Trends in Higher Education to Watch in 2024 and Beyond

3 Tech Trends Transforming Higher Education

In an era marked by technological advancements, education is undergoing a revolutionary transformation. As we look to the years ahead, multiple factors are poised to redefine how we learn and teach. In this post, we delve into three trends in higher education that will shape the future of this space: immersive, personalized experiences, credentialing technology, and expanded inclusion. Beyond that, we discuss how faculty upskilling and professional development are imperative for enabling institutional change around these trends.

1. Immersive, Personalized Digital Experiences

As positive sentiment toward online learning continues to surge among potential students, a focus on digital learner experience is taking center stage. The days of attracting applicants with extravagant on-campus facilities are giving way to a movement that caters to the fully or partially remote student. To differentiate themselves, universities must instead invest in digital campuses and experiences. As they do, they’ll need tools like Salesforce to support learners across the lifecycle and across departmental silos. From any location and device, students will expect easy access to personalized information, helpful resources, and proactive guidance. 

The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly have an immense role in this digital shift. For example, adaptive learning powered by AI will enable experiences tailored to individual needs. Predictive modeling for intervention and intelligent tutoring systems will offer real-time feedback and support, revolutionizing the traditional education model. AI algorithms utilizing natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) will also customize content and modalities to cater to the unique needs of each student. At the same time, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies will mature. They will provide new avenues for interactive learning, including simulations that enhance understanding. As institutions combine these tools to optimize digital experiences, gamification and behavioral economics will offer further avenues to make learning more engaging and enjoyable.

2. Streamlined Academic and Transfer Credentialing 

Education will soon witness the rise of technology that simplifies the process of transferring between institutions or starting fresh at a new school. This technology will provide secure and easy verification of academic credentials, empowering learners with greater control over their educational journey. The decentralized credentialing system will subsequently break down barriers to learning, making education more accessible and flexible for students.

3. Expanded Inclusion

Technology will be pivotal in creating inclusive learning environments that cater to diverse needs. Platforms and resources will be designed with universal principles that ensure accessibility for students with disabilities. Educational software will be tailored to accommodate various learning styles, offering customization and adaptability, powered in part by AI. Cultural sensitivity will likewise be a priority. For this reason, technologists and educational leaders will collaborate to address potential biases in educational technology and present content that is inclusive and relevant to every student.

A Requirement for Growth: Faculty Upskilling and Development

Faculty and staff will be crucial to unlocking the potential of these new technologies and trends in higher education. Institutions must equip their teams to navigate this rapidly changing landscape. Ongoing training in digital literacy and the effective use of new educational technology will be essential. Creating a culture of continuous learning will encourage educators to stay updated on new tools and best practices. In particular, the integration of AI in education necessitates faculty upskilling. Educators must be prepared to guide students in understanding and utilizing generative AI tools due to their increasing prevalence in professional settings.

All in all, the future of education is an exciting frontier characterized by immersive, personalized experiences, streamlined credentialing, and expanded inclusion. Embracing these trends–and simultaneously preparing faculty and staff to fully utilize new technologies–will empower a diverse generation of students to thrive in an ever-evolving global landscape. 

Are You Ready for the Change These Higher Education Trends Will Bring?

Robots & Pencils partners with forward-thinking institutions at the cutting edge of trends in higher education and technology advancement. From increasing retention with more personalized learner journeys to streamlining internal systems and workflows to optimizing academic support, our team is passionate about enabling student success. To discuss how we could help your organization, fill out our contact form or email us at

Choosing a Digital Transformation Agency: 5 Factors to Consider

Frustrated with technology in your brand’s workflow? Wishing for more business insights? Need a better way to appeal to consumers? Finding the right agency for digital transformation an accelerate your business and innovation goals so that your brand operates more efficiently than ever before.

By doing a quick Google search, you’ll find that there are a plethora of digital transformation agencies to choose from. Doing an audit of your current workflows, honing in on goals and organizing objectives will help you choose the right partner.

Feel a little overwhelmed by your options? We’ve got you covered.

What Will a Digital Transformation Agency Do for My Brand?

When it comes to problematic workflows and less than ideal technology, a digital transformation partner can revolutionize your brand’s digital footprint.

