• 4 tactics to show the value of online programs vs. remote learning

    by Melissa Johnson

    Young girl on her laptop

    In the post-2020 remote learning world, how do you stand out from the crowd? With universities being forced to put many of their programs and courses online because of the pandemic — and then keeping them there because now they’re ‘online’ — how do you get prospective students to consider your online courses and your online programs over the thousands now available at the click of a mouse?

    First, the differences between “remote” learning and “online” learning stem from how each program was structured and envisioned. Remote learning is characterized by inconsistency and a lack of structure and is usually a reaction to an external force necessitating the need to go online quickly (as illustrated by the 2020 pandemic). At its best, learning materials and assessment are thought out in advance and instructors are trained in online teaching methods. At its worst, faculty is trying to figure out, week by week, how to convert their face-to-face content to an online format, which often results in synchronous video lectures and outdated text materials.

    On the other hand, online learning is characterized by planning, consistency, and an understanding of the virtual environment, which includes the intentional use of technology to meet online teaching needs (meaning it can be a truly asynchronous experience). Assignments and student assessment are tied to outcomes and objectives which are clearly stated, course materials are planned accordingly and created for online learning, and students don’t have to guess or wonder what is expected of them from week to week.

    Your programs are online and intentional. How do you tell students?

    Once you have a program filled with courses that are intentional, engaging, and authentic, you need to be able to quantify this information. What’s the data that supports the claim that your courses and programs are superior?

    Many will start by analyzing basic data from their learning management system (LMS).

    • How do students do on quizzes and exams?
    • How long are they active in their course?
    • Where are they spending their time?

    While these are definitely data points, are they the right data points? A student who aces every exam may just be a good test taker. What does it really mean when Andre was logged into the Week 1 Discussion for four hours — did he log in and then walk away after 30 minutes? These basic data points don’t tell prospective students much about the quality of your online courses. You need to provide information that goes deeper than basic LMS information.

    While there is no magic formula, there are some strategies you can implement to obtain meaningful information and data points that are worth marketing.

    1. Design assessments that matter. What type of assignments and student assessment are in your courses? It’s more impressive to share an average pass rate of 85% when assignments are mapped to objectives and based on real-world situations. An 85% pass rate in a course with nothing but quizzes and exams is less inspiring.
    2. Survey students for concrete experiences. What do students really think about your courses and programs? When creating student surveys, ask meaningful questions. While this seems obvious, it’s still surprising how many course surveys we continue to see with questions like, “Would you recommend this course to a friend?” Relevant survey questions are pointed and meaningful, such as, “What were you able to take from this course and immediately practice on the job/in the real world?”
    3. Assess student confidence before and after. A good course starts with objectives. At the beginning of the course when you are telling students what they will be able to do by the end of the course, assess their confidence level as well. “How confident are you that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Then, at the end, assess their confidence again. “How confident are you now that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Combining an assessment of students’ before and after confidence with other meaningful survey questions (see above), and you have a powerful marketing tool.
    4. Use basic LMS data to determine where students are struggling in your program, and then fix those issues. While not really marketable, analyzing LMS data to continually improve student performance will reap its own rewards. Using LMS data to determine students’ pain points and then adjusting assignments and content accordingly will only improve your pass rates, retention, and student satisfaction — which will result in improved student survey results and more marketing opportunities.

    From Measuring to Messaging

    Let’s look at an example. Say a prospective student is comparing two online marketing programs, each with a testimonial. Which one sounds like the better program?

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  • How to build long-term relationships that foster student success

    by Melissa Johnson

    Young girl on her laptop

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Kristina Campbell 

    Coaching students isn’t just a job, it’s a two-way bond that helps students focus on their academic goals. It also gives the student support coaches a unique understanding of what students need to complete their online degrees or programs. And it affords institutions the ability to retain students who are tracking toward their goals. Kristina Campbell tells her story as a student support coach below.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    For me, it’s being with a student from start to finish. Nothing is more satisfying than being a part of the student’s process and hearing the excitement and joy they have upon their completion of the program. To be part of their celebration of a momentous achievement.

    What's it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?  

    Long term relationships are the most rewarding experience of being a coach. They give me a deeper and richer connection with the student. I even love going through those rough stages and gently pushing others when they feel that they can’t continue moving forward.

    Recently, I spoke with a student who is in their last semester. They told me that had I not given a gentle nudge the first week of class, they would’ve stopped and never reached their last semester. Students have told me they truly value the role of a coach; they’ve gone through programs before where coaching wasn’t provided and have felt the importance of having one in the programs we provide.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners? 

    1. Good communication that goes beyond just talking. A coach needs to listen actively, provide helpful responses, and cultivate an atmosphere where students feel comfortable to speak.
    2. Empathy to understand that going through an educational program is not an easy feat. Students want to work with someone they believe will try to understand and show they care.
    3. Being supportive because everyone wants to be affirmed in their decisions. Coaches are part of the support system for a student.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees? 

    Time management is one of the main concerns I hear from students when starting a program or when the tempo of the program changes due to course load. Students have several constants in their lives that take priority before everything else (i.e., family and work). School is a wonderful variable that they are throwing in the mix.

    I try to help students figure out how to balance school, work, home, and life. We work on finding ways to make time for learning, figuring out what needs to be adjusted or omitted in their schedule, and on making time for self-care.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs? 

    I try to keep learners engaged by calling them regularly, sending emails, and texting. I also send reminders, resources, and any aids or tools I can find regarding their courses.

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students? 

    My team has a wonderful relationship with our school partner. We have been able to identify issues and bring them to the institution’s attention as needed.

    And, on multiple occasions, I’ve reached out to instructors to advocate or help a student succeed. I had one student who was diagnosed with a severe health condition. They were in the hospital and needed help to get extensions on their work. I was able to connect with the instructor to get resources to help the student complete the course.

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  • Offering personalized advice — from someone who’s been there

    by Justin Tate

    Woman on her laptop

    Q&A with Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate

    If you're an online learner, it's great to know you can always turn to someone who’s been in your shoes, understands how challenging it can be — and knows you can succeed. Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate earned his own graduate degrees online. Now, drawing on that life-changing experience, he counsels other online graduate students on how to stick with the program, balance its demands, and make the most of the experience.

    What led you to become a coach?

    I grew up in a family where college was expected. There was never any doubt whether I would be getting a degree after high school. Unfortunately, when I got to the university, I realized my study habits weren’t as good as I thought. The workload was way more intense than I expected. It took me two years, and a few dropped classes, before I understood myself: how I learned, and how I needed to balance life, work, and education.

    By junior year, I was doing great. I even started working at the university Writing Center where I tutored other students on developing their essays. That’s where I first realized I enjoyed helping learners like me — those who had what it took to succeed, but needed to find their own strategy to get there.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    College is tough, especially if you're a working adult with many competing priorities. For me, grad school was an entirely different challenge from undergrad. In the long gap between, I developed professional skills and a greater sense of purpose in my life, but I also had more commitments beyond even a full-time job. My priorities and energy levels had changed so much it was like starting over. Again, it took a while to find a strategy that worked.

