Edtech executive says to understand your students, their relationships, history, goals, and constraints—you need the right data.
Balakrishnan Subramanian is Vice President and General Manager for Education at Salesforce. He is passionate about the social impact that educational institutions they serve have on learners worldwide. As the education landscape evolves, “with our customers focused on creating lifelong learners, enhancing student wellbeing, and promoting skill and competency based learning, we at Salesforce work tirelessly to bring the best of technology to bear to solve these high impact problems,” says Bala, who loves connecting the dots between his past experiences and his current job. Bala has worked in solving problems in multiple industries, including: Health and Life Sciences, Consumer Goods, Manufacturing and High Tech. Learning from how different industries solve problems and bring their customers into focus and using that insight to help his Education customers delight their learners is what excites him most about his role at Salesforce.
So I have to ask: with your interesting and varied background, what highlights from your past inform your current work?
My background working across industries like healthcare, consumer goods, and manufacturing has given me a dynamic lens to understand the challenges facing education institutions today
While every industry is different, with unique challenges and goals, they share a lot more in common than you would expect. Every industry is trying to break down departmental siloes, figuring out how to effectively leverage trusted data and AI, and becoming more efficient while better serving the people who rely on them.
For example, healthcare organizations are trying to improve patient outcomes by understanding them more holistically and creating personalized care plans. This is very similar to what educational organizations are trying to achieve with their students. Coming into education with this experience has been incredibly informative and helped me bring a fresh perspective as well as insights and learnings from what has worked, or not worked, for other organizations.
What prompted you to get into education?
Today, from elementary schools to universities, the educational community is in the midst of a historic, transformational moment. It’s an exciting time to be in this industry and play a part in positively impacting a student’s life by helping them receive the best possible learning outcomes.
I am deeply inspired by the mission of empowering institutions with the technology they need to support their students and drive better outcomes. Education is something that helps shape all lives, it’s the foundation of our society.
Something I also noticed right away, coming from a background outside of education, was an amazing strength of community and desire to work together towards a greater good that you don’t often see in other industries. Everyone puts their students first and sees that by working together instead of competing against each other they can achieve better outcomes for everyone.
‘Something I also noticed right away, coming from a background outside of education, was an amazing strength of community and desire to work together towards a greater good that you don’t often see in other industries.’
What are some driving purposes and goals of Salesforce in Higher Ed, as well as K-12?
Our guiding purpose at Salesforce for Education is to help every education institution improve outcomes for their students. To do this, we help institutions transform how they engage with their students at every step of their learning journey with holistic, personalized experiences. But to get there, you have to be able to understand your students, their relationships, history, goals, and constraints. And to do that, you need the right data.
With Salesforce, institutions can bring together all of the information they have spread out both inside and outside of their organization into one place, where it can be leveraged to do things like deliver personalized student experiences at scale, and AI-powered engagements that free faculty and staff to focus more on their students.
Whatever your goal is as a K-12 or higher ed institution, it all comes back to making sure you are delivering the best learner experiences and outcomes. For example, you might want to boost enrollment rates, increase workforce preparedness, or better support struggling students with proactive engagement, but it all comes back to improving outcomes. And we arm institutions with the data and technology they need to get there with Education Cloud.
What’s just ahead for education—what is the future of learning all about in your estimation?
We are going to see AI revolutionize the future of education. Education will become hyper-personalized, holistic, and outcomes focused. It will also give more agency to learners. Students will be able to set their objectives — like obtaining specific skills for a desired career path — and work in partnership with their institutions to achieve them.
‘We are going to see AI revolutionize the future of education. Education will become hyper-personalized, holistic, and outcomes focused. It will also give more agency to learners.’
Last year we found that just 11% of college students felt prepared for the workforce and almost half believed the qualifications they did have would only be relevant for a few years after graduation. We are going to start to see a major shift towards learning as a lifelong pursuit, with reskilling and upskilling becoming the norm. Degree-based achievements will be viewed alongside skills and certifications to show a holistic picture of a learner’s achievements. And, with holistic, actionable data and the power of AI, institutions will be able to support these lifelong learners throughout their entire journey.
With this shift we will also see more collaboration and partnership between industries and educational institutions to help create clearer career pathways and ensure we are preparing students to excel in the jobs of the future.
Further thoughts on your company’s role in education or the future of learning?
We have built a strong, thriving community of customers, partners and advisors across the education industry. For example, when we look at how we build and think about technology for higher ed, at Salesforce we have our own Higher Ed Advisory council. The council is a community-led group of Salesforce users from schools across North America that helps provide feedback on our product strategy and innovations.
As an organization, Salesforce is also deeply committed to the future of education and supporting lifelong learning. This includes philanthropic efforts, like the more than $20 million in new grants we announced last month for U.S. school districts. It also includes things like Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform that helps break down barriers to learning by helping anyone gain the in-demand skills of today and tomorrow. To date, more than 6 million learners have skilled up on Trailhead, and 1 in 3 learners said they found a new job with the skills they learned.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: email@example.com