A few improvements to expect include:

  • An optimized user’s journey
  • A more agile business model
  • Become an innovative pioneer in your vertical
  • Increase transparency and communication
  • Analyze more data at a larger scale
  • Implement data-driven business solutions
  • A sense of empowerment from reliable technology
  • Build a strategic future roadmap

First Things First: Identify Goals

Digital transformation takes into account your current workflows, your customer experience and culture to improve your way of doing things. Using technology, the right digital transformation firm will transform your business.

Before researching the right digital transformation agency, it’s crucial to hone in on your goals. Just a few things to outline include:

  • Budget
  • Areas of your workflow that are problematic
  • Timeline
  • Customer feedback and ideas about areas of improvement
  • Team members who will manage this project
  • Outdated technology

What to Look for in a Digital Transformation Agency

1. Case Studies

Case studies are the best way to get a feel for an agency’s past work and brand alignment. They offer social proof of a digital transformation agency’s experience in your brand’s niche.

You can find case studies on the company’s website and/or you can ask for them from their sales team.

Don’t look for big name brands. Rather, look for a brand fit and proven solutions that are similar to your brand’s needs. Peruse the challenge that the brands in the case studies faced and the solution the digital transformation agency implemented. Do these things line up with your own goals?

2. Scalability

A common pain point that digital transformation agencies solve is overcoming growing pains when scaling your workflows. So be sure to vet your potential partners for the ability to scale the technology solutions they implement.

One of the biggest reasons that brands seek out a digital transformation partner is because they grow too big for their way of doing things and know there is a better solution out there. In order to not run into the same problem again, it’s crucial that your agency can easily scale the solutions they implement.

3. Workflow and Industry Knowledge

Digital transformation is necessary in all industries. So it’s crucial that your partner is familiar with your brand’s objectives and workflows.

Before activating a digital transformation agency, don’t hesitate to ask them interview style questions to determine if their experience is a good fit with your brand. The key question being have they developed or implemented solutions similar to what you’re trying to do at your brand?

It’s a big step to know you need a digital transformation agency and an even bigger step to find someone who is familiar with your industry.

4. Flexibility

It’s important for your digital transformation partner to be flexible in their approach to creating solutions for your brand. Oftentimes, issues will surface mid-project so it’s imperative that the agency you choose is used to being flexible.

Digital transformation should occur based on business needs and not a rigid set of black and white rules. It’s all about adaptation throughout the partnership.

A Technical and Creative Balance

Digital transformation embraces technical knowledge and a creative mindset. Look to your potential digital transformation partners for the implementation of both ends of the spectrum.

Your digital transformation agency should excel in tech solutions but don’t overlook the power of creativity involved. Upon choosing an agency, you will get a dedicated team so be sure that it is diverse and experienced throughout the vetting process.

Starting Your Search for a Digital Transformation Partner?

If you’re looking for a digital transformation partner, Robots & Pencils has the expertise to help. Want proof? We’ve been featured on the Constellation ShortList™in the Digital Transformation Services (DTX): Global category for four years running! Email to start the conversation today.

The Joy of Exploratory Testing

If you’re wondering whether your software is working as well as it could, I’m going to tell you how to use exploratory testing as a tool to find out.

I am Marianne Murray, QA Practice Lead at Robots & Pencils. I’ve been testing software for more years than I care to admit! I am posting here to share some of the things that bring our QA team joy in testing, and why we are so passionate about delivering a quality product.

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is a type of testing where the tester sets a goal or mission and “explores” to experience the product, to learn, and garner information around the state of the product and support planning detailed tests.

“There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” ¹

Cem Kaner, who coined the term in 1984,² defined exploratory testing as “a style of software testing that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester to continually optimize the quality of their work by treating test-related learning, test design, test execution, and test result interpretation as mutually supportive activities that run in parallel throughout the project.”

In short, exploratory testing is all about discovery, investigation, and learning. It emphasizes personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester.

“Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” ¹

When do we use it?

We use exploratory testing when we want to investigate and learn. It is a quick way to probe the features and provide qualitative feedback. We often use exploratory tests as a launching point when we are testing an existing product, or to get up to speed when joining an in-flight project. We can also use this type of testing when time is not on our side and we are looking to provide quick feedback to the team.

“Anytime you learn, you gain.” ¹

What are the benefits?

