In recent years, more educational institutions, including traditional universities, have been digitizing their interaction with students. For instance, Johns Hopkins University now offers 88 fully online degrees, the University of Birmingham—67, and Boston University—39. Additionally, new industry players like Junglemap are emerging, contributing to the growth of the eLearning niche. What’s more, being open-minded, these companies are bringing new technologies—from AI to nano learning—to the industry.
As student identity verification is usually mandatory for both parties, current changes impact this process.
In this article, we cover the discernible trends and share recommendations to prepare for a distinct industry shift.
Why verify identities in eLearning?
The global eLearning market was $243 billion in 2022, Statista finds. Comparatively, it was just $165.36 billion in 2014.
The COVID-19 pandemic enormously contributed to the process. In the fall of 2020, over 19 million undergraduates were enrolled in US educational institutions online (Source: the National Center for Education Statistics). Moreover, 215,219 enrollments involved students outside the country. The next year, when the situation returned to normal, these numbers were already 18 million and 95,715, respectively.
The high demand is stimulating industry players—from employee training services to prestigious universities—to expand off-campus educational options by adopting new technologies. On the other hand, the credibility of online degrees and diplomas is becoming critical. That also turns the eLearning niche into a target for fraudsters.
Let’s have a look at the more significant security challenges the online education sphere must tackle.
The majority of cyberattacks in the education sector—about 75%—are associated with compromised accounts, a Netwrix study revealed. Scammers use phishing and other social engineering techniques to deceive their victims and access their accounts, especially privileged ones.
As educational institutions often store tons of personal data, including medical and payment card information, possessing these vulnerable assets is a priority for fraudsters. That very thing happened at the University of California San Diego Health in March 2021, when hackers got unauthorized access to sensitive student data via some employee email accounts.
Many educational platforms are based on login/password authentication, which is less secure compared to multi-factor authentication, which is adopted by other businesses. That creates another opportunity for fraudsters who can hijack students’ accounts on digital eLearning platforms to open more inner doors in systems and steal essential information.
As this IBM report shows, universities, colleges, training and development companies lost about $3.65 million per data breach in 2023.
ID spoofing and impersonation
Finally, eLearning platforms are also a source of profit involving identity theft. There are many different scenarios enacted by scammers.
First, they can generate applications for financial aid and state grants using fake or stolen identities. For instance, in fall 2021, the California Student Aid Commission revealed over 65,000 applications for financial assistance from supposed students that appeared falsified.
Another threat is cheating on online exams. Students try to deceive the proctors by resorting to third-party actors who impersonate them during the remote tests. Not surprisingly, you can find an untold number of how-to-cheat-in-an-online-exam articles with detailed instructions on the web.
The solution: Digital identity verification for education
One way to respond to a significant part of the challenges mentioned above is to implement strict verification procedures for new enrollments and admitted students.
This approach can include a requirement to provide proof of identity, like a government-issued ID or passport, to sign up for educational services and digital courses.
Identity verification for educational institutions can also be a mandatory part of the later stages of the student journey. Here are some common use cases involving identity checks:
Online identity verification during student enrollment and onboarding
Face-to-face identification via online interview for assessment tests
Student identification for remote class attendance monitoring
Identity verification on digital tutoring platforms for both learners and lecturers
User identification for providing loans, grants, and financial aid to the proper applicants
Student identity verification for official skill endorsement: issuance of education certificates and diplomas; awarding of academic degrees and titles
The idea behind online student identification seems clear—to ensure remote learners are the people they claim to be. But where to start? Let’s clarify.
Digital student identity verification: Must-have components
Here are some critical elements of a reliable identity verification system for educational institutions.
1. Government-issued documents as proof of identity
A student ID is a mandatory item when applying to colleges and universities. In online schools and platforms like Udemy or Coursera, submitting ID cards or passport scans for identity verification might seem like an excessive requirement. However, it turns out to be due diligence in some scenarios.