    It’s rewarding to support students through their challenges in class and in life, because I know how tempting it can be to give up. If I didn’t have someone to talk to — or people in my life who understood what I was feeling — it’s very possible I would have dropped out. My goal is to be that person you can call any time, who understands what it’s like, and can guide you through the difficult times.

    What is it like to work with a student from enrollment to graduation, and to watch them succeed academically?

    The path to graduation does not always run smooth. It’s great to maintain that relationship all the way through, because you have a greater understanding of individual situations and what approaches might work best on a personal level. I tend to get emotional every time a student graduates, because I know what it took for them to get there.

    What characteristics or skills do you need to coach adult learners well?

    Start by understanding that every adult learner is different. They have a wide variety of priorities, obligations, and challenges. The only way to understand the obstacles they may face is to take time to listen to what’s going on in their world. Once you build that relationship, it’s easier to offer support that is relevant to their unique situation.

    What are some of the main concerns students share, and how do you help them overcome those concerns?

    The most common concern is fear about how to find time for higher education. Adult learners balance a lot of big priorities. At first it can seem impossible to find time for them all. Helping them process each class, shift strategies, or find their own unique study style isn’t easy, but we try to get to that space as fast as possible.

    How does your coaching help learners stay engaged, so they don’t fall by the wayside?

    I’m always personally interested in how classes are going, what big assignments are coming up next, and the general feeling each student has about their experience. By talking through what’s going on in and outside of class, we can collaborate on strategies to help them become more efficient as a student and still get the most from their education.

    How do you work with the university to support students?

    As a support coach, I’m primarily focused on talking with students, learning about their challenges, and supporting them through times of stress. This includes navigating complicated university processes, registering for the correct courses, and connecting them with the appropriate financial resources, or other departments which are part of the college experience.

    As a coach, I collaborate closely with the university to share feedback from students, smoothly implement changes, and distribute information. Since I’m usually the first person to hear about a potential obstacle, I can easily pass that information along to the appropriate parties.

    It’s also common for faculty to reach out to me if there are students who could use some extra support, are lacking engagement, or could benefit from walking through resources. All this has retained learners who don’t just go through the motions, but actually feel a part of the program.

    Have you or your colleagues ever helped a university discover a problem sooner, so they could support their students more effectively?

    My goal is to be a neutral advocate for student learners. That means many students are comfortable sharing their honest perspectives on courses and university processes. This includes identifying clear frustrations about their experience, but also the things they love most. Sharing this feedback with the university has led to more efficient processes, improved curriculum, and innovation in the classroom.

    What new issues are you beginning to see now, as more learners come online, or move through and beyond the pandemic?

    The pandemic has impacted students in very different ways. Some mention they’re more motivated than ever, with fewer competing social obligations. Others feel additional stress, as they support family and their own mental health during difficult times. Almost everyone has been touched by it in some way, and a good week can easily turn bad. Planning ahead and making contingency plans are a big part of coaching conversations, so we can expect surprises and work through them together.  

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  • Reach new learners in the digital transformation of higher education

    by Matt Celano

    Adult learner on laptop, working from home

    Institutions around the world were forced to take their higher education programs online in 2020, whether they were ready to or not. And although 33% of postsecondary school administrators plan to continue offering online course options after campuses reopen, many institutions are still hesitant about adopting this new digital-only learning environment.

    It’s important to remember, however, that the global pandemic impacted nearly 1.6 billion learners and has changed the way we learn, work, and connect with each other — forever. How learners search for and engage with brands has shifted, and the type of online learning programs they’re looking for reflects that. Google recently reported an increase in the use of “online” as a modifier when people search for specific programs (e.g., online MBA instead of MBA). That’s because this type of learning environment is the new expectation for learners today.

    And as a response to COVID-19, learners are focused on programs that can help them upskill and reskill quickly, with 18% of the 162 we surveyed looking for a special skill and 23% looking for a shorter alternative to a degree. Pearson Pathways anticipated this need and it’s why we included courses as part of our portfolio strategy from the start.

    Unlike universities that now need to create and market courses individually to meet demand, Pathways has already done this and is able to provide learners with options that support their goals and are delivered in a format that’s familiar to them given the new way we learn and work.

    Online education is the future of learning

    Consider this: Enrollment increased at primarily online institutions 7% during spring 2021, compared to 5% in spring 2020, which means demand for online programs is on the rise. We all need to be ready for what this means for the future of higher education. If your institution has taken an active role in this digital transformation, there are ways you can support others as they do the same. Start by asking them the following questions:

    How are you currently engaging with learners, and what can you do differently?

    Are you doing enough to reach a diverse set of learners by looking outside your geographic areas and normal admissions territory?

    What is your online learning strategy, and are you prepared to take on-campus programs online? If not, what are your next steps to make that happen?

    Pearson Pathways was designed with today's learner in mind

    At Pearson, we work closely with our institutional partners to ensure that they have the information and resources they need to be successful as they begin to offer more online courses to learners around the world. One way we do this is through Pathways: the first global online enrollment advisor.

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  • Raise retention rates with student support services

    by Nisha Khan

    Student with headphones in front of laptop computer, engaging in conversation

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Nisha Khan

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults highly focused on careers. They worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Nisha Khan works with learners in MBA programs to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was with a cosmetics company for 3 years where I worked my way up to a services coordinator. I already had the customer service skills — active listening and the ability to offer quick solutions. I knew that I wanted to help people and continue to build strong relationships. When I saw the job description for the student services specialist, I knew this would be the perfect role for me!

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    It is a joy to work with the same population and have the same group of students for years at a time. You really get to know a lot about each student as an individual, but also learn a lot of insights about the program that, as a coach, you might not have the opportunity to experience.

    What it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It's truly so special to be part of a student’s life during their studies. You get to watch them from the start, when they are the most passionate and excited to start their degree, through the ups and down of an MBA, and come out the other side to graduate.

    We learn a lot about students through proactive outreach. You could be calling a student to simply check in, and they will share that they are nervous to take the upcoming accounting class. You’ll then get a call from that student after the class is over to celebrate their passing grade with you.

    For them to include you in their wins is so heart-warming. We also learn about students' personal lives, and we are there to celebrate these milestones as well. Watching a student grow in all aspects really drives me to find out as much about my students as possible!

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be compassionate, empathic, and have great attention to detail — simple as that!

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    Students value their education and have a high expectation of the quality they will receive, especially with how high tuition can be. Even though we strive to provide the most cutting-edge and smooth experience for our students, sometimes “life happens.” It can be a technical error, a miscommunication on course materials, or grades on their homework that they disagree with. For many of our students when their expectations are not met for the price of their tuition, it can be grounds to take time off from the program, and, in the worst case, withdraw entirely.

    Many times students want to be heard, and that is exactly why I’m here. When they share feedback on the quality of the program, I can see whether it was a one-time incident, or if there is an overall trend that I can report to the partner to see if we need to implement change.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My school has 9 terms a year and classes are between 3–5 weeks in length. While there are benefits to this model, it means that students have registration and drop deadlines in conjunction with their class deliverables deadlines.

