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Reaching All Students: What the Pandemic Taught us about How to Communicate


June 01, 2021 | 5 min read |

Matthew Sherlock, Director of Product Strategy, Ex Libris, campusM

In this blog post, I want to reflect on the last 14 months and the impact it has had on how we engage and communicate with our students, colleagues, and partners.

I think we can all agree that the last 14 months have been unique in modern-day history – the novel coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on all aspects of life. While Higher Education is usually well-insulated from national and local change, the scope of the pandemic and the isolation that has been a central theme of the crisis have had far reaching consequences across our sector.

When I talk to institutions about the communication and engagement challenges they faced during the pandemic and continue to face today, three themes appear consistently:

  1. Speed of Change

The first challenge is the speed of the change required, which has been frightening. In a comparably short space of time, the sector migrated from a traditional in-person service model to remote learning. The evolving nature of the science and understanding of the virus meant that guidance changed rapidly.

  1. Adapting on the Fly

It is a testament to the scientific community that our understanding of the Covid-19 virus developed so quickly, but this had led to continual real-time changes in how we tackled the pandemic. Though it was breath-taking to witness how institutions have transitioned to teaching online, having to pivot repeatedly and keep students up to date with each change was no simple task.

  1. Addressing a Scattered Audience

How do you engage, communicate, and connect with students who may be thousands of miles away? Maintaining your business when the model that has worked for hundreds of years has been turned on its head has been challenging for many institutions.

With communication strategies upended and an immediate need for distanced learning solutions, institutions applied technology to the growing engagement chasm. As a solution used by over 100 universities and colleges, we worked with customers to understand what could help them address communication these challenges and better support students during this disorienting time. Four main takeaways emerged from these conversations:

  • Multi-Channel Access is Key

    We’ve seen the device profile for users change over the pandemic, as students have been restricted to some extent in their movements. Web traffic through the campusM platform increased in response to stay at home mandates, with more students in front of their laptops than on the move. Though mobile traffic through the app is still extensive, the pandemic showed us how quickly user behaviours and needs can change. Being able to deliver the message across platforms enables the student to access information and services on whatever device they are using at the time.

  • Agility is Necessary

    Getting the right message out at the right time as situations evolve is a must. With guidelines changing on a day by day or hour by hour basis, timely communications are critical. While hopefully students and institutions won’t be faced with such drastic changes in the near future, we’ve seen how having the ability to address such changes in real-time can be very valuable.

  • Targeted Communications Work

    Getting the right message to the right user is important. An international first-year student will need different messaging than a graduate local student, who in turn needs different content and services than a staff member. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that targeted, personalized messaging resonates with students.

  • Analytics can Drive Confidence

    My final theme is confidence. You need to have confidence that the message is getting through, being read and understood. The ability to deliver multichannel communications at scale is critical, but it is just as critical to determine the effectiveness of the messaging. Analytics can help you pinpoint what’s working so you can create evolving best practices and implement them in future messaging.

These themes are not exhaustive, and their relative importance will change from institution to institution, but I hope that most of these themes speak to what you want from communications during periods of uncertainty – and beyond.

Building a Resilient Communication Strategy for Higher Education

At campusM we are committed to developing a toolset that enables you to engage and communicate with your students in scalable and targeted ways. Over the last 14 months, our customers have made extensive use of this toolset to inform, prepare and support their students as drastic changes took effect.

We hope we made it a little easier for students and admin partners during the pandemic, and we look forward to building the next normal of communications with you.