A challenge that we face in detailed functional testing is that testers can get lost in the weeds. Exploratory testing allows us to view the big picture and to place ourselves in the shoes of our users. We can use it as a jumping off point for other types of testing as well. For example, we can explore negative scenarios around API testing, or explore how an app behaves in a different language and use that information to develop and refine test cases.

“It’s hard to see things when you are too close. Take a step back and look.” ¹

What are the shortcomings?

The results of exploratory testing may be harder to communicate concisely. The testing and interpretation of results are more dependent on domain knowledge and tester skill. Testers also need to take great notes around execution and steps to ensure issues can be replicated.

“If you do too much, it’s going to lose its effectiveness.” ¹

What tools are used?

Testers use the same tools to perform both exploratory and functional testing. The main difference is the level of detail in the test case and results notes. At Robots & Pencils, we use TestRail to capture our test cases. We have a separate template to capture the higher level free-flow format that is used for exploratory testing.

“However you think it should be, that’s exactly how it should be.” ¹

Who can do exploratory testing?

At R&P, our QA Robots are our testers who perform exploratory testing in conjunction with other types of testing. These tests help gather information to highlight areas needing additional testing and focus attention for deep dives.

“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything you’re willing to practice, you can do.” ¹

Each member of our QA team comes from a different background. There is no one path to becoming a tester. But what each of us has in common is the joy we find in testing. We start with the unknown. We research and learn and build our understanding of the product, while providing value and information around the software.

“You can do anything you want. This is your world.” ¹

Exploratory testing is often the right option for companies looking to quickly identify quality concerns, highlight areas for future focus, or investigate the state of a product. Want to learn more? Reach out to us at R&P to help figure out the best test plan for your digital product today at

Marianne Murray, QA Practice Lead at Robots & Pencils

Robots & Pencils Announces Launch of Student Apps to Simplify and Elevate Learner Success

Led by newly appointed Head of Product Ryan Gialames, the student-centric mobile, web, and Slack apps powered by Salesforce focus on powering the learner journey and providing students with full wrap-around support

CLEVELAND, October 25, 2022 — Today, Robots & Pencils, a digital product company focused on transforming businesses with mobile, web, and frontier technologies, announced the release of its new education product, Student Apps. Concurrently, the company has appointed Ryan Gialames as Head of Product, Edtech, to lead and execute the ongoing strategy and design of Student Apps.

Student Apps provides students with a seamless, customized experience that supports each learner’s unique journey. Powered by Salesforce, Student Apps integrates backend systems, including student information systems and learning management system platforms, under a user-centered front end. This multi-app platform is a breakthrough in the educational technology field as its unique method of consolidating all student data eliminates the data silos that normally impede the ability of staff to support students.

“Student Apps is designed to meet the needs for institutions focused on providing full support to learners who would like to optimize their existing technological investments, unlock the power of Salesforce and Slack for education, build a journey unique to each learner through automation, connect learners to their community, and deliver innovative programs,” said Tracey Zimmerman, President and CEO of Robots & Pencils. “Our goal is to break current barriers and create new and innovative solutions that meet the needs of our clients in the current digital landscape.”

Student Apps has already had a successful trial run with Arizona State University. In 2019, ASU and Robots & Pencils partnered to find a way to streamline ASU’s technology in order to better communicate with students. Robots & Pencils created a Slack bot, now available as part of the Student Apps suite, that helps with the onboarding process and cuts down the amount of manual labor required to get students enrolled and engaged with the institution, driving better student outcomes.

“Universities often “ship the org chart”, with each department vying for the learner’s time and attention. Combine this with a landscape of disparate edtech technologies and the student experience suffers. Student Apps solve this problem, providing a set of tools to help learners manage the important tasks and milestones that will support their success and connecting them to those who can help, including staff and peers. ” said Gialames. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a forward-thinking company like Robots & Pencils to help universities and professional learning providers solve pressing matters and build the optimal learner experience.”

