Online education or e-learning is a rapidly evolving market and it seems no company is driving innovation in the industry quite like Laureate Education.
As the first publicly traded public benefit corporation, Laureate Education, Inc. is the largest global network of degree-granting higher education institutions, with more than one million students enrolled across nearly 70 institutions in 25 countries at campuses and online. Laureate Education provides access that helps reduce barriers to education and foster a culture of inclusive learning; however, Laureate Education is going one step further by also offering online courses across its network of institutions and has a division, Laureate Online, which focuses on the fully online degree programs.
Rob Hilliard, CIO of Laureate Online, oversees tech solutions at Walden University, the company’s largest online university, as well as Laureate Education’s partner institutions - the University of Roehampton, the University of Liverpool, and the University of Miami.
“When we talk about our vision, there’s a phrase we often use called the ‘triple bottom line,’” notes Hilliard. “This means we've got our financial bottom line as a company, a student outcome bottom line, and a social impact bottom line.”
“We want to make sure we’re driving student outcomes. Not just simply giving students an education, but giving them the education they need to achieve their life goals and ambitions.
“Finally, the third bottom line is our impact on the world and how we can drive positive social change,” continues Hilliard. “We're focusing on those three levels so we can drive improvements for the company, the stockholders, the students and for the world in general.”
These may seem like ambitious aims, but they are ones which Laureate Education aims to deliver, through innovative digital transformation and technology leadership.
The last few years have been transformational for Laureate Online as it has revamped its IT operating model and moved from a project-based culture to a product-based one.
“By thinking of your technology solutions as products you have to keep iterating it, changing it, and adjusting it, just as the world around it changes,” Hilliard explains. “You might not make big changes every day, but having a team thinking about the next improvement builds relationships, collaboration, and teamwork - so there's less focus on the lines of the department and more focus on the student.”
Much of Hilliard’s focus has been on creating innovative technologies but as the company evolves and develops, he’s also keen to make sure the staff are well trained to deal with the new advancements.
“We have started to think about innovation in terms of change enablement,” reflects Hilliard. “We now recognize that when we’re implementing a new system, there’s a change to the technology, certainly, but there's also a change to the people and the process.
“We ask ourselves, if we are going to make this technology change, are the people trained properly, are they prepared for it, did we communicate it to them properly, and have we adjusted the processes properly?”
One notable product that Hilliard is proud of is Walden University’s newly revamped student portal. “Just like every technology, it gets old over time, and so we made a real effort to build a contemporary student experience,” says Hilliard.
“Not only am I proud of the solution, I think it's also a great example of the teamwork between the different facets of the organization that needed to come together to think about the student,” he adds.
“It’s important to build relationships,” adds Hilliard, “you can’t do it alone. Everyone has to pull together and focus on doing the right thing for the student.”
Laureate Online is also embarking on a new technological innovation by migrating to a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, Salesforce, and a new marketing automation tool called Marketo. They are also working with companies such as GoKart Labs on experience design and innovation initiatives.
“Everyone who touches a prospective student will have their interactions updated in our systems. This way, we'll have a much better 360-degree view of our customer and we can then provide them with the exact product they want,” adds Hilliard.
Focusing on the individual
Offering an eclectic range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs such as business, nursing, education and social work, Laureate Education’s individualistic and innovative approach to education could well be a deciding factor for prospective students when choosing whether to enrol.
Indeed, it is the company’s dedication to providing a rewarding student experience which is at the core of Laureate Education’s ethos and it is a mission which Hilliard is passionate about. “I would say that my personal overriding goal is really focused on student experience - broadly classifying ‘student’ as prospective students, current students, as well as alumni,” he says. “It’s making sure that the organization is aligned properly to satisfy the student’s needs as they go through that lifecycle.”
By looking at education from a refreshing angle, Laureate Education is not just reducing barriers to education access but is also questioning the ways we learn.
“When you think about revolutionising and transforming education there are a lot of things out there that are beyond technology,” says Hilliard.
“You can think about the way people go to class but you can also consider what types of education you can offer. For instance, Walden has developed a competency-based education experience that’s centered on the idea of learning at your own pace.
“It's an innovative solution, and I think if people understood it better and knew how it worked, they could achieve the educational outcomes they desire.”
At the forefront of a changing industry
As a public benefit corporation and a Certified B Corporation®, Laureate Education is committed to making a positive and enduring impact, not only for students but also in the communities it serves. Best expressed by a commitment to be ‘Here for Good’, the company is a strong believer that when its students succeed, countries prosper and societies benefit.
“Overall it's a great mission,” says Hilliard. “In an age where a lot of companies are trying to define what their purpose is, I think most employees and students feel good about coming to an institution where there's a focus on making the world a better place.”
A lot has changed in the education sector over the last decade, and certainly one of the trends is more online programme offerings.
Therefore, Hilliard recognizes the need to innovate so that the company can stay ahead of the curve and offer a student experience like no other.
“From a technology perspective, we need to make sure we are innovating in ways that are providing the best student experience and the best student outcomes,” Hilliard says.
“My goal is for Laureate Education to be a leader, an organization you could look up to and say they have the best online education, they have the best student experience, and their students achieve their goals - from my perspective that's what is most important.”