Reimagining student experience in higher education

A truly digital student experience would emphasise active participation and engagement over delivery of content and information.


From early stages of recruitment through learning and teaching, welfare and pastoral, to alumni engagement, there are many touchpoints across the student experience where digital could have a part to play. What would a future student experience look like and how can digital enhance and enable a better one?

“It is ambitious to take over 1,000 academic staff through a newly developed bespoke facilitated course, but it’s important that staff are well prepared, and ultimately that students get the best experience.”

John Hill, head of library and digital learning, University of Derby

Impact of student experience

Using digital technologies can in many cases enhance and improve the student experience and well as improving efficiencies.

The use of digital across the student experience can:

  • Enhance and improve the overall student experience
  • Enable efficient and effective use of resources by utilising and targeting them where they are needed most
  • Improve student welfare and wellbeing and ensure that student needs are being met

In some areas, however, using digital can have a negative impact on the student experience even though it may result in efficiencies or reduced costs. Some of the challenges to overcome might be:

  • Assuming that students have a high or consistent level of digital skills and experience of digital environments. This assumption can influence design and service decisions which then results in a poor student experience
  • Focusing the digital improvements internally rather than on the end user experience
  • Reconciling the inconsistent experience caused by differences between the physical and virtual student experience
  • Poor student experience due to insufficient skills and capabilities of staff as well as students

Overview of student experience in the sector

Students are at the heart of every university and the overall student experience is important in both ensuring successful student outcomes, but also maintaining student wellbeing.

Universities are in a continual process of planning and delivering a coherent and excellent student experience. The landscape has now however fundamentally changed and universities are looking to mitigate risks and ensure continued high-quality provision and a positive student experience through uncertain times. 

Effective use of digital technology is seen as fundamental in helping to ensure the continuity of learning while adhering to social distancing requirements and to engage positively with students. 

Adding digital to the student experience is happening all the time as different departments engage with new tools, services and enhance existing systems. Having an overview and perspective of the role of digital across the student experience is critical to ensuring a coherent approach.

Students arrive at university with a widely varying range of digital skills and competencies. They are likely to need more up-skilling, at greater speed, before starting formal online university teaching; it is important not to assume they will already have the level of digital competency that’s required. To be successful, HE students need to be able to search, synthesise, evaluate, analyse and present complex information from multiple sources. These types of skills cannot all be learnt from proficiency in social media and office applications alone.

The impact of the changing modes of learning and teaching provision on the diverse student population, and on widening participation students in particular, needs to be explored further. Technology can be an enabler, by providing more flexible opportunities to learn, but it can also be a barrier. One aspect that has come into sharp relief is the digital divide and the differing access away from campus to the devices and connectivity needed for online study.

A vision for student experience

An effective digital student experience would ensure that digital technologies and online services are used to enable, enhance, and engage the student throughout their journey at university. A truly digital student experience would emphasise active participation and engagement over delivery of content and information.

Student experience action plan

Creating a digital student experience across the university will involve multiple stakeholders, and may require underpinning foundations across the infrastructure, data and connectivity to ensure a coherent and smooth digital experience.

Map the student journey from recruitment to alumni and identify the various touchpoints where the student interacts with the university as part of their experience.

Review and evaluate the role of digital technologies in enhancing and improving that experience.

Plan how digital and technology could enhance the student experience, or help with being more efficient, or even helping to redefine aspects of the student experience.

Student perceptions of technology-enhanced learning will change and universities might wish to consider recurring pulse surveys of attitudes, expectations and outcomes.

Contrary to popular views of so-called ‘digital natives’, today’s students have widely varying levels of digital proficiency. Universities might find it beneficial to conduct a skills audit of students and build appropriate digital skills training into curricula.

Given the diverse nature of the student body, universities should adopt accessible and inclusive approaches to technology-enhanced learning from the outset of learning design.

With greater use of online communities, the heightened exposure to online harassment and threats from peers and the wider environment cannot be ignored. Universities will need to ensure they have the right policies and safeguards in place to protect and support both students and staff.

Digital by default or digital first strategies need to ensure that non-digital options are available to students.


Universities should ensure their strategies for maintaining high levels of student motivation and engagement are a core feature of the digital student experience.

They should ensure that the end user experience is a focus of any enhancement and improvement through the use of digital.


Lancaster University published their student journey mapping which is a key starting point for understanding the full student experience, and the appropriate touchpoints to start thinking about how digital could make a difference. The mapping can also identify the possible connections and challenges that adding digital into the mix may cause.

Birmingham City University developed a stakeholder engagement matrix as a framework for communication to help them prepare for different types of interaction.

Help and support

There are many ways in which we and other partners can support and help you in transforming the student experience though the use of blended learning and supporting digital technologies.

Advice and guidance




Learning and teaching reimagined

This primer has been designed to be used with other resources created as part of the learning and teaching reimagined initiative.

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).