While this a bit of a change from the usual tools and techniques we often share here, online education is such a prominent and long established use of technology for instructional purposes, it deserves more coverage. With the various hats I wear in my role at The College of Westchester, helping to navigate today's quickly changing higher education landscape, I appreciate many of the points being made here, and wrestle with these challenges. Additionally, as educators, we all need to continuously strive to make online instruction work as best as we can. And it all starts with well designed and well run programs and institutions. – KW
The higher education space is constantly changing. It is no secret that the change and transformation is vital for continued innovation in this space. As a professional in this space for over 12 years, I have had a front row seat to many of these changes. From witnessing how learners adapt to different learning modalities, to how institutions approach serving the needs of its learners, to the impact on traditional institutions by non-traditional institutions to create affordable and sometimes free learning opportunities for the market.
Given the rapid changes in higher ed over the years, coupled with the continuous chatter around “the next big disruptor to hit the market”, the question becomes – which noise should institutional leaders drown out and which should they listen to more intently? After all, time is not an abundant resource for university leaders who are tasked with strategic growth, improving and growing brand, building a regional and sometimes national reputation, and ensuring employability on the back-end. The opportunity costs to pursuing the wrong strategies to achieve these important desired outcomes can be – well costly.
So, here’s my take on it – institutions need to get back to the basics. The basics being:
A) Provide a robust, competitive, demand-driven quality online education and
B) Create a positive, consumer-oriented experience through services from enrollment through employment.
While this may not be breaking news to a lot of institutional leaders, the reality is that to achieve these goals has become more difficult and daunting than ever before – primarily due to the competitiveness of the market, the expectations of today’s student-consumer, and the investment and resources needed to be successful in all facets of building, scaling, and sustaining online program excellence.
To truly provide online program excellence it starts with:
- Capital: If you decide to invest in the growth of one or more online programs it should not be taken lightly – there is a lot to think through. And not having enough capital, or worse, having enough capital but investing it in the wrong programs that haven’t gone through the rigor of being completely vetted with the market can be a huge mistake. Capital should fund the below functions and more.
- Market Research: It should combine primary, secondary, and tertiary research to assess which programs are in demand by students and the labor market for years to comes, the level of existing saturation in the market for similar programs, institutional brand-alignment with those program(s), and better identifying and locating the core target audience to ensure healthy enrollment.
- World-Class Marketing: To truly compete requires promoting your programs and brand in the right channels– using sophisticated campaigns, and a multi-prong approach to drive qualified prospective students to optimized landing pages that are designed for and encourage high conversion. This multi-prong approach should include, but not be limited to: social media, traditional advertising, direct response marketing, paid search, pay-per-click, SEO, database marketing, email, nurture marketing and more.
- Superior Recruitment & Enrollment Services: Make sure you have friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and most important – enough advisors who are armed with the right tools to help determine which prospective students are the most qualified; and be sure they have the right communication assets, know-how, and guidelines to counsel prospects from initial inquiry to first day of class is critical.
- Course Development & Curriculum Design: Creating effective, interactive learning that puts the content and students front-and-center is of utmost importance. Creating multimedia content that enrich courses, and state-of-the-art features in test delivery, question databanks, discussion boards, assignments, lesson content and more should be required in most every online course.
- Support Services: These should be services that meet and exceed the demands of today’s student – such as a 24/7 help desk that truly solves the problem of each caller in a timely and professional manner, and academic advising and support that provides guidance, encouragement, and insight to students as they navigate their academic career – helping them move from one course at a time, one semester at a time.
By putting programs online that meet the demands of both job-seeking students and industries, and by incorporating impeccable services, curriculum and content into your strategy you can create win-win situations for both students and institutions.
Read more about how institutions can best build online program excellence by downloading Pearson’s eBook.