By: Paul Napleton, Head of Digital & Marketing Automation at the University of East Anglia
Have you ever wondered what student life would be like in a sci-fi movie? Would you assume that data, technology, and AI would be cornerstones of student interactions? Guess what: They already are!
The phrase “artificial intelligence” has been around for over 70 years. And even before Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced us to the advanced talking AI HAL 9000, it has always been about a machine’s ability to learn and think like humans.
Today, artificial intelligence is certainly not confined to a galaxy far, far away! It is part of our daily life. Every day we see examples of AI all around us — recommendation engines, image and speech recognition, augmented reality, programmatic ad targeting, chatbots, and CRM tools. It helps us personalise content, make faster decisions, provide 24/7 support, forecast accurately, spot human errors and trends. And what’s already out there for universities to leverage fascinates me!
UEA’s Sainsbury Centre was the filming location for the futuristic HQ of The Avengers – and Joe Russo, who co-directed the movie, studied scriptwriting at UEA.
The Great Potential of AI in Higher Education
First, there is the richness of available data that we can now consolidate to get a 360-degree view of students. Such an awareness of who our students are allows us to create personalised and dynamic touchpoints across multiple channels.
Then there’s the number of interactions we can elevate with AI. Think about the advertising, website visits, the experiences on social media, at events, on the phone, or via email that we can enrich with such capabilities.
Lastly, look at the efficient and effective tools we can already leverage. With platforms like Marketing Cloud, we can enable lasting relationships with prospective students, from their first inquiries to their lives on campus and then as alumni. AI brings benefits like predictive journeys, A/B testing, next best action, recommendation, automation, and behavioural mapping. This helps institutions optimise resources and ensure that value is created across every student touchpoint.
At the University of East Anglia (UEA), we embraced AI across our admissions, recruitment, and marketing, and we use it in the following ways
1. Analyse and Get Strategic Insights
As Spider-Man knows all too well, with great data comes great responsibility! That’s why at UEA, we use and factor what our big data analytics find into our operations and digital transformation. AI tools like Einstein provide us with strategic insights, predictive analytics, and proactive recommendations so we can accelerate collaboration, productivity, and impact. With the growing importance of first-party and even zero-party data, we need data clairvoyance. Like Neo in The Matrix, we can now choose to enter a potentially sector-changing reality by taking the red “AI” pill — or remain wedded to the status quo with the blue “calculator” pill.
2. Deliver Connected (Integrated) Experiences
The Salesforce platform and its AI layer enable us to stay increasingly connected with students. Whether they are remote or on campus, it reinforces the hybrid model we’ve seen over the past 18 months. Today’s students are omnichannel and mobile-first by design, and AI-enabled tools help us connect the dots to create seamless personalised experiences across channels and devices. Much like Iron Man’s unique AI that powers his suits, the platform empowers us to tailor customer journeys based on what students want to achieve — not what we want them to do.
3. Enhance Content To Provide More Personal Service
The crux of many Hollywood sci-fi movies, such as Ex Machina or Blade Runner, lies in people’s willingness to trust the AI — and to embrace its insights and creativity. At UEA, we use AI to inform content with what our students actually need. We blend our marketing databases with user-level information and activities. We use AI-powered conversational insights, via peer-to-peer platforms like Unibuddy, to elevate each interaction. In addition to augmented reality content, we also use AI insight to increasingly optimise our content creation and SEO.
In the end, it’s a value exchange. People share data because they expect engaging, relevant, personalised content and service, but institutions delivering the human touch will make a mark.
As we near the end credits, remember that there will always be something new to embrace as technology and data develop. Much like all of these sci-fi movies, you can innovate, surprise, and delight your students with transformative experiences and personalised, meaningful, timely engagement throughout their student journey.
So grab a bucket of popcorn and settle in for the next university blockbuster!
Learn how your institution can get started with Education Cloud to create personalised student experiences.
About the Author
Head of Digital & Marketing Automation at the University of East Anglia