    My biggest role is assisting students with registration and ensuring they are reminded about upcoming registration periods. By staying in constant email and text communication, along with proactive phone calls, we help the student think in the future and keep track of the administrative and degree planning items while they focus on their studies.

    When have you worked with the university to help students more effectively?

    I am a coach to online MBA students where most students do not have a background in accounting or finance. As a result, the accounting and finance classes have the highest fail rate and the highest drop rate. Coaches also hear the most amount of feedback in these specific courses.

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  • Bridging the gap in higher ed with student support services

    by Lourdes Carvajal

    Two students talking with each other

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults. They’re first-generation college students. They're highly focused on careers and worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal works with learners to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was an online student in my graduate program and had a lot on my plate to balance. I didn’t even know there were resources at my university to help students like me. I wanted to make the difference in a student’s experience while they’re achieving their academic dreams. It would have made my life a little easier if I had someone to go to from the university on the tough days.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I love when a student confides in me that they’re struggling and need help. Life throws us curveballs when we least expect them and having someone to confide in makes it a little bit easier to withstand. The trust that I have earned from my students means a lot to me because I know how much they want to make it to graduation. I want to be able to help them get there.

    What is it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It’s an honor helping someone who has dreamt of achieving their academic goals. They share those goals with me from the very beginning, and I remind them of those goals throughout their journey. We go through ups and downs together, and we get to know each other very well. We become like family. I’m always so proud of them when they do finally achieve their academic goals.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be able to see the student holistically. They’re an individual who’s balancing a lot on their plate in addition to their coursework. As an effective coach you need to check in on how they’re doing, not just in the classroom but at home, too. This will greatly affect their performance academically as well.

    You also need to be supportive, in whatever decision the student makes. Our students come to rely on us, as they may not always have an effective support system at home.

    I believe another skill needed is to have good communication among your students but also the university. I believe the phrase “it takes a village” is very much applicable when working with students. Having good communication in the end will result in better support for the student.

    How have you or your colleagues helped a university better meet the needs of students?

    Some of the main concerns I hear from students are about mental health and overall wellbeing while being a full-time online student. We brought up this issue to the university and worked together to develop more mental health resources for our program. We have partnered with a resource center at the university to provide workshops on mental health for our students.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    My background is in social work, and mental health is very near and dear to my heart. I do mental health check-ins with my students, just to see how they’re feeling. We so often are busy taking care of everyone else, we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of that list. I remind them to prioritize themselves by doing some self-care every once in a while. We talk about activities or hobbies that they like to do to de-stress, and I remind them to do this when things are becoming too stressful.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My coaching style is to be very transparent with my students. If I’m transparent with them, that will make them more comfortable to come to me when they do have an issue. I remind them that they’re never on their own throughout this journey, and I’d love to help them as much as I can. I believe this has helped my students stay engaged in their courses in the program. Just knowing that someone is really looking out for them makes them feel more comfortable and motivated.

    How do you work in tandem with the university to support students?

    I like to define my role as being here to support the student. The university really likes how my role interacts with learners, as there is generally an academic adviser for the program as well.

    The academic adviser takes care of any academic issues, like course planning and grades.

    I work with the student to ensure they’re always set up for success. I allow the student to talk about their week, how their personal lives are affecting their coursework, and we also talk about their courses.

    The academic adviser and I talk almost every day so we can both brainstorm ideas on how to best support the student.

    In what ways do you partner with faculty members to help a student succeed?

    I’m very lucky to work with such amazing faculty members at the university. A faculty member will reach out to me personally to talk about a student who could use more support. I work to find the root of the issue and help find resources to best support them.

    I reach out to faculty members as well when I notice a student struggling academically and provide the context for what’s going on and how I’m working with the student. I love the collaboration between the faculty, the institution, and myself because we all want the same thing for our students, and that is to see them succeed.

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  • Empathy, skill, knowledge: How a great student coach helps adult learners succeed

    by Natasha Prospere

    Adult learner on laptop

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere, M.ED

    Every online learner needs somewhere to turn when they have a problem or need someone to listen — someone whose advice is empathetic and reliable, and who can point them to resources that help them succeed. For many learners, Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere is that person. See how she approaches the crucial work of guiding learners from enrollment to graduation — so learners, institutions, and employers all get the outcomes they’re hoping for.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I enjoy interacting with my students. And I enjoy working on new challenges every day — you never know what to expect. It's rewarding to support each student along their path, to encourage them and to provide the resources they need, from orientation to graduation.

    I let them know what to expect along the way, guide them through their upcoming courses, and help them meet their graduation requirements. I can help them access the resources they need, whether that’s mental health, tutoring, writing center, or something else. Students often thank me for being their advocate and facilitator.

    What's it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    Building relationships and positive rapport with students is fundamental to their success. My students know I truly care about them, their families, and their academic success. They feel supported by me.

    In our first conversation, I learn about their academic goals — and also about their home life, what brought them to the institution, who’s part of their support system, and their ultimate goals. So, when times get tough — and they will — I can be there to remind them why they started in the first place.  

    As coaches, we provide motivation, as well as encouragement through personal struggles and life events, whether that's sick children, taking care of elderly parents, or even divorces.  We also celebrate, sharing in joyous occasions such as weddings and pregnancies!  Whatever’s happening in their lives, we’re there, with personal outreach, regular communication, and timely feedback. 

    What are three skills or characteristics you need to coach adult learners effectively?

    First, you need empathy and compassion. Second, you should be a constructive, active listener. Third, you need to be a problem solver — and to do that, you need to thoroughly understand the resources you can provide to learners, and the university policies you’re operating within.

    What are some concerns you help learners overcome?

    Time management is a main concern: feeling overwhelmed as they try to balance work, school, personal life, and raising a family. I provide tips on being a successful online learner, both during our conversations and via email. For example, I tell them to:

    • Plan your study time.
    • Print and/or download your syllabus so it’s always handy.
    • Check your school email every day — something important might be happening.
    • Log into your course(s) several times a week.

    Stepping back, I also encourage them to find their passion. What do they do for fun? Are they making sure to take time for self-care, exercise, time with family and friends? Are they eating well and getting enough sleep? That’s especially an issue for my nursing students.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    Online graduate advising is so much more than telling students “what class comes next!”

    Students rely on their Support Coach for information to solve problems, make decisions, navigate university procedures, and overcome technology challenges. We help them register for their next class, but we also make sure they know what to expect in their upcoming courses. We help them add the concentration courses they’ll need, transfer programs, take leaves of absence if they must, and — for our Nursing suite — prepare for clinicals and campus visits.  

    We don’t just connect frequently with students. We advocate for them. We share their concerns with the university. We provide the right guidance: information they can use. It’s all about building a personal relationship that shows each student we truly care about them as individuals — and about their success. 

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students?

