistence, and graduation, to include more comprehensive measures of the whole learner. The emergence of learner belonging and its relationship to thriving, as well as concerns about student health and wellbeing, have all impacted the profile of enrolled students and how institutions define a successful college outcome.

There is a growing recognition that the measure of student success should extend beyond the question of whether they graduate on time or not, and ask whether the learner has also gained the skills required for their desired career, as well as the ability to articulate their knowledge of those skills to potential employers.

This means that institutions must engage in the kinds of reflective, strategic, and resourcing exercises that allow them to programmatically strengthen opportunities for success for all their students—not just those who are already predisposed to benefit from college, but also for those who have historically been excluded from higher education due to inequities. To do so systemically, colleges and universities must broaden the scope of institutional intelligence beyond the dimensions that have traditionally defined student success. It is a significant challenge, but one that institutions are rising to meet.


Given these trends, how can institutions use technology to better prepare students for the workforce?

The college experience offers students so many opportunities to develop skills, competencies, and knowledge critical to succeeding in careers and in life, from major programs and coursework to short form credentials like certificates and microcredentials.

When participating in learning management system (LMS) based activities and assessments, students engage with subject matter experts to absorb content, practice hands-on and experiential learning, and cultivate social skills. In addition to academics, students also develop career skills through student organizations, clubs, living and learning communities, volunteering, athletics, study abroad, residence life, and other co-curricular activities.

When institutional leaders use EdTech solutions and platforms that capture, curate, visualize and analyze all the data generated from those many critical college experiences, they can empower learners and educators with the knowledge and insights to do two important things. First, to identify additional opportunities to hone, refine, and enhance those skills within and outside of the curriculum; and second, to empower students to communicate their knowledge of those skills to their communities and potential employers.


Can you provide an example of how comprehensive institutional data can be leveraged?

Individual institutions have discovered numerous ways to leverage data, with varying degrees of success. At Anthology, we have spent a lot of time talking with our clients about how we can help them best leverage their data to support learners and promote student success. We have built and are developing new solutions and features based on Anthology’s vision, internal expertise, and conversations with clients and partners.

Our product vision, which we call Intelligent Experiences (iX) demonstrates how data can be leveraged for skill development and career readiness. Institutions using our Milestone and Occupation Insight solutions can offer their learners visibility into the career-aligned skills that they are developing both within and alongside the curriculum.

Anthology’s platform intelligently synthesizes data from the labor market, digital badge and micro credential programs, student information systems, and learning management systems, allowing learners to access and understand not only what they are learning while in college, but also how they can continue to build those skills as they prepare for careers after completing their degree.

A truly holistic and integrated data ecosystem is necessary for such robust and broad leveraging of so many different data sources. This is also a key component of broadening the definition of student success. Student thriving is not something that occurs in a vacuum. It does not happen exclusively within an academic curriculum, a student organization, or within a specific learning community. It happens in aggregate across all these areas. You need to have access to data across the student profile around the institution to better measure and get a sense of their success.


How does the concept of lifelong learning fit into the idea of workforce preparation and career development?

Colleges and universities have historically served as a societal pillar that functions to promote the value of lifelong learning. For a variety of reasons, that mandate is more important than ever today. In terms of workforce preparation and career development, we know that college graduates entering the workforce now will need to upskill, reskill, and engage in continuous learning to navigate today’s high-tech, rapidly evolving job market.

Institutions that equip their students with the habits of mind and discipline to engage in ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated growth and development are setting them up for success in ways that will make them far more competitive than graduates from other institutions.

This can be accomplished programmatically in a variety of ways. When students leave an institution, programs that result in the awarding of meaningful digital credentials, digital badges, micro credentials, and other expressions of skills and competencies allow the institution to provide benefits beyond graduation by allowing learners to apply, share, and celebrate their achievements in relation to the skills that they are developing with their communities and potential employers.

Additionally, alumni and advancement networks can be an effective way to promote lifelong learning and provide benefits to alumni long after they have graduated from the institution. That entire aspect of university life beyond campus is undergoing a profound evolution.


What are the potential benefits and challenges of leveraging data to reshape workforce preparation and career development?

Without a dynamic, data-informed ecosystem, you are going to find yourself relying on anecdotes, narrative, or intuition. When it comes to making programmatic decisions as an institution to support learners for career preparation, this almost always falls flat.

In the absence of data and a strategy for strategically using it, what can be accomplished is limited. Institutions with clear, viable, well-resourced, and collaborative data strategies will be far ahead of those who are attempting to do it on their own or do not have data as a central component of their workforce preparation and career development strategy.

The challenges faced are mostly related to having a clear vision for integrating data systems. We recently conducted research that showed that while 80% of institutions believe it is essential to student success to have integrated data systems, only 20% have been able to achieve that level of system integration. This obstacle can be overcome by collaborating with providers of ed tech ecosystems such as Anthology.

Another challenge is change management, which can be extremely intimidating for both institutions and stakeholders. Obtaining buy-in from early adopters of innovations, getting high-level sponsorship from institutional leadership, ensuring system integration, and investing in the right educational technology, are all critical components of efforts to leverage data more effectively. To successfully navigate change, technology leaders must adopt postures, habits, and practices that facilitate these capabilities.

Change management often gets left out of the conversation because people and organizations are typically resistant to change. However, it is crucial that we change because failing to do so could result in us falling behind.

It is incumbent upon leaders who want to engage in these types of changes to innovate and celebrate early wins when it comes to using data to bolster student success, and to identify groups, teams and individuals on campus who have the influence and power to accelerate and expand those efforts.

This is all part of institutions’ natural experimentation, exploration, discovery, and development. It is also an effort that necessitates genuine and compelling leadership.

Colleges and universities are undergoing a transformation that requires a broader understanding of student success, recognizing the value of comprehensive, holistic measures that go beyond traditional academic criteria. It is also critical that institutional technology leaders develop the ability to navigate this transformation by leveraging innovative technology and the power of data to support learners’ multifaceted growth and career readiness journeys. As a result of this challenge and the opportunities it presents, a robust data ecosystem is needed that informs and elevates schools’ efforts to achieve more equity, inclusion, and success in the classroom.

To meet this challenge, technology leaders and their institutions must collaborate with educational technology solution providers to unlock the power of data and increase student achievement to promote lifelong learning, workforce readiness, and holistic student success.

Although the task is monumental, we are rising to meet it collectively, both for our clients and for the learners and educators they serve.