April 19, 2024


Science It Works

How COVID-19 Is Driving Change in Higher Education’s Content Management Needs

A convertible car being driven hands-free by a woman - driving higher education's CMS needs concept


The education sector has been one of the most affected by COVID-19 pandemic. It has forced higher education institutions to make unprecedented shifts in the use of technology, especially when it comes to publishing and distributing content to students, faculty, and staff.

For most higher education institutions, a content management system (CMS) has been the neural center that has made that transformation possible, keeping information centralized and enabling them to publish content faster. In fact, according to research from NYC Design, 83.8{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of the 4,000 surveyed higher education institutions are currently using a CMS. 

Overall, across institutions, three CMS dominate the market: WordPress (40.8{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}), Drupal (19.5{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}), and OU Campus (9.5{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}), with the rest of CMS garnering less than 7{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of adoption. To uncover the state of CMS usage and what decision-makers in the higher education sector expect from a CMS, we’ve asked the experts. 

The Impact of the Pandemic Over Higher Education’s Information Management

The main goal of educational institutions is to ensure that education’s quality stays the same, even during these kinds of circumstances. To achieve this, most universities have adapted to new methods of content delivery for students and faculty. One example of this is the integrations of CMS with Alexa for voice content delivery. 

Also, the lack of face-to-face interactions has enhanced the value of data. The more data about the students you have, the better experience you can provide, especially in terms of better classes and increased outcomes. 

For example, according to Arbazz Nizami, Director of Digital Marketing for Enrollment at Claremont, CA-based Claremont Lincoln University, “prior to the pandemic, universities were very much reliant on the status quo, and students have been demanding reforms that would increase equity and inclusion. Now, we understand we can’t rely on the status quo we have to innovate. Content management systems must incorporate as much data as possible into the student experience to create a customized experience that caters to various types of learners.”  

Similarly, as a consequence of the pandemic, digital transformation has reached more higher education institutions, bringing increased agility. Rick Merrick, CIO at Chicago, IL.-based TCS Education System, “Higher education institutions can be overly bureaucratic. A CMS that is lightweight, flexible, future-proof, and secure is necessary to make them more agile.”

Related Article: Learning to Adapt to the Pandemic-Induced Educational Crisis 

CMS and the Future of Institutions of Higher Education

Higher education institutions’ needs are quite different from those of an eCommerce or a B2B company website. That means that higher education has become a distinct market in the eyes of CMS vendors. In fact, recent research by UX Collective revealed that CMS are targeting post-secondary institutions with tailored solutions designed specifically for them. 

Therefore, it’s probable that CMS and DXP will become even better at understanding the needs of students and faculty in the near future. However, for that to happen, content management systems will have to disrupt themselves too. Merrick believes that “CMS need to evolve from just content delivery technologies to DXP. CMS need to be easy to integrate with other cloud technologies to ensure the student digital experience can be replicated across the entire lifecycle.”

Also, Merrick is of the opinion that C-suite executives in the higher education sector need some disruption too. He says, “it’s not just about selecting a system that is easy to manage, administer, and create content, but one that makes the student experience meaningful and convenient.” 

Similarly, Annie Koh, Professor Emeritus at the Singapore-based Singapore Management University, believes that, for higher education institutions, the future lies in “creating a learn from everywhere education system.” She explains that the pandemic has only accelerated a trend towards more digital, collaborative learning, and that is one benefit which must be embraced.

CMS and DXP have the tools to help higher education institutions deliver more personalized learning experiences to students. Headless CMS, in particular, have the potential to deliver AI-based personalization and omnichannel experiences for students, so they have access to educational materials, announcements, and can maintain communication with faculty members. 

Potential Roadblocks

Nevertheless, this future isn’t free of roadblocks, Scanlan believes. For instance, “universities haven’t really begun to use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to enhance their student journey.”

“CMS of the future will understand student behavior at a micro level, and use very sophisticated algorithms to understand your student enrollment trends and data. Even helping put students in classes based on what’s best for their journey,” she says.

With that in mind, what do higher education institutions need to ask from their CMS?

  • Granular personalization
  • Omnichannel content delivery
  • Headless or hybrid architecture
  • Support for NoCode or LowCode 
  • Integration with third-party softwares 

Besides technical features and support, higher education institutions need a vendor with enough product vision to show them why its CMS will enable them to wade through the specificities of the post-secondary education market. Last, it needs to be a constantly evolving product with versions appearing regularly and a roadmap that benefits your institution.