    The institution’s on-campus Academic Advisors (AAs) handle grades, GPA concerns, academic standing, instructor concerns, and similar issues. With my Nursing program, Duquesne also has a clinical coordinator to help learners secure a preceptor and complete their required clinical hours. As a success coach, I send learners a program plan to follow, and remind them when it's time to register, order books, and complete financial aid.

    Students tend to reach out to me first, as their main point of contact. I can direct them to their AAs, clinical coordinators, or instructors, as needed. I often copy the AA on emails, and provide time and day when it’s best to reach the student. We follow up via email, and we meet bi-weekly with the university to discuss student affairs.

    We're a great team. Here's an example just from today. An AA called me with a heads up that a student may contact me. The AA said she knows we have a great relationship and wanted me to know what was going on with him academically. Since I know his academic situation now, I can proactively reach out to him, as he may need an updated program plan.

    What issues are rising to the forefront, as more learners come online, or as they begin moving beyond the pandemic?

    Some continuing issues are even bigger — for example, time management. We're always offering advice to help learners stay organized, set aside a dedicated study space, or use a physical or digital planner. And some students who’ve been out of school for awhile struggle with the technology. We’re there to provide resources, including a 24-hour tech support, live chat, and a writing center. So they always have what they need.

    One issue I’m anticipating: helping nursing students find a clinical rotation. With COVID-19, many sites weren’t accepting students in person. Now, I suspect, there will be an overflow that we’ll all have to carefully manage together.

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  • Optimize site conversion rates to increase inquiries and enrollments

    by Heather Clarke

    Two people are looking at a screen; one is pointing to something on the screen.

    A Q&A with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services  

    Institutions are seeking more inquiries and enrollments from their online learning program websites. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) can help them achieve this goal. To explore how, we spoke with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services. 

    Q: What is CRO (sometimes called website optimization)? How does it relate to marketing online learning programs?

    A: CRO is the scientific process of testing for improvements on site elements and a user’s movement towards a purchase decision, with the goal of improving on-site conversions.

    I emphasize the word “scientific.” We use the scientific method to collect performance data and user feedback, to form hypotheses, and to test them. Based on data, we create a test variation that we hypothesize will improve performance. By testing with a control, or testing one change at a time, we can attribute any measurable shift in performance to our change.

    CRO helps mitigate risks and save time and money. By testing and evaluating (vs. blindly implementing changes), we let learners — through their actions — tell us what works for them and what doesn't.

    CRO is continuous. Sites are never 100% optimized. The digital landscape evolves every day. Learners' needs and environments evolve, too. To serve them well, we must keep a pulse on all these changes, and quickly evolve alongside them.

    Q: Who should a university leader of an online learning program talk to about CRO, and what questions should they ask?

    A: Talk to your marketing team — and first ask if they have a conversion rate optimization team monitoring day-to-day site performance. Then, you’ll want to know:

    • What does my online learning audience look like? Who are we targeting?
    • What is the data telling us? What pages get the most traffic and prospective students? Why/why not?
    • What elements on the site get the most engagement?
    • What content is the online learner looking for to decide? Do they need more or less of it? Are they finding it easily?
    • Are the pages actionable? Are the calls-to-action (the next steps you want the visitor to take) clear?
    • Does our content accurately reflect our online learning program and institution?

    Q. How do I judge the conversion rates we’re achieving?

    A: Good and bad conversion rates are relative, so there’s no definitive answer. We track baselines and trends to measure success. Our advice: establish a baseline for your site, and constantly strive to improve it.

    Once you’ve determined your site’s typical performance (which can vary seasonally), dig into your data, learner behavior, and learner feedback. That's how you identify opportunities to improve.

    Q: How can CRO improve performance?

    A: CRO’s goal is to find variations of your site that provide a statistically significant improvement in conversion. When you’re regularly making the right content available in a friendlier format, site performance should improve incrementally. More interaction with your forms = more prospective students.

    On-site performance is key, but that’s not all that matters. As you get the right decision-making content onto your pages, deliver more relevant information, and help visitors act on it, search engines notice. Your rankings improve. That helps you acquire more learners and decrease acquisition costs.

    Q: What tips would you offer to improve conversions?

    A: These 6 tips can help you improve significantly:

    1. Listen to your site's visitors. Do this by drilling down into your data, tracking chat topics and search queries, and surveying/user testing your audience. People will tell you their pain points if you listen. Which leads to...
    2. Implement the right tracking. The full story is more complicated than just clicks and conversion. To optimize your site’s layout, you need to know how people move through it. What interactive and non-interactive elements are they interacting with? Where in their journey do these interactions happen? In what order do they click on elements? How far do they scroll?
    3. Simplify, don’t clutter. Focus again on your site’s goal and what learners are telling you. What information do they need before moving forward, and what is your call-to-action? Make it easy for them to get that information. Don’t overload their senses when your page loads.
    4. Create experiences that reflect your knowledge of the learner's journey. You don’t have to do 1:1 personalization, but if you know someone has visited you before, they may need different information to move forward. If they've clicked from a specific campaign, what they see should relate to it. Mobile and desktop users are different, and may need different information. Beyond this, while it’s challenging to link on-site behavior with offsite data via a larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, doing so can take your on-site targeting to the next level.
    5. Don’t make people dig! Your most important content should be higher on the page. Check out your site’s “scroll depth”: how far down the page typical visitors scroll. Anything people need to make a decision should appear above that line. Similarly:
    6. Content should be quickly digestible. What's the average time on site (or page) for site visitors? If your content takes longer than that to skim, you may lose people. They’re in a hurry — just like you.

    CRO is constantly evolving. As Heather Clarke’s team tracks the changing web environment, they continually identify new ways to improve performance. In the meantime, the lessons offered here may well help improve your web page conversions.

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  • How to support faculty who are teaching online

    by Pearson

    A woman working on a laptop

    Giving faculty the tools they need to be better online instructors is essential to having a successful course, program, and learner experience.  

    Develop online courses that work for students and faculty 

    The best online courses are co-created with learning experts who know how to communicate the faculty member’s message most powerfully. These experts help instructors from concept to delivery and have provided these tips to help you think through your online presence.

    Create an effective online course

    Your faculty are experts in their disciplines, with strong networks in their fields, and a deep commitment to students. But they may not feel comfortable with teaching online or structuring their course content. That’s where higher ed leaders can make a positive impact. You can provide experts and training to take courses designed for an in-person classroom and adapt them for the virtual world.

    Administrators can provide guidance on structuring and organizing course content to make it as engaging and informative as possible. And they can connect faculty with resources and tools to review the courses before they go live with students and help standardize instructional design across courses so students are immediately comfortable when they start a new course.

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  • How to use authentic assessment to engage online learners

    by Melissa Johnson

    Online student smiles as he speaks into a headset while working on a laptop at a wood table.

    Keeping learners engaged in pursuing their degrees, certifications, or development of new skills is essential to keeping them enrolled. And for adult learners, engagement and value go hand in hand. Take for example, Jan*. At the start of COVID-19, Jan’s position was eliminated, so she decided it was the perfect time to go back to school.

