8 Keys to Making Student Experiences Personalized in Higher Ed

In a special web series earlier this summer, I got to host a series of in-depth conversations with different professionals in the higher ed and technology space. Each brought a unique perspective on how student experiences could be more personalized. Given the driving force that is Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), many of the conversations steered towards both human and technical solutions for creating this personalized experience for students. Below are the guests with links to their original interview:  

Rob Curtin – Director of Higher Education at Microsoft (video

Alice Wei – Assistant VP of Transformation and Innovation at the University of Southern Florida. (video

Jim Raber – Associate Chief Information Officer at Kent State University. (video)  

Each of these experts brought a unique perspective to not only the technological challenges around creating a true personalized learning model. What follows are the 8 key takeaways I gathered from our conversations. Again, I encourage you to also watch the entire video series as each provides powerful advice for higher ed staff looking to keep their institutions up-to-date with the latest technology as well as managing a change in culture.   

1. Analyzing the Current State of Higher Education 

Higher education is in a state of flux, largely due to the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and now the onslaught of generative A.I. There’s an increasing demand for high-flex models for instructional delivery —or “multi-modal engagement” as Rob mentions – teaching models that offer students the flexibility to choose between in-person and online learning modes. Students want to have more choices in how they receive and create content. Stackable credentials, or the ability to earn multiple, complementary credentials over time, are also gaining prominence. In essence, the education landscape is becoming more student-centric, demanding personalization of the entire educational experience.  

2. Challenges and Opportunities in Personalization 

Creating personalized experiences in higher education is a complex endeavor. Institutions often grapple with a lack of established models or best practices. Cultural shifts, clearly defined processes, and technology selection are challenges that need to be overcome. However, these challenges also offer opportunities for innovation. For instance, AI-driven insights can offer deeper understanding of student needs, leading to more personalized and effective educational experiences. Jim mentions the use of adaptive learning platforms to “meet students where they are” but personalization can be much more than that. At Kent State, they analyze what truly makes a student and how their experiences can drive success. Gathering authoritative data systems and mapping out the right tools for students can help make them successful and help them graduate whether they need additional advisors or tutors to help drive that success.   

3. The Driving Role of AI 

AI is becoming instrumental in shaping the future of higher education. It’s not just about automation; AI has the potential to generate custom responses based on individual students’ needs, facilitate data integration, and enhance cultural awareness. Rob mentions that we are still in the early stages of the Gartner Hype Cycle when it comes to AI. We are not sure how this technology will help with learning but do believe that a professor supported by AI is much more powerful than one that doesn’t use it. From automated tasks to helping students have deeper conversations around what they are learning, AI will be a part of our future in Higher Ed and beyond. It’s also important to use AI responsibly, ensuring it aligns with institutional policies and integrates seamlessly into existing platforms.  

4. The Power of Technology and Innovation 

Alice Wei’s insights underscore the significance of technology and innovation in modern higher education. She mentions the use of “low-code” and now “no-code” tools to try to automate the demand of their resources. This lessens the load on IT by creating a model where departments can spin-up their own resources without the need for extensive programming. Overcoming technical debt—or the future cost of delaying necessary upgrades or maintenance—is essential for institutions to keep pace with technological advances. The cloud and A.I. can create more streamlined ways of getting “your house in order when it comes to data” as Rob mentions. Innovative approaches to delivering educational value, such as new digital learning platforms or instructional methods, are crucial to adapt to students’ changing needs.   

5. Creating a Unified System 

Universities are embarking on projects to improve their technological capabilities and hence, student experiences. However, many universities still run on student information systems that are over 20 years old. This means the systems themselves are not built for mobile devices and personalized experiences, but there is still a value in having an integrated system. Creating a system that has all the identity and data as an infrastructure could generate and support different personalized apps that pull from that single system. As Alice mentions at USF, the shift from low code to no code development gives non-tech staff the ability to create digital solutions, thereby democratizing the solution-building process. Likewise, consolidating disparate CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems into a single platform reduces redundancy, improves data management, and enhances overall efficiency. Having a single CRM to manage all the back-end data and reducing the amount of silos in higher ed.   

6. Cultivating Change 

Creating a culture of change is crucial in the ever-evolving educational landscape. Alice mentions that it comes down to “people and process”. Creating the process is great, but how much will staff embrace the technology and acceptance of failure. This means fostering a growth mindset, which values effort, learning, and adaptation over innate intelligence or talent. Institutions also need to value the voices of faculty and students, encouraging their participation in decision-making processes. Moreover, as Jim mentions, leaders play a significant role in driving change, particularly in terms of investing in data control and secure, intelligent platforms.  

7. Learning from Risks and Failures 

In the journey towards transformation, setbacks are inevitable. However, learning from failures and adopting an incremental approach—as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach—can lead to success. Furthermore, embracing technology as an ally in enhancing education is paramount, despite fears about AI replacing jobs. The focus should be on the potential of human-machine collaboration, rather than competition. Alice and her staff at USF create a “TAP” (Technology Adoption Program) system to encourage trailblazers to test out new systems or software at a small scale (like a single college). Utilizing this small core group of invited staff gives them ownership and buy-in of whatever new system the university is trying to implement. If it fails, they will report the issues. If it works, they will be your champions for change as well.   

8. Vision for the Future of Higher Education

Looking ahead, the goal of higher education is to seamlessly integrate personalized experiences within existing apps and devices. This implies integrating data and identities across digital platforms will be key as well as leveraging technologies like Azure Open AI for a unified, flexible educational ecosystem. Doing so creates an environment where students and faculty can customize their higher ed experiences with a unified system of data. Beyond the technical tools that can help with personalization, it’s important to keep a growth mindset amongst faculty and staff that encourages adaptability and flexibility as new tools and approaches come on board. This will help as universities continue to push to diversify not only their student population but also their methods of delivering instruction.   


In a rapidly evolving higher education landscape, personalizing student experiences is becoming increasingly important. The shift towards more student-centric models—characterized by flexible delivery models and a unified data system—reflects this demand for personalization. However, implementing these experiences poses challenges, including the need for cultural change, well-defined processes, and the adoption of suitable technology, including AI.  

Cultivating a culture that embraces change and values the input of faculty and students is key. Leadership plays a pivotal role here, with the responsibility of driving change and making strategic investments in secure, intelligent platforms. Learning from challenges and failures is a part of the journey towards transformation. An incremental approach, rather than an all-or-nothing approach, is likely to yield more successful outcomes. Furthermore, it’s important to view technology as an ally in enhancing education, focusing on the potential of human-machine collaboration.  

Personalizing student experiences in higher education involves embracing cultural change, refining processes, and leveraging technology. The use of technologies like AI, combined with data, identity, and system-wide integration, could shape a unified, flexible educational ecosystem. The ultimate goal is to empower students and staff, respond to their needs, and create a holistic learning environment that prepares them for future success.  

Editor’s note: This web series was made possible through the support of Microsoft Education. Check out some of the free learning resources around AI, machine learning, and Azure technologies. 

About MrHooker

Educator, global speaker and consultant, event organizer, educational strategist and CEO of HookerTech LLC, Future Ready Schools Faculty member, author of the 6-book series "Mobile Learning Mindset" and his newest book "Ready Set FAIL!" He also is the host of the ISTE Learning Unleashed podcast and the UnDisruptED podcast by Future Ready schools. He is most importantly, a husband and father of 3.

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