Effective immediately, Gialames has stepped into the role of Head of Product for the company’s education technology. In this role, he will be responsible for launching edtech products, such as Student Apps, and bringing them to market while also driving the future innovation of these products. Most recently Gialames served as the Sr. Director, UX/UI at Western Governors University. Previously, he served as the Director in Product Design at Robots and Pencils where he led product strategy and design across all education clients including Arizona State University, University of Texas, Texas Oncourse, and Trilogy Education which was acquired by 2U. Prior to joining Robots & Pencils, Gialames was the Senior Director of Product Strategy and UX at the Carnegie Mellon University backed edtech startup, Acatar, and was Manager of Online Student Experience at Education Management Corporation.

Student Apps is now available in the Salesforce Appexchange. The platform has an annual license fee and implementation service fees, and can be configured to suit the needs of the institution.

This rollout follows additional growth across industries for Robots & Pencils, who announced an investment from Salesforce Ventures and the company’s partnership with LunaYou, a women-centered maternal wellbeing program created to address the maternity crisis earlier this year.

To learn more about Robots & Pencils, please visit

5 Tactics for Supporting Non-Traditional Learners

A one size fits all approach no longer works for today’s learners pursuing higher education. Students are coming from a breadth of backgrounds and experience. They’re juggling demands involving finances, jobs, family members, and other personal issues. Each person has different needs, goals, and prior knowledge to be accounted for. Often, these individuals care less about degree titles and more about learning specific, in-demand skills that will get them where they want to go.

As experienced edtech designers and developers, the team at Robots & Pencils has helped to design and build a variety of accessible, inclusive, and customizable learning experiences that support learners of all types. Here are a few of the tactics we believe are most effective in preparing non-traditional learners for academic and professional success.

1. Build platforms that offer flexibility in how and where students learn.

Institutions need to offer students the flexibility and options to find what works for them, while recognizing that these needs may change not just month to month, but week to week and day to day. Educators must meet students where they are in the moment with integrated digital, in-person, and hybrid learning experiences. And digital means more than logging into a classroom via a browser. It requires best-of-breed, consumer-grade web and mobile tools and an understanding that students need access to educational resources across devices and support across multiple communication channels.

2. Create pathways that accommodate unique and evolving needs.

Learning pathways must accommodate each individual’s needs and acquired knowledge. This requires designing programs so that students can enter learning pathways at different points, progress at their own pace, and even easily switch to an alternate path with a different outcome. For each learning outcome, institutions should provide multiple learning methods and materials, as what works for one learner won’t necessarily work for another, and an individual’s needs may change based on how or where they’re accessing the material. Students should also have options to pursue not just degrees but things like stackable microcredentials, certificates and industry trainings that align with their immediate and future goals. For many organizations, achieving these goals requires not just developing new platforms but also reimagining the way you design and structure your academic content and offerings.

3. Focus on outcomes and key skills learned.

Learners are focusing on specific skills and outcomes. You should too. Competency-based education remains a powerful way to tie educational content and progress directly to desired skills. In a competency-based program or course, you can continuously assess skill development and empower students to control the speed at which they move toward desired competencies. However you design your educational pathways, your learning platform should clearly show learners where they are on their journey at all times, including the knowledge and skills they’ve mastered so far, what’s left to learn, and the final outcome of their work.

4. Show how educational outcomes align to industry needs.

Clearly tying educational outcomes to industry demands (including specific roles and job skills) can convince learners that the time and effort put into their education will be worth it. It also motivates learners to keep moving toward their end goal. Equally as important is that your outcomes, including your degrees, badges, certifications, are easy to understand and meaningful to hiring managers, helping your graduates get jobs. With the ever increasing skills gap faced by industry, it is past time for educational institutions to build closer relationships with businesses, including seeking input and feedback on educational offerings. Doing so will benefit everyone involved–from the employers, to your students, to your entire institution.

5. Ensure learners own their learning progress and skills data.

Say a learner has an upcoming job interview or a meeting with their boss about a promotion, and wants to share what they’ve accomplished so far. Is that possible right now? Are you making it harder than it needs to be? Students should have easy, instant access to academic progress and transcript data, so that they can share the information of their choosing whenever the need arises. That means letting learners authorize other institutions, career coaches, or employers to access all or part of their data.

Likewise, today’s learners can earn credentials from many places, including professional organizations and employer courses, that could apply toward your educational requirements. The ability to easily share accomplishments and progress should flow both ways.