    Excited to continue her education — and excited to be able to do it from home — Jan jumped into her first few courses expecting the best of what 21st century online technology had to offer. What she found instead was a lot of discussion prompts asking “reflective” questions, written assignments, and a few quizzes along the way.

    After only three courses, Jan was fed up. It was not so much the money she was paying for her online program, but the lack of any learning that she could use in the real world. She was not in this for a grade — she was in this to up her skills, learn new things, and re-emerge into the job market better than when she left it.

    Communicating value through authentic assessment experiences

    Jan is not unique. She is an example of the 74% of past, present, and prospective online college students that Magda and Aslanian (2018) found are pursuing their degree program for career-focused reasons, including:

    • transitioning to a new career field
    • updating the skills required for their job
    • increasing their wages/salary

    Today's online students want learning they can immediately put into practice, so institutions will have to meet their needs with learning experiences designed with career preparation and upskilling in mind.

    Unfortunately, many online courses do not provide the opportunities students need to practice and immediately implement the skills they’re learning. So, like many online students, Jan decided that the lack of actual application of the things she was supposed to be learning was enough to make her quit.

    While quitting is an extreme swing of the pendulum, student frustration stemming from the lack of real-world application in online courses isn’t the only concern. What about the hordes of students who graduate and haven’t put their nursing, or engineering, or accountancy skills to the test in a safe learning environment? What about their patients and clients? We can solve both of these concerns using authentic assessments.

    What is authentic assessment exactly?

    Authentic assessment is a form of evaluation that asks students to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate their understanding of and ability to use the skills they’ve learned.

    Wiggins (1998) identifies a few key criteria for an assessment to be considered “authentic”:

    • It’s realistic.
    • It requires judgement and innovation.
    • It asks the student to “do” the subject.
    • It replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace, in civic life, and in personal life.
    • It assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skill to negotiate a complex task.
    • It allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.
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  • How to keep nontraditional students enrolled and on track

    by Mandy Baldwin, Senior Student Support Specialist, Pearson

    A man with headphones on and a woman in a plaid shirt sit on a gray couch typing on laptops while a little girl in a yellow dress kneels over a coffee table drawing with colored pencils.

    When every enrollment matters to the health of an institution and, more importantly, to the dreams of every student, keeping them on track to graduate is vital. And when you have a nontraditional student body, they need a student support services team to step in to play a central role, helping students transition back to the classroom.

    As student support specialists at Pearson, my team has the privilege of connecting with online students, supporting their goals, and providing resources for their success.

    Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked closely with our retention managers and institutions (we call them academic partners) to alleviate some of the additional stress this pandemic has placed on students.

    Along the way, we learned three key lessons that can help your team whether your student support services are provided by a partner or from an in-house team.

    Help nontraditional learners balance school and life

    When nursing student Mary* called me in March 2020, she was in her final semester and didn’t know how she was going to earn the remaining credits she needed to graduate. With elementary-school age children and a newborn, she was already juggling a lot. And with facilities closed, she struggled with figuring out how to meet her program’s clinical requirements.

    We worked with her institution to communicate the school’s policies with Mary. But, more broadly, our student support services team became a crucial lifeline for students. We reached out proactively to:  

    • educate students on how credits for the clinical portion of the program would work
    • share the university’s plans for a virtual graduation ceremony
    • ease their fears about how colleges and universities could continue to operate seamlessly and safely

    Nontraditional students tend to be older than traditional college students. They have careers, marriages, and children to contend with on top of managing their studies. The students we support reflect this reality as well. According to the 2020 Pearson Enrollment Experience Survey, for enrollments in our graduate programs: 

    • the average age is 37, compared to a traditional graduate student at 32 years old
    • over half (53%) are married and have children 
    • students are working/experienced, with 78% of students working full-time and 50% having at least 7 years of work experience 

    Focus on student mental health and wellbeing

    Like everyone everywhere, our nontraditional learners grew weary as the months dragged on and the pressures mounted. They had jobs, kids, and life stressors on top of working toward completing their degrees. Their previously mapped out routines of school, work, and family had dissolved. Some students continued to juggle homeschooling kids with work and school. Others struggled to find work while keeping up with their education.

    While online courses remained constant, the balancing act became harder. We spoke with students, employed as front-line workers, who contracted COVID-19. We became the ear for many, helping students cope with all the changes. We realized that we needed to:

    • direct students to mental health resources
    • advise them on time management and organizing tips
    • encourage students to keep going or take time off for self-care when needed

    Serve nontraditional students in novel ways

    When nursing student Josefina* needed to find a clinical placement, she faced a roadblock that could have derailed her studies. She was living overseas with her military spouse and didn’t have many options for placement since the country where they were based was in lockdown.

    Our solution? Josefina participated in a Zoom session with her academic advisor and student support specialist to develop a plan that would help her lock in a clinical placement on the base.

    We learned to:

    • tailor solutions to the student
    • connect students with program staff
    • coach them on options to complete program requirements  
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  • The 2 biggest considerations for going online

    by Pearson

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    COVID-19 has put online learning in the spotlight. As more students need to turn to virtual settings to stay on track with their education, institutions pivoted to provide their courses online.

    So how should your institution prepare beyond the moment to launch and grow online? Ask yourself the following questions about investment money and strategic opportunities.

    How should you fund your online learning strategy?

    As you prepare to launch your college’s online offerings, you’ll need to find a source of funding. Tuition streams will only gradually grow to contribute, so where can you acquire these funds? Institutions have several options:

    1. Tap internal resources — If you have discretionary funds to use to establish online learning programs, this may be a great way to go. Much of the online program investment is needed upfront.
    2. Leverage fundraising — Some institutions have received generous donations from forward-thinking alumni to expand favored online programs.
    3. Borrow funds — Many institutions have pursued this path, but in today’s market securing financing may be more difficult than before.
    4. Use partner investments — Investments from an outside educational provider like an online program management (OPM) company may fund your launch. They can work with you in multiple ways to help you meet your online goals.

    Launching a meaningful online presence can require significant start-up capital and ongoing investments as you evolve and scale.

    How to assess the market for your online learning programs?

    Once you make the decision to launch online and find the money to do so, the next consideration becomes making sure there’s a viable market for your “product.”

    46.9% of distance students now attend 5% of institutions.

    You’ll want to be strategic in how you assess your opportunities and set up your programs. Here’s how:

    1. Conduct market research — Professional market research can objectively assess student demand and shifting labor markets.
    2. Evaluate your brand — Does your brand stand out in the market? You’ll want a solid understanding of your differentiators, strengths, reputation, culture, and ability to deliver.
    3. Name and price your program — This attention to detail will help you establish yourself in the market and leap ahead of the competition.

    To grow online you’ll want to identify niches, clarify and extend your differentiators, and invest more heavily in branding and outreach beyond traditional markets.

    Explore our resources for more insights to help build your online program.

     

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  • Leading students through a changing career landscape

    by Pearson

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  • Harnessing change in higher education

    by Pearson

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    From test optional to online learning, the whole college search, application, and enrollment process has changed for applicants and schools in 2020.