For instance, you can add this step to the financial aid application form, or check the student’s documents before the online examination. Another non-obvious use case implies age verification for students who want to enroll in a course that includes age-restricted content.
A reliable document template database is needed as a reference, especially when your educational services attract multinational students. Handling domestic identity documents can also be a challenge for educational providers. The diverse variety of US ID cards is a great example.
At Regula, we already have 13,000+ document templates from 247 countries and territories in our database, which continues to grow. More than a thousand new document templates have been added since January 2023. By comprehensively documenting all the security features and visual effects found in passports, IDs, driver’s licenses, etc., we can ensure the utmost precision in verification. With such a large identity document template database, you can easily verify students across the globe.
2. Fraud prevention features
The ongoing exam cheating and impersonation attacks that cause reputational and financial damage are a priority for digital student identity verification systems. However, setting up a remote face-to-face identification session for each student requires many resources. Moreover, it adds friction that discourages users.
Implementing online identity verification components into particular stages users pass through is more effective. For instance, identity verification can be a prerequisite before online registration or when a student applies for a scholarship.
Pearson VUE, a division of Pearson, the global online testing giant, added an identity verification step to its remote digital onboarding process. Students worldwide must validate their IDs to access the exam platform. Since Pearson VUE administers professional exams in nursing, law enforcement, legal professions, and other fields, secure registration procedures involving identity verification are critical.
Using a mobile identification session can make the flow smoother. Typically, it includes some easy steps. After filling out the standard form, the student scans their identity document and takes a selfie.
Behind the scenes, an identity verification solution verifies if a submitted document is genuine. For instance, Regula Document Reader SDK automatically identifies the document type and runs a round of authenticity checks. They cover barcodes, machine-readable zones, RFID chips, and other security features. Additionally, there are data cross-checks involving information from the visual inspection zone and inner parts of the document.
Biometric checks that help confirm if the user is real can be an additional part of the flow. When it employs Regula Face SDK, the solution matches the printed photo in the document, the selfie, and the student photo in the company's database.
Simultaneously, the selfie passes a liveness test. Are there any fraudulent traces or deepfake artifacts there? Is it a real photo, not a dummy, a 2D print, or a 3D fake?
Despite the high depth of verification, the whole process takes only a few moments for the user, which won't deter an honest student from getting to their training.
3. Personalized access
Along with students’ personal data, eLearning platforms also possess tons of educational content, handbooks, and video materials, which may be subject to copyright. Poor security measures can lead to access loopholes. As a result, these valuable items may become publicly available.
That’s why it’s reasonable to consider multi-level access to your platform, in which students, tutors, and admins get different access permissions. You can also enhance your system by adopting the MFA approach. That may include several things a user must submit to the system to sign in: standard passwords, secret codes sent via SMS, or even biometrics.
Using at least two-factor authentication has become the best practice for many players in the education sector, including governmental institutions. For instance, SchoolsHub, an informational platform for schools across the country powered by the Australian Department of Education, has employed the method recently.
4. Automation at the heart of the solution
Maintaining online educational platforms includes many administrative and routine tasks related to processing tons of student data. Here is where identity verification solutions come in handy again.
In addition to authenticity checks, automated identity verification streamlines daunting manual tasks such as data entry. Plus, this also reduces human error, since the number of manual components in the flow is significantly decreased.
Another perk of automation is better customer experience. A smooth remote interaction between the educational platform and the students can be a potential competitive advantage. When new customers can finish validation in a couple of seconds, the abandonment rate is significantly reduced.
When preparing for a pivot, find a trusted partner
With A-level universities like Harvard and Oxford providing students with distance learning opportunities, the eLearning industry continues expanding. That’s pushing more educational institutions towards a new reality, where they must deal with new threats, including ones involving data security, as well as new customer demands and expectations.
Developing a reliable student identity verification system can be an easier task with an expert adviser. The Regula team is here to assist you. Request a demo or try our solutions in action.