Beyond Tech for Tech's Sake: Fueling Purpose-Driven Outcomes in Higher-Ed

March 22, 2022
Beyond Tech

Three months into 2022, it’s almost a given that this year will continue the trend of new technological advancements meant to make our lives easier; advancing brands and products to deliver better experiences and meet our evolving needs as consumers. In the last two years, the education sector has experienced an explosion of new tools and digital disruptions in virtual and distanced learning. And while this major shift from in-person to online was primarily driven out of necessity due to external factors (i.e. the pandemic), EdTech is rightfully gaining an increasingly prominent seat at the table. As higher education institutions implement more advanced technologies, whether it be into their curriculums and operations, they should pause to ask themselves a simple question: why and for what outcome?

At Adtalem Global Education, our goal is to reimagine the future of healthcare education and to bridge disparities in educational access. As we focus on creating better outcomes for our students across the healthcare, medical and veterinary fields, we also focus on meeting learners wherever they are in life. By providing the technology to make education equitable and available for all types of students, we are training a more diverse population of doctors, nurses and vets who go on to improve health outcomes in their communities.

One example of this mission in action is Walden University’s latest tech developments. As a fully online institution, Walden University has long been a leader in EdTech and puts special emphasis on developing technology that improves the learning experience of students and contributes to their mental well-being. With a substantial population of non-traditional students and adult learners, we’ve found ways to innovate to deliver quality education that caters to busy lifestyles – such as juggling familial responsibilities, jobs, community involvement and other factors.  

The main questions we ask at Walden when implementing new technology are 1) how will this improve the lives of our students and help them progress; and 2) how does this technology align with our mission to provide “education for good?” We go beyond adding new technology simply for the sake of having the latest and greatest trend to hit the market. Instead, we focus on implementing tech that fuels our purpose and helps drive better outcomes for our students.  

Walden already had the tech capabilities to keep our students connected and on track during the pandemic, but one of the primary concerns was the emotional and mental toll a global crisis of this magnitude would have on our learners. Caring for the psychosocial health of students greatly contributes to their overall success, as noted in the Social Determinants of Learning from Chamberlain University. Because attaining an education relies on the emotional and physical endurance of learners, as a university, we need to remove hurdles (including technological barriers) and instill self-belief to nurture their path towards success 

This was the main driver behind the release of our Walden Companion Mobile App. During a time of social distancing, mobile phones became a lifeline, keeping us connected to our friends and family. Unlike most university mobile apps, which function as directories to university departments and services, our goal was to build an intuitive app that kept our students connected to their studies and could help them get things done, while also providing resources for their well-being. The Walden Companion app integrated our chatbot feature and a digital coach to help students get instant assistance with their tasks. Additionally, it allows for students to keep up-to-date on assignments by getting timely and helpful reminders, to view videos and other course materials and to keep tabs on their grades without having to log on to Walden’s student portal. Finally, our app added a social media-like feed so students could engage with, learn from and support one another.

Taking it a step further, we also piloted Study Buddy, a mobile app we created to help students plan for and adhere to their study time. Like your favorite fitness tracker, Study Buddy motivates students to fulfill their study commitments and has a wellness component that helps students engage in self-care and mindfulness in between their study sessions.

Most notably, Walden also launched Julian™ – a dynamic, self-directed tutor powered by Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities. Julian supports personalized learning on demand for our diverse student body of working professionals. With a tutor available 24/7, our students can practice mastery of more material and build more skills. Currently, Julian’s pilot is available for early childhood education and sociology students, but the vision for Julian moving forward is to make it available across a wider variety of Walden’s offerings, while also rolling it out across Adtalem Global Education’s other institutions. 

At Walden, we have a very diverse learner population, so it was also important for us to make these apps user-friendly to accommodate digital natives and non-digital generations alike. We want to ensure that all our learners meet their goals and are comfortable using our technological offerings. 

In 2022 and beyond, we will continue to evolve our technologies and innovate to fulfill the needs of our students. As with any of our other offerings, student feedback plays a very important role in how we develop updates and new tech to keep our students engaged. As always, mission, purpose and positive student outcomes remain at the heart of every new piece of technology we create, now and into the future.

Steven Tom Author Bio