    In fact, by harnessing these changes, we may open doors for new ways that:

    • colleges can assess applicants
    • applicants can evaluate their choices
    • adult learners can gain new job skills

    Learn how from Joe Morgan by watching the video below.

     

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  • Maryville University - Now the 2nd fastest-growing university in the nation

    by James Montalto

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    There is no doubt that back-to-school plans have been hotly debated as the higher-education world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have whipsawed between resuming on-campus classes or opting for a virtual approach to learning. Students themselves are carefully considering where, when, and how to pursue their college degrees. There are no straightforward answers or “one size fits all” solutions. Despite all the uncertainties and hurdles that have impacted the education industry as a whole, Pearson partner Maryville University has experienced remarkable growth.

    Congratulations to Maryville University for making The Chronicle of Higher Education’s fastest-growing colleges list again after record enrollments for the 16th consecutive year. Maryville anticipates this growth trend will continue into the Fall 2020. The proof is in the numbers. Maryville projects overall enrollment increases of 10 percent across traditional on-campus undergraduate students and online undergraduate and graduate students this year. Maryville is welcoming more than 925 new students to campus, including more than 750 incoming Freshmen students enrolled in on-campus classes this fall – representing a 7 percent increase in on campus enrollment. Online class enrollment has grown by more than 17 percent, with more than 7,200 students engaging with Maryville online.

    “Students across the country choose Maryville because we offer market relevant, high quality, online programs that provide the flexibility they need to fit education into their busy lives,” said Katherine Louthan, dean of the School of Adult and Online Education. “We are one of the few universities committed to the continual innovation and evolution of the digital learning experience.”

    Maryville has long embraced digital learning as the future of higher education and understands the vital role it will play as an element of our “new normal.” Maryville’s decades-long focus on developing robust online programs and providing support for its faculty to deliver high-quality curriculum across all learning environments enabled Maryville to quickly pivot between in-person and virtual learning in response to COVID-19. This flexible and active learning model makes Maryville’s program offerings especially appealing to students eager pursue higher education in the midst of their already busy lives.

    Pearson Online Learning Services has partnered with Maryville University since 2012 and we share in their excitement! #SaintStrong

    Read the full press release.

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  • Here we go again: Back to online learning in Fall 2020

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    As many colleges and universities make the decision to offer online instruction in fall 2020 due to COVID-19, we’re quickly reminded of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode that aired during the spring commencement season. “Congratulations Class of 2020! You will now pay full price for your college experience at a University of Phoenix Online without the tech support,” joked Kate McKinnon. She was portraying the principal at a COVID-19 graduation at St. Mary Magdalene by the Expressway High School. Unfortunately, this skit from SNL wasn’t only humorous, it also reflected the reality for some. These people have been thrust into a version of remote teaching that, while developed with the best intentions of faculty and administrators, was more emergency triage than true online learning.

    All of education quickly pivoted “online” in March due to COVID-19. There is no doubt that there were varying levels of technical abilities and required adjustments associated with the quick move online. The pandemic may have accelerated this transition, but there are already some very distinguished online programs that are comparable to traditional face-to-face programs, and some with evidence of superior outcomes. Quality online learning is already a staple in many disciplines in higher education due to its flexibility and accessibility, and it’s here to stay.

    Duquesne University School of Nursing is one of those high quality online programs. Now in partnership with Pearson, the university is applying best practices in teaching and learning and is continually updating those practices to reflect the latest learning science research. Duquesne was the first online nursing program in the United States, offering its online PhD program in 1997, and has since made the conscious decision to offer all graduate nursing programs online.

    Online education expands access to those who would otherwise be unable to further their learning. In the case of Duquesne, many students are working nurses, often juggling shift work, family responsibilities, and caregiving. Currently, even if campuses were fully open, the demands of this virus would make it nearly impossible for nurses to access on-campus programs in many parts of the country.

    Duquesne’s PhD graduates are deans, faculty, and Chief Nursing Officers — most of whom wouldn’t have been able to follow their dreams and earn their PhD in a traditional, on-campus program. This is true for me, Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow. I graduated from Duquesne with my PhD in 2002, transferring after I broke my ankle and was unable to complete my coursework on my personal timeline.

    I found the faculty to be knowledgeable, supportive, skilled teachers with their own bodies of research and much to offer students. I attended a doctoral immersion residency and achieved all the other milestones of doctoral students. After graduation, I continued to work and succeed in academe. I achieved tenure and promotion to full professor at a university with very high research activity, always feeling well-prepared and comparable in knowledge and productivity to my faculty colleagues.

    Good online learning is more than providing technology infrastructure to enable remote teaching. Online learning requires purposefully designed, and often increased, interactions with students. Professors hold one-on-one virtual office hours and many check-ins outside of regular hours. Clinical disciplines benefit from real-time virtual patient rounds, clinical case studies, and recitations. In addition, those who are new to teaching online may need to evolve how they approach assessment, technology, and time management. Duquesne and other high-quality online programs utilize research-based strategies like these to help train faculty to effectively prepare for teaching in a virtual environment.

    The pandemic isn’t the first event to influence public perceptions that quality changes when we move from a lecture hall to a virtual classroom. The introduction of large, often free, online courses created an image of an impersonal, dehumanized experience that lacked the support students need to succeed. Also, the early surge of several for-profit universities created a negative impression that has been hard to overcome. As a result, well before COVID- 19 and the global rush online, virtual learning programs were often viewed as second class citizens.

    The negative press and the poor reviews of online programs in the media are far removed from the quality and student success we’ve seen at Duquesne. Universities with quality, successful programs consider the development of students and the discovery of knowledge as integral to their mission, and that doesn’t change if education is offered online. In many instances, due to the use of various technologies, virtual simulations, virtual proctors, and other exam security measures, online learning is no less costly than face-to-face programs, as sometimes reported. The same highly qualified faculty are in the virtual classroom.

    The abrupt transition to remote teaching in March 2020 due to COVID-19 was disruptive for many students and faculty. It’s my hope that thoughtfully planned online learning isn’t mistakenly cast out alongside it. Instead, I’m optimistic that this once-in-a-lifetime wake-up call means that quality online programs will become commonplace going forward, because online learning has much to offer our society at this time of crisis and beyond.

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  • 5 keys to excellence in online learning

    by Pearson

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    This spring, thousands of institutions rushed to deliver instruction online at scale. Many were new to online learning, and no two institutions or instructors approached it exactly the same way. But most recognized that it’ll play an important role going forward, and most saw room for improvement. In this blog post, we’ll share five key considerations for your institution to deliver richer, more successful online learning experiences.

    1. Develop more compelling online courses and curricula

    Translating your faculty’s expertise online requires new techniques and mindsets. Instructional design must be integrated with user experience engineering, technology, visual design, writing, accessibility, web development, quality assurance, project management, and more.

    2. Focus on helping faculty succeed

    Support faculty all the way to success, with course development help and training that reflects their needs and respects their expertise. The right course development experts can help faculty optimize their own content and course structures for online learning environments, integrate more engaging media and learning modalities, and foreground real-world relevance. The right training ensures that technology serves faculty instead of the other way around.

