Towards a Student-obsessed Culture in Higher Education

Written by Samer Saab, CEO, Explorance.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rise of the educational experience platform, particularly from two main axes:

  • Assessment-centered platforms that are positioned to assist higher education institutions in gathering the needed evidence to support their accreditation requirements
  • Instructor-centered platforms that are positioned to assist higher education institutions in supporting their faculty recruitment efforts, research activities, professional development programs, and tenure and promotion processes for a better overall teaching experience

Both platform types make sense as, for most higher education institutions, more than one-third of their budget stems from state and government funding and support, and another third comes from research and auxiliary services.

What the above-noted platforms however ignore is that higher education continues to face rising threats and challenges from the unsustainable increase in college tuition to offset increasing operational costs and decreasing state and government funding. Add to this some strong opposing macroeconomic trends such as the digitization of the economy, the strengthening global competition for international students, the rising negativity about graduates’ work readiness, and the highly disruptive talent attraction and development strategies of the corporate world in today’s close-to-full employment top economies.

The days when an academic institution had only to meet student needs are long gone. We live today in a world of continuously growing expectations from future generations of students challenging universities to seek ways to keep up while remaining financially sustainable. Not to mention doing it during the rise of a pandemic that shifted the teaching and learning experience dramatically. It is a very tricky balancing act between demand and supply, tuition rates and enrollment numbers, and quality of education and the overall student journey.

That’s why, a few years ago, Explorance embarked on the journey to build the next-in-class educational experience platform. We aimed to build a platform that is student-centered and perfectly aligns with supporting today’s institutional leaders with their most important decisions – the ones that will impact the next generations of students.

Welcome to the era of student journey analytics (SJA). SJA looks at a student’s journey with an institution as a single connected unit. It is the natural evolution of Explorance’s previous Learning Experience Management (LEM) framework, where an experience was viewed as an event and/or activity from which an individual or group may gather knowledge, opinions, and skills.


The days when an academic institution had only to meet student needs are long gone.

Some of the most notable 21st-century disruptions came by way of organizations that succeeded to abstract their business model to support the overall customer journey, rather than just aim at optimizing the collection of experiences their customers went through daily. To name a few, think Uber vs. the taxi industry; Amazon vs. the retail industry; Airbnb vs. the hotel industry; Expedia vs. the travel industry; and Netflix vs. the cable industry.

At Explorance, we firmly believe that the leading higher education institutions of the future are those that fast adapt their service models to address the overall student journey, and naturally, those that succeed in their evolution from being Regulation-centric towards becoming Student-obsessed.

The building blocks of Student Journey Analytics

Student Journey Analytics is a flexible framework that sets an overall guideline to empower higher education institutions to better serve and support the success of their students. The foundation of a successful SJA implementation, one that sets a path for a granular adoption, is broken down into 3 fundamental principles.

The student experience does not live solely in the realm of the classroom

  • Why are your students dropping out?
  • How is your institutional brand evolving?
  • How prepared are your students for the workplace?
  • How engaged are your students in their learning experience?
  • Are we providing an environment that fosters student well-being?
  • Are your student onboarding efforts leading to higher 1st-year retention?
  • Are your Alumni as strong of advocates for your institution as you would like them to be?

These are the kind of questions that every institutional leader should be asking and – more importantly – information that they should have at their fingertips through clearly defined measurement processes and strategies.

Unfortunately, not enough measurement is happening along the student educational journey. For a long time, and until recently, the focus has been driven by accreditation requirements and ranking ambitions. Hence, the focus for Higher Education Institutions has remained on the evaluation of teaching and learning (e.g., course evaluations) and alumni surveys. The reality is that in today’s competitive landscape, institutions must look beyond ranking and accreditation into the bigger picture of the student perceived Return on Expectation (ROE), and – as tuition rates continue to rise – the actual Return on Investment (ROI).


Unfortunately, not enough measurement is happening along the student educational journey.

Student Journey Analytics - Experience Surveys

This means that the higher education institutions of 2020 and beyond must monitor and continuously direct its brand to back their strategic recruitment objectives, support the student onboarding experience to minimize 1st-year dropout rates, ensure that students are clearly engaged in their learning process and develop the necessary competencies to succeed in the real world, and give students an overall environment that is conducive to well-being, productivity, and learning. And as it happens – learning in today’s world happens primarily outside of the classroom. 

