A defining challenge for higher education 30 universities. 4 years. 1 million learners.

Becoming Digital: A defining challenge for higher education
30 universities. 4 years. 1 million learners.

The Need:

Faculty, administrators, and government officials are concerned about the role of universities in digital environments. Digitizing an entire organization is an overwhelming task. Enterprise systems, recruitment, teaching, learning, and research are all under pressure to move into the digital age. Increased government regulation, greater accountability for taxpayer resources, and intensely competitive research funding require universities to modernize and take new approaches to become more efficient. Numerous for-profit organizations are filling some of these needs through activities such as moving content online. Additionally, consulting firms are starting to pay attention to the higher education sector. Unfortunately, these approaches have significant risks for universities, including loss of control over curriculum, reduced funds through revenue sharing, resistance from faculty concerned about deviation from the academic governance ethos of higher education, and costs beyond what smaller universities (often those serving underrepresented populations) can afford. A solution is needed that helps universities teaching the large population of low income, minority students transition into the digital age.

The Concept:

We propose a cohort-based model to assist universities that are not in competition with each other to take part in a multi-year process of transitioning to being a digital university. Ten universities will be added to the cohort annually. We expect that over a period of four years, we will impact one million learners. The university systems will be selected based on need, organizational commitment, and willingness to completely re-engineer all existing systems and practices in order to transform into a digital university. We are interested in working with universities that target low-income students from historically underrepresented populations.

The Approach:

The first ten-university cohort will begin in August 2017. Each university will undergo a month-long analysis and review of existing technology services, regulatory and policy challenges, organizational mission and vision, as well as future forecasting of digital trends and their impact on higher education. This will result in a baseline report and development of threshold standards that identify areas of greatest need and where greatest impact is possible.

Each university will assign an on-the-ground project lead represented by a senior organizational leader. This leader will ensure analysis and consultation are well supported and communicated and that planning activities are integrated with organizational practices. Monthly meetings will be held with cohort universities to aid networking, sharing of practice, identify key areas for discussion and support. Individual meetings will be held weekly to track progress and provide detailed guidance on how to engineer the planning and implementation of needed transitions. Different organizational units will be consulted in order to identify and minimize points of conflict that restrict rapid innovation. Baseline reports and scorecards will be provided on an ongoing basis to ensure universities can rapidly track progress toward goals.

Steering Committee:


     Justin Dellinger                      George Siemens                             Dave Cormier                             Abelardo Pardo

Advisory Board

The Services:

All members of the cohort will receive:

1. Annual Transformation and Renewal Report – addressing cohort, sector, and national and international trends.

2. Development of Digital Organization Strategy Plan, including organizational goals, digital learning, policy and strategy development, government accountability models, timetables, and other key plans needed for change that is responsive to unexpected developments.

3. Monthly update on progress toward the Digital Organization Strategy Plan and indexing with other partner systems

4. Ongoing consultation and engagement with the leads of the network/cohort (in this case, us)

5. Twice-annual in person meetings with cohort to review progress, address change challenges

6. Ongoing data-intensive reports of market sector transitions, new technologies, and best practices for organizational change

7. Learning analytics, faculty governance, organizational pulse taking, baseline reports, and scorecards will all be included.

8. Network and cohort health dashboards will be provided to evaluate progress.

10. Scorecards of performance regionally and nationally will enable tracking efforts in relation to peer institutions

11. Digitization and consultation on all practices related to university performance including enterprise systems, recruitment, registration, teaching, IT, faculty development, and learner support.

12. Partnership facilitation with leading firms in learning analytics and emerging platforms  as well as planning to deployment support

The Benefit:

In our interactions with hundreds of universities from around the world, a consistent message is communicated by presidents and provosts: We know we need to be a digital university. We don’t know how to make this transition.

We propose a cohort model that will utilize our expertise in digital learning, data and analytics, policy and strategy, faculty relations, and organizational assessment and evaluation. In this model, cohort universities do not need to enact the change on their own without direction, baseline, or best practices. Expert consultation, cohort expertise, drop-in consulting partnership teams, and data-intensive reports will provide all university partners with the support that they require to make the transition to a digital system.

Many universities face similar digital challenges. By taking advantage of the network effects of sharing lessons learned, providing ongoing consultative guidance, and receiving regular reports around trends and market intelligence, the process of becoming a digital university can be accelerated and the expense of each university making the change can be greatly reduced.


Universities, or individual departments in larger universities, who participate in this are expected to commit resources internally to ensure resources are accessible and shared in a timely manner. Additionally, the project work, reports, dashboards, and workshops are funded by university members. Participating systems will pay an annual participation fee. The fees for each university will be determined by factors such as size of student population, vision for change internally, consulting assistance needed, and existing progress toward digitizing.

Getting Started:

If you are interested in joining our first cohort, please contact