    3. Improve student support to improve outcomes

    Online students require seamless support from first contact through graduation. This requires institutions to break down silos, collaborate creatively, and sometimes change culture. Consider: how do students tell you if they’re encountering serious life challenges? How do you respond? Can programs and faculty work more closely with tutors to anticipate student needs? Can each student turn to a specific individual for timely, relevant help that orchestrates all your resources?

    4. Choose resources with a track record of success

    For each online learning function, whether internal or external, expect a track record of success. Have they met their commitments? Have they built the types of programs you want? Can they do it at scale? Do they understand how technologies and students are changing? Are they agile and collaborative? Will they act as agents of change, recommend and execute on innovations, and help you deliver on your institution’s online strategy?

    5. To sustain enrollments, get the marketing right, too

    You need to get your marketing strategy right, and yesterday’s strategy may not be right anymore. Today, you’re competing with gap years and dropping out indefinitely, not just other institutions. You have to rethink how you demonstrate your value to students — and that may require objective, outside assistance.

    We can help

    Our white paper offers more insights in all five areas. And we’re available to discuss your unique online learning challenges. See how we can help you and your students succeed — no matter what comes next.

    Get the white paper

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  • Quality Matters!

    by Diane Hollister

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    I like a good deal. Getting something for less than what you expected to pay is rewarding. However, if that item doesn’t work like you thought, or even breaks soon after you get it, it may not be such a good deal after all. I think we’d all agree quality matters. The developers of a set of instructional guidance felt the same and even named it, “Quality Matters”. Let’s take a closer look at this tool whose namesake is what most professors and course designers strive for every day.

    What exactly is Quality Matters?

    Quality Matters (QM) is a tool used to assess the quality of a course. With increased emphasis on online courses and the need to design materials with accreditation in mind, the best way to design a course is with QM built in from the start. As a result, it’s helpful for all of us to keep these types of recommendations in mind when talking with customers and assisting them with curricular materials.

    Where did this all get started?

    Quality Matters began with a small group of colleagues in the MarylandOnline, Inc. (MOL) consortium trying to solve a common problem among institutions: how do we measure and guarantee the quality of a course? At the time, I was teaching at a university. Later, I taught at a community college, and the discussions about online courses were extensive at both places. Yes, we wanted to meet the needs of our students, provide flexible scheduling options, etc., and we wanted to offer these courses everywhere because geography would no longer be a constraint for enrollment.

    We were also, like many other institutions, simultaneously updating transfer agreements. Administrators and educators across the country needed a way to ensure course quality for their students, regardless of where the course originated. Ideally, courses would be equivalent. Otherwise, transfer agreements would be impacted. In 2003, the consortium outlined how the Quality Matters program could create a scalable process for course quality assurance, and applied for a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The FIPSE grant enabled QM to develop a rubric of course design standards and create a replicable peer-review process that would:

    • Train and empower faculty to evaluate courses against these standards
    • Provide guidance for improving the quality of courses
    • Certify the quality of online and blended college courses across institutions

    The QM commitment

    Today Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization comprised of dedicated staff from all over the United States who work together virtually to support everyone’s quality assurance goals. To truly achieve their mission of defining and maintaining quality assurance in online learning, the QM staff rely on a much larger community of QM coordinators, workshop facilitators, peer reviewers, program reviewers, conference presenters, and all other individuals and groups who champion QM. Some of Pearson’s faculty advisors participated in QM training in the past and became reviewers with this program.

    QM’s mission

    QM’s mission is to promote and improve the quality of online education and student learning nationally and internationally through the following: development of current, research-supported, and practice-based quality standards and appropriate evaluation tools and procedures.

    • Recognition of expertise in online education quality assurance and evaluation.
    • Fostering a culture of continuous improvement by integrating QM Standards and processes into organizational plans to improve the quality of online education.
    • Providing professional development in the use of rubrics, tools and practices to improve the quality of online education.
    • Peer review and certification of quality in online education.

    A well-designed course is more likely to engage learners and positively affect their performance. Using the QM Rubric and relevant review tools as a guide, faculty and their colleagues, or a team of QM-trained, experienced online instructors can evaluate the design of an online or blended course and ensure it meets QM Standards. When professors are ready to put a course through the review process, they can receive fresh ideas from colleagues who are interested in the course. These QM-trained peers can offer specific feedback in a positive tone that will help improve the quality of the course and create a more active learning experience for students.

    So what are the QM standards?

    Chances are, if you’ve worked with a faculty advisor, you’ve heard references to these or something very similar. These are also familiar if you’ve looked at the teaching online toolkit and other resources from our Learning Design team.

    The eight General Standards of this Rubric are:

    1. Course Overview and Introduction
    2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
    3. Assessment and Measurement
    4. Instructional Materials
    5. Learning Activities and Learner Interaction
    6. Course Technology
    7. Learner Support
    8. Accessibility and Usability

    Don’t let the short list above fool you into thinking it won’t take long to work through. In fact, there are many resources for each one of these. Here, for example, is a rubric which can be helpful for faculty to refer to as they develop a course.

    What if a faculty member is trying to “retrofit” or “overhaul” or redesign a course? QM has an article with suggestions to help you improve existing courses. Again, you’ve heard things like this from our team.

    And if you’re looking for a webinar to share in addition to the Pearson webinar offerings this summer, you can direct people here.

    If you’re still wondering whether it’s worth it or not…

    “Hinds Community College eLearning has been using Quality Matters as the basis for our instructional integrity initiatives for many years now, probably since around 2015. We want our students to feel that they are getting a quality course…when they take a Hinds Community College eLearning course. We know that begins with Course Design and alignment. We ask a LOT of our Hinds eLearning faculty. They dig deep to give us what we ask for. The QM General Standards and course alignment of the critical course components are incorporated into our Hinds eLearning courses through thorough training and course evaluation. All of our pedagogical trainings and evaluations are related to a QM general standard directly or indirectly.

    So, why QM? I like the quote by Malcolm X that says ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.’ That is why we look to Quality Matters…the research-based, GOLD standard of online course evaluation for the framework of our Hinds Community College eLearning courses.”

    -Katherine Puckett, District Dean of Instructional Technology and eLearning, Hinds Community College

    Quality does matter!

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  • How faculty can spot and support struggling online students

    by Nelson Hui

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    Online education has been a vital part of higher education for many years, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many faculty and students are experiencing this for the first time. As with any method of delivery, online education has its advantages, as well as its own challenges.

    Both faculty and students can save time by meeting online instead of commuting to a physical classroom. Having course materials and various learning activities posted online provides students with more flexibility on both how and when they can study.

    On the other hand, heavy emphasis on technology can be foreign and intimating for some people. There may also be a perception that online education causes distance between the learner and their instructor. For faculty, there can be valid concerns that students may slip through the cracks in a virtual classroom. Fortunately, there are ways to both identify and support students who may be struggling online.

