Helix Education CEO talks market trends impacting the student lifecycle.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
He’s worked with some of the most forward-thinking college and university leaders to develop and implement game changing solutions, including large online learning programs and student data management systems. Matthew Schnittman, CEO of Helix Education (formerly Datamark), has an extensive background in education technology. Before joining Datamark in 2013, he founded and served as President and CEO of SaaS student lifecycle management provider TopSchool. Before that, he was President of eCollege where he helped grow the company from an early start-up to one of the largest LMS providers in the industry. Matthew has written at length on the importance of data and accountability in education and has been a featured speaker at a variety of industry events, including APSCU, NACUBO and the ASU Innovation Summit. In addition, he has held several education board
In the decades that I’ve spent in this industry, it is always interesting to me that higher education has this outside reputation for being rather traditional and slow to accept change.
positions, including IMS Global Learning Consortium, Spectrum Pacific Learning Company, and KidsTek, and he currently serves on the boards of the DSST Public Schools and TopSchool. Early on in his career, Matthew was with CCD LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ management consulting strategy group. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and holds an MBA from The Kellogg School at Northwestern University. What’s next with Matthew and Helix Education? Quite a bit.
Victor: After 25 years as Datamark, the company recently changed its name to Helix Education. Can you explain why, as well as where the company is heading under the new brand?
Matthew: As the total student experience becomes a much more significant factor in the success of a student and a school, we saw an opportunity to expand our vision to help our clients further support students from start to finish. To make this vision a reality, we recently acquired the technology assets of Altius Education and have been working diligently to build a management team and create a culture that reflects our commitment to this bigger picture.
To us, Helix Education is more than a name change. We are more deeply rooted across the entire student lifecycle, helping schools leverage technology and big data to find, enroll, retain and teach students. We are redefining what it means to effectively support the needs of students from the first time they inquire about a program until the day they graduate. And, we are dedicated to personalizing the education experience in tangible ways to drive results.
Victor: What shifts in the education industry inspired you to pursue this new direction?
Matthew: Educators today are really focused on learning outcomes in terms of completion, retention and graduation—these success measures impact the demand for their programs, the way they operate and their financial well-being.
While our legacy marketing services group, Datamark, has done a tremendous job providing schools with hundreds of thousands of prospective student inquiries, it was there that we turned over those relationships to our client institutions. We really didn’t do much beyond the initial outreach to help nurture students and support the completion, retention and graduation goals of our customers—until now.
Big data is also another hot topic in education today, as schools want to know more—more about their operations, more about student performance and more about their results. Being a data-driven company for the last 25-plus years, we wanted to expand this core competency of ours to help schools more effectively use data to make better decisions and produce better outcomes across the entire student lifecycle.
Victor: What trends are you seeing along the student lifecycle?
Matthew: We believe that personalization throughout the education experience will transform the way students and institutions approach learning, and it will have a tremendous impact on learning outcomes. Personalizing the education experience means that students are matched with the right programs from the get-go, supported at critical points along the way and engaged in a learning environment that tailors content to their needs.
From a marketing and enrollment perspective, personalization allows schools to better target prospecting lists, customize communications and follow up at the right frequency and through the right channel, which can build trust and confidence between the student and the institution.
From a retention and teaching perspective, it is critical that schools track each student’s progress on a regular basis. Individualized coaching can keep students engaged and motivated. We are also seeing schools embracing competency-based education models, which deliver individualized learning paths.
Victor: You talk about competency-based education as an emerging trend. Can you explain why you think there is a need for this kind of learning model and how schools are embracing it?
Matthew: Competency-based learning really takes personalization, flexibility and engagement to entirely new levels. As students are presented with content that matches their abilities, they are more likely to succeed—that is, to complete their courses, transition to the next term and, ultimately, graduate.
We believe that competency-based education can make the entire education process more affordable and efficient. That’s a big deal, as students and schools today are challenged by increasing tuition rates, attrition and capacity limitations.
Both students and schools alike invest a great deal of time, money and resources in the cost of graduation. A competency-based model that leverages big data to gain insights and personalize the experience can help lower costs while increasing retention and graduation rates. Schools seem to be taking note of this, and are seeing competency-based education as a viable means to help improve their outcomes and optimize the cost of graduation.
Victor: As schools begin to evaluate the opportunity to pursue competency-based education, what advice do you have for them?
Matthew: While a lot of schools appreciate the benefits of competency-based learning and are interested in pursuing it, they have a lot of questions around content development and delivery, platforms, support and, of course, how to make the transition.
When evaluating different options, we suggest schools take a hard look at the platform and how it engages students, how interactive it is, how it tracks student performance and how schools can use the data it produces to continually improve the learning experience.
The transition isn’t an easy one. That said, a platform that allows schools to leverage their current teaching methods while easing into competency-based education is a plus. For example, with our platform, Helix, online courses can be presented in either a competency-based format or a more traditional course format, making the migration seamless.
Victor: What are your overall thoughts on higher education today?
Matthew: In the decades that I’ve spent in this industry, it is always interesting to me that higher education has this outside reputation for being rather traditional and slow to accept change. Yet it seems to me that just the opposite is true. My colleagues in academia really seem to want to embrace technology and big data in order to make them more effective educators.
You’d be hard-pressed today to find an educator who doesn’t think knowledge is power—I think it’s why most educators do what they do. We really think that translates to what we are doing in the space, too. Delivering technology and big data that give educators more knowledge will help them support students and improve outcomes in new and more powerful ways. I’m optimistic as I hear from them that they are ready for this change.
Victor: What’s next?
Matthew: We’ve spent the last several months going from acquisition to transition to integration, and now we are knee-deep in implementation. Now that we’ve successfully launched our new brand and communicated our vision, our next step is to make it a reality. Our teams are working hard every day to advance our solutions to help schools drive the right student inquiries, support students at a higher level, produce better learning outcomes and, ultimately, optimize the cost of graduation for students and schools alike.
This is really an exciting time for all of us at Helix Education as we strive to take the education experience to a higher level—for students, for faculty and for administrators.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org