Getting to know today's learners through segmentation

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This is the second blog in a two-part series about segmentation in higher education. Read part one: One size doesn’t fit all: The value of segmentation.

Today, the needs and desires of learners are much more diverse. Students are changing, and so should the ways colleges think about serving them.

To better tailor your offerings, your institution needs to more broadly adopt a segmentation approach.

Where to start?

The foundation of all market segmentation lies in data (and listening).

Online survey tools allow you to constantly ask about students’ experiences. And thanks to the growing digitization of campuses, we know so much more about how students learn in the classroom and interact with campus services.

What’s unique about modern segmentation is that the divisions are more tailored to the psychological and emotional characteristics of students, and go beyond the very basics such as location and gender.

There are four types of market segmentation:

    • Geographic: This divides the market on the basis of geography. This type of market segmentation is still important, as people belonging to different regions may have different wants and needs.
    • Demographic: This is the most commonly evaluated, and considers variables like age, gender, marital status, family size, income, religion, race, occupation, nationality, etc.
    • Behavioral: Here, the market is segmented based on a learner’s behavior, usage, preferences, choices, and decision making.
    • Psychographic: This divides the segment on the basis of their personality, lifestyle, and attitude.

Understanding student expectations in this consumer era is vital to colleges, and data collected from their students can help in this process.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, author, The Future Learners

Bringing segments to life

In partnership with The Harris Poll, we conducted a survey of 2,600 people ages 14–40. Using the information gathered through the survey, the following personas were created as a snapshot of possible ways your university can segment students and provide a more strategic approach for possible pathways to serving those students.

The Traditional Learner (25% of learners)

These 18–24 year-olds are your prototypical students seeking a traditional, brick and mortar college experience. They are top-notch students with a passion for learning new things in a conventional environment.

  • How they want to learn: These learners enjoy in-person interactions with classmates and professors, and have a tendency to prefer reading and listening over group study and videos.
  • Motivators: They strive to get a better job.
  • Opportunities: Provide research and internships, improve face-to-face professor interactions, and added services like boot camps.

The Hobby Learner (24% of learners)

These are a diverse set of older learners who view education as a journey of learning about new things rather than a way to make it to the top of their professions. In fact, 6 in 10 of the learners in this segment are not enrolled in college, have never earned a degree, and don’t need one for their job.

  • How they want to learn: They prefer a hybrid method that includes digital, books, and in-person instruction. They’re self-directed learners who enjoy the engagement of a high-touch environment.
  • Motivators: They highly value education, but money is a barrier.
  • Opportunities: Provide shorter, more flexible programs, create alternative credentials, and adopt digital tools at a lower cost.

The Career Learner (19% of learners)

The Career Learner is quite similar to the Traditional Learner in many ways, including their love for college and ability to excel academically. While this segment is made up of multigenerational learners, the largest subgroup (60%) is in college right now.

  • How they want to learn: Even though this segment understands the need for soft skills like teamwork and collaboration, they tend to prefer learning through digital platforms.
  • Motivators: Job placement and career advancement are their goals.
  • Opportunities: Provide career services into curriculum, build co-ops, and incorporate portfolio-style learning that can translate what has been learned to potential employers.

The Reluctant Learner (17% of learners)

Identified as academically average, these learners have little passion for learning. They learn because they have to, not because they want to. They’re the most diverse segment in terms of enrollment trends, and include those currently in college (36%), degree holders (25%), and those without a degree (39%).

  • How they want to learn: Whether online or on a campus, this segment wants a high-touch environment and favors face-to-face when possible.
  • Motivators: They need flexibility as to when and how they learn.
  • Opportunities: Meet them where they are. Provide multiple mix-and-match options with anytime learning, at their own pace. Also, addressing pricing as an incentive for degree completion might engage these learners a bit more.

The Skeptical Learner (15% of learners)

These learners don’t think that school is for them. They’re somewhat older and feel like they’ve gotten by just fine without a degree. In fact, 68% (in this case) have not enrolled or never earned a degree.

  • How they want to learn: If they have to go to school, they would prefer it to be digital to minimize inconvenience.
  • Motivators: They enjoy the engagement/social aspect of education, but not the academic pursuit.
  • Opportunities: Create low-price pathway program, replicate a social setting by redesigning online learning, and offer low-residency campus options and credit for work experience.

For a more in-depth look at these personas, check out The Future Learners: An Innovative Approach To Understanding The Higher Education Market And Building A Student-Centered University.

Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reach more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Our online program management services and community can help your students thrive as you build the brand and reputation you’re striving for.