    Use all available forms of communication

    Communication is key when it comes to bridging the distance between the instructor and learner. Some faculty may opt to send out their course syllabus and contact information before the class even starts to help address any preliminary questions or concerns that their students may have. It is generally considered a best practice for faculty to check their email at least once a day and reply to student inquiries within 24 hours whenever possible.

    If faculty find that a student is asking a lot of questions and does not appear to understand the materials, then they may want to consider scheduling a quick virtual meeting with that student to go through their questions together. Most virtual meeting software allow for the sharing of audio, video, and other application files, thus making it easier for faculty to accommodate their students’ various learning styles.

    When hosting live virtual meetings, try to encourage all the participants to turn their web cameras and microphones on in order to make it a more personable and engaging experience. As most online learning classes are asynchronous in nature, it is okay if some students cannot make these live sessions, but it is a good idea for faculty to make note of who cannot attend, and try to find other ways to reach out to those students. Most virtual meeting software also allows for sessions to be recorded and shared.

    Many online classes make use of discussion boards for class communication and group work. Discussion boards are usually asynchronous, meaning students can review and contribute whenever they can (within a set deadline).

    Pay attention to participation

    Most LMSs offer ways to track both the students’ attendance and their discussion board postings; this is very useful to help faculty identify which students are active. Not all classes are designed in such a way where students are constantly required to log in, but faculty should try to make note of any missing discussion posts or assignment submissions. If inactivity is becoming a pattern, it is a good idea to either follow up with that student, and/or notify their school’s student support services department. It is better to catch these patterns early when there is still time to offer additional support.

    Watch for trends in data

    Finally, it is a good practice for faculty to keep an eye on their grade book for trends. If a certain student is scoring low, it may be a good idea to reach out to that student with some additional constructive feedback and guidance. If faculty notice that many students scored low on a certain assignment, then they may want to take time out of their next virtual class meeting to discuss this.

    More info

    For faculty who want to learn more about their LMS, most schools have an information technology services webpage where training resources can be found. In addition, it is always a good idea to have the school’s IT help desk contact information saved in case of any issues or urgent questions. Online education can feel ‘distant’ at times, but having a strong support system can go a long way in ensuring both faculty and students succeed.

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  • 9 strategies for effective online teaching

    by Pearson

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    Many of us are having to move teaching quickly online (tips here if you are still setting up your course). Once you have your technology in place, take a deep breath. Teaching online requires different types of interactions with students. We’ve simplified what works into nine strategies based on research that will help set you and your students up for success in your newly online course.

    1. Know the technology

    • This is new to everyone, so be prepared to troubleshoot and let your students know you are working on it. Take an hour to familiarize yourself with the technology. Most companies are offering additional training right now.
    • Be very clear to students about where they should go for technical support (good digital technologies will have support services). Make the contact information readily available, and be prepared to direct students there if they come to you.

    2. Expect the unexpected and remain flexible

    • At some point technology will fail, whether it is a video chat not connecting or assignment and/or resource links not working properly.
    • Have a backup plan for all assignments and assessments that rely on technology.
    • Be transparent in your communication to students about technology failure. For example, put a policy in place that outlines the actions students should take if they are unable to submit assignments due to technical issues.
    • Don’t be afraid to solve technical challenges in real time, such as during synchronous discussions or collaborative real-time activities, to save time.

    3. Create and maintain a strong presence

    • Send a message to all students, by video if possible, to welcome them to online learning and reassure them.
    • Use video chat rather than basic instant message when interacting with students.
    • Get the students talking by beginning discussions in the discussion board, and then contributing rapid, regular, and open responses to questions.
    • Use non-verbal communication such as emojis.
    • Complete your profile with professional and personal traits.

    4. Set clear expectations for the course

    • Online learning is new to the students as well. Make it clear to students how their grade in the course will be determined now (participation often makes up a much larger portion of the grade than in face to face classes).
    • Set expectations for response time. For example, make it clear that you will respond to emails within one business day, otherwise students may expect you to answer an email within a few hours, and disengage if you don’t.
    • Share resources for students on how to be an online learner. We have one from college students and from professors.

    5. Establish a sense of comfort and develop a community of learners

    • Students are looking to you to set the tone. Demonstrate enthusiasm and excitement about teaching the course to alleviate fear, anxiety, and isolation.
    • Humanize yourself by posting a welcome video, a biography, photos that tell stories about what you are doing to keep busy during social isolation, links to news articles or video clips.
    • Encourage each student to personalize their homepage and spend time going around the class asking students to share information about what they have posted.
    • Incorporate instant messaging, web cameras, blogs and vlogs.
    • Ask questions that empower participants to question each other, and elicit rich discussion.
    • Respond to the community as a whole rather than directing all responses to individual participants outside of the community.

    6. Promote reflection and communication through quality asynchronous discussion

    • Return to posted topics that have not been fully discussed and promote contribution and reflection.
    • Monitor participation and contact students individually if they are either not participating, or are taking over conversations and not permitting contributions from other individuals.

    7. Have a good balance of active leader and active observer

    You will begin the course as the manager of the learning community. As the course progresses, slowly transfer the responsibility to the community of learners. The online community building steps in point 4 will help with this. You should also gradually retract further out of communal discussions.

    8. Request regular feedback and be mindful of misinterpretation

    • Check in with your students to see how things are going. You can do formal or informal surveys to assess attitudes, workload and challenges. Make course correction as necessary — we’re all learning.
    • Use ad hoc quizzes to assess learner comprehension of material.

    9. Regularly check content resources and applications

    • Regularly check all links, resources, modules, and activities. Online content can move or change, which can lead to disengagement.
    • Assist students who are having difficulty navigating course links or managing the material spanning across various web pages.
    • Model the process of navigating to websites that are not embedded in the course, and demonstrate how to appropriately manage keeping track of navigation when jumping from site to site.

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  • Getting your face-to-face course online quickly

    by Thomas Yazer, Instructor Training Manager, Melissa Johnson, Manager of Instructional Design, and Christina Coffin, Manager of Instructional Design, Pearson

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    Under different circumstances, creating an online course from the ground up using online learning best practices would take considerable time and effort. Given this current unprecedented situation, we understand that your immediate concern is likely simply ensuring that your face-to-face course can be converted rapidly for online delivery.

    Based on our experience working with faculty to develop and build effective online courses, we’ve developed a practical, step-by-step guide to creating a functional online course in your campus Learning Management System (LMS) – or even without an LMS.

    The guide includes:

    • An overview of online tools and LMS features that you can use to administer aspects of your on-ground course (lectures, office hours, assignments, group projects, etc.)
    • A basic online course outline and a “minimum viable online course checklist” to help you assess the readiness of your course for online delivery
    • Overviews of specific LMS functions that you can use to effectively administer your online course
    • Links to “how to” videos and documentation for specific features in Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai

    We hope you find this guide useful. Be sure to reach out to your campus Instructional Design, Instructional Technology, or Center for Teaching & Learning teams for additional resources and support.

    Get the guide


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  • Using discussion boards to increase online class engagement

    by Pearson Faculty Advisors

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    As educators, we love to see our students get engaged in class! Interaction with peers as well as