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The Coming of the Phigital Generation — and Reality

For marketers, preparation for the arrival of a new group on campus involves supporting IT and curricular initiatives as well as optimizing websites and other marketing channels.

May 18, 2017
 
 

Are you prepared for the “phigital” generation on your campus?

“Phigital” is the recently coined name for the upcoming generation of students who don’t draw a distinction between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both. [Or maybe that’s apparently comfortable in both.]

We shouldn’t be surprised that people, raised in a world of mobile devices and technology, have expectations about how organizations should function. Phigitals wonder why all organizations don’t just “get” mobile and optimize for it in every aspect of their operations. After all, when you can buy stuff on Amazon’s app and have it delivered in the afternoon (assuming you live in the right place, of course), you begin to wonder why every aspect of your life doesn’t function in the same way. 

In education, phigitals value individual experiences and expect to engage in real-world issues and problems in the classroom and beyond.

Anticipating the demands of phigitals raises the stakes for campus leaders, especially presidents, faculty, and learning and IT professionals. Expanding curricular options, building real-world experiences into courses, and providing internships and other learning opportunities in the community and in businesses are clear opportunities to engage phigitals.

The challenges of living up to their expectations around technology are more complex, though. Identifying or creating and implementing systems to accommodate phigitals is a costly undertaking. The real world is messy, complicated by the fact that there are inconveniences, including but not limited to, laws, that obstruct implementation of solutions. Which is one reason why higher ed appears to be so far behind other kinds of institutions.

The reality is that technology advances rapidly. That’s a challenge for campus IT and learning professionals. It’s one thing to pay lip service to experimentation and learning from your mistakes. It’s another when those mistakes come with large price tags or other unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Those of us who work in marketing and communications are not normally leading the teams where these decisions are made. But we still have a role to play. Here are some thoughts about what we can do to help prepare to welcome the phigitals to campus.

1. First, chill.

Seriously. It makes sense to think about how you can prepare for phigital students on your campus. In fact, the likelihood is that they are there already.

But rather than only focusing on big systems or costly technology, think about things you can do right now. Chances are, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

For example, ask yourself how your website and other marketing channels could be better adapted to mobile browsing or advertising. Optimize the academic department pages on your website. Be more strategic and thoughtful about how you shoot and where you deploy video on your website. Plan to improve your campus map, which receives a surprising amount of attention when students are exploring and choosing colleges.

2. Get involved with colleagues and support those who are trying to make change happen. 

No, as a marketer you shouldn’t be leading the selection for a new LMS on campus or developing new mobile-enabled approaches to instruction. But you should know about what’s happening in these areas and, when possible, support your colleagues. So reach out and make sure you're informed about — and involved in — these conversations and can lend a hand where one is needed.

3. Always focus on the experience.

As a marketer, you should be attuned to the experiences students are having on campus. Chances are, you’re already working with others to improve the campus experience, from how student affairs interacts with students to how and when the career center counsels students and what kinds of internship experiences your institution offers.

Those are all essential components of the overall educational experience and they should be unique. Now ask yourself, How can my institution use technology to enhance these experiences? That’s what phigitals will be thinking about when they consider attending your institution or once they enroll there.

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