Transforming the Digital Student Experience in Higher Education


On Tuesday 30th November 2017, Understanding ModernGov ran an interactive one-day training course: Transforming Digital Student Experience in Higher Education.

Before the event we had the chance to catch up with the chair, Leonard Houx, and ask him about some of the main challenges of meeting students’ changing expectations, and how our course could help overcome some of these barriers to digital transformation:


How can we encourage senior staff to engage with digital transformation projects and understand the benefits of technology to improving student experience?

First, listen to your students. Observe them. Try to understand where their pain points are. For example, my colleagues at City ran an interesting study about student feedback online. They discovered that many students didn’t even know they could access it online. With that insight, they redesigned the VLE to make feedback much easier to access. I know UCL has also undertaken a similar project.

Second, tie your project to specific metrics and explain why you think it will enhance them. For example, look at your NSS scores for Learning and Feedback, Academic Support, or Learning Resources. A good VLE can greatly enhance a student’s experience here. This way, too, you know if you succeeded.

Try to tie it to evidence. What UX heuristics is it based on? What pedagogical research? You need to have a good reason to believe why your work will improve outcomes. You can’t just keep chanting ‘innovation’ or ‘technology’ at people, as if they were magically, infallibly good. The point is you need to enhance outcomes and your stakeholders – and you – need to understand why you think it will help.

Are there ways we can ensure that technology is used responsibly, both by students and teachers?

In the VLE, this is often a difficult issue as teachers are often presented with too many options – too many configuration options, too many formatting options, too many activity options. It just creates a lot of complexity and inconsistency.

Most VLEs needs to be radically simplified for academics. But to be able to sell this to students and academics, you need to produce something that does two things.

First, it needs good UX. It needs to look and feel great. That, to a great extent is what people are looking for: they want to put their content in the best light possible. When they content looks bad is when they start really wishing they could fiddle with it. This is why people are generally happy to put up with spartan editors in sites like, because it makes their content look great.

Second – and this is the more difficult one –it needs to makes sense for your instititutions’ pedagogical culture. Oh yes, I said ‘pedagogical culture’. By the simple fact that they afford a limited number of approaches, it’s inevitable that your VLE promotes certain pedagogical ideas over others. So it’s better if you take an active approach to this and think through what you do want to promote instead of blaming the VLE for not enabling everything.

How can universities create a holistic digital experience for students?

Overall, you need to create a design spec that will ensure that your websites will look and feel the same way throughout your web domain. Many branding guidelines tend to focus on print guidelines and, if you’re lucky, give a little bit about how the corporate web pages should look, but not enough to explain how a VLE should look or function. I believe in our time we need more.

In the VLE, you need to make sure that, on one hand, your VLE maintains consistency and that the variety that academic authors introduce is meaningful and not creating chaos or operating outside of the brand. On the other hand, you need to ensure that enhancement and design projects are happening on a programme-level. That is really key.

If you would like to learn more about creating a digital student experience, or attend the next date for Transforming Digital Student Experience in Higher Education, speak to a member of our team on 0800 542 9440 or email