Therefore, an intentional student-first experience management strategy is needed to ensure that every single aspect of the student educational experience is measured, analyzed, and continuously improved.

An always-on listening channel to capture every student experience touchpoint

  • Does your shiest student have a voice?
  • Which of your students feel left behind?
  • Are your students ready for their upcoming exams?
  • Are your students pleased with the new residence Wi-Fi services?
  • What do your students think of the new LMS feature you just introduced?
  • Do you know which T&L methods your students would like to see more of?
  • How well are you supporting the development of your students’ “Feedback Literacy”?

These are examples of conversations that never take place in a formalized way within the realm of an institution. This type of intelligence is very fluid. It lives in the moment and requires highly meaningful and impactful analytics that institutions cannot put at the fingertips of their administrators, academic leaders, and instructors. Therefore, these lost informal insights are mostly supported through external channels such as discussion forums and social websites, water cooler discussions, informal ad-hoc meetings, or they simply never take place.

Student Journey Analytics - Always-on Listening Channel

There is a growing expressed need within higher education for a united and formal mechanism to support the implementation of a continuous listening strategy: a social-inspired approach to informal feedback gathering. One that complements the stepwise surveys needed to measure and support the key experience touchpoints of students throughout their academic journey.

The most important decisions you will make to improve the student experience

  • Are you hearing what your students are really saying?
  • What is the overall student sentiment on institutional services?
  • What feedback patterns are the most predictive of student attrition?
  • How do post-graduation insights help improve student engagement levels?
  • Are you leveraging student exit insights to improve your onboarding programs?
  • Are you correlating alumni insights with the evolution of your institution’s brand?
  • Which student competencies are most prone to help them succeed in the workplace?

It is a great start to have a lot of data, but it is only valuable if we connect, consume, and drive impact from it in a holistic and meaningful way. Higher education institutions are sitting on billions and billions of feedback data points, yet they are not able to connect the dots in a seamless enough manner to better inform their decisions. This is not because institutions do not have the desire to leverage student voice analytics appropriately, but rather because they are facing some fundamental barriers in the journey of becoming more data-driven.

First, there seems to be a large concentration of highly specialized feedback solutions on the market today, very few of which are offering the needed breadth and depth for an institution to cover all facets of the student journey in a uniform and consistent way. Add to this the slow movement to standardization and interoperability across the EdTech provider landscape.

Second, there are many segregated business owners across the student lifecycle, each relying on siloed voice analytics to optimize the specific student experience they oversee directly. This deprives their institutions of the cross-functional journey-based analytics that they need to inform their decision better and support the overall experience for their students.

Student Journey Analytics - Decision Support

Third, many institutions are not hearing what their students are truly saying because they tend to rely primarily, and sometimes solely, on the direct feedback gathered through formal listening channels across the academic journey of a student. Untapped goldmines are stemming from alternative feedback sources, including the indirect and inferred.

Indirect feedback includes the realm of the informal space, including discussion forums, social spaces, and rating websites, among many other voice channels. All these informal conversations that matter can help shed light on an institution’s brand, but more importantly, can give a sense of student sentiments and expectations.

Inferred feedback can provide meaningful context when looking at the full picture. It can encompass metadata, which is information already available about the students providing the feedback being analyzed. It can also include predictive behavioral data that can further augment the story an institution can tell about their students.

The most informed decisions will only happen when institutions curate the direct feedback – quantitative and qualitative – gathered across every touchpoint of the student educational lifecycle, with the indirect feedback captured in the open space, and the inferred feedback.

In summary ….

At Explorance, we firmly believe that the higher education institution of the future is one that is student-obsessed and purposeful in its implementation of student journey analytics toward:

  • A better overall learning experience
  • A stronger sense of student well-being and engagement
  • Higher graduation rates
  • A positive Return on Investment for everyone

It was with this vision of the future of higher education that we first began our journey to create the next educational experience platform

Learn how are universities planning to capture, and act upon, feedback from students in 2020-21? Download the eBook.

BlueCourse evaluationsHigher educationStudent Experience Management

Automate your Course evaluations with best-in-class software.

Stay connected
with the latest products, services, and industry news.