Want to talk more about edtech and educational strategy? You’ve found your people!
The Robots & Pencils team combines robust professional backgrounds in higher ed with a proven track record of delivering results to top-tier school systems and education service providers. We’ve helped over 200 clients–including 2U, The University of Texas, Columbia University, and Arizona State University — to develop innovative digital products and experiences utilizing mobile, web, Salesforce, Slack, and more.

Learn more about our work in education or get in touch with us today.

How ASU Achieved a Harmonious Student Experience With Slack Integrations

Arizona State University (ASU) is always looking for a way to better engage students.

“It’s our mission to help Sun Devils feel more connected to each other and the diversity of opportunities around them,” says CIO, Lev Gonick. “Slack has been a connective tissue across ASU, enabling deeper discussions and greater productivity in both formal and informal spaces.”

They have gone all in with Slack as their digital campus solution and this blog post is here to tell you all about it so that you have key takeaways to apply to your own institution.

A Brief Background on ASU

ASU has multiple campuses, along with thousands of online students who are located all over the country and the world. ASU has been recognized by US News & World Report as the country’s most innovative school and prides itself on graduating more than 27,000 thinkers and innovators each year.

Since so many of their students are enrolled digitally, ASU is constantly looking for better ways to engage their students online. Engagement is especially important during enrollment and the onboarding of new students.

Knowing that innovation is the backbone of success, ASU knew they needed a technical solution to step in and improve how they communicate with students.

ASU’s Previous Student/Success Coach Process

ASU aimed to streamline their process for admitting and enrolling students as well as keeping them engaged and successful throughout their school year.

They have a student network where they set new students up for success and also provide a way for students to network with each other. ASU really wanted to build a sense of community at their universities.

A lot of work went into keeping students engaged especially because ASU’s students are all over the country, not just in Arizona. Networking and engagement relies more on digital workflows than a lot of other schools.

The previous platform relied on Facebook authentication, but Facebook is dwindling in usage for the college demographic so this became problematic.

Why ASU Decided to Work With Robots & Pencils

ASU and Robots & Pencils started the initiative in 2019 after getting fed up with the complicated way of communicating with their students.

To avoid relying on Facebook or other social networks, ASU wanted to find a way to use their own single sign on technology to communicate with students.

In February of 2020, after some beta testing, ASU’s new program launched, utilizing Slack as the communication hub and cutting down on all of the digital clutter from their old workflows.

Robots & Pencils not only was willing to create a tailored solution for ASU but they also helped re-imagine their workflows. Companies find that they need a healthy balance of technical and creative so Robots & Pencils often creates solutions but doesn’t stop there — we also help with the visual and planning aspects of implementing something new.

Slack wasn’t designed to be a social network or a student portal, so ASU needed a partner like Robots & Pencils to customize Slack and tailor it to their needs in order to create a space that was useful and accessible to their students.

The Digital Solution

Robots & Pencils implemented a streamlined way for ASU to connect students with other students and stay engaged throughout their college career.

Broken down by channels in Slack, Robots & Pencils helped ASU create spaces for students characterized by student type, campus and college groups.

In June of 2020, Robots & Pencils implemented a Slack bot that helped with the onboarding process and cut down the amount of manual labor that was going on to get students signed up and engaged in the portal. It also automatically puts students into the right channels and simplifies moderation within the community.

The Slack bot keeps onboarding organized and automated so it has resulted in a lot of time savings for ASU staff and eliminated frustrations for the students. The bot also allows ASU employees to message students based on student type, major, and other traits so the communication process has gotten a lot easier. Student Success Coaches can even quickly look up information about each student so that they provide learners with better, more personalized support.

How Slack Integrations Transformed ASU’s Student Success

Once ASU transitioned to Slack in 2019, they were able to streamline their student engagement and instead of using 4 tools, they consolidated everything into Slack.

Once the new Slack processes were created, ASU saw the amount of active students in their portal jump from 8,000 a year to 15,000 a year, showing that students have been responding well to these new workflows.

What Does This Example of Digital Transformation Mean for My Brand?

As this example shows, there is always a better way to do things when you have the right technology partner. If you think parts of your process are too time consuming or you rely on too much manual labor, there is definitely a solution out there for you.

Slack doesn’t have to be just for internal communications; when structured properly, it can be a communication hub if you’re willing to think outside the box.

What areas of your external and internal workflows could be improved? We’d love to have a great chat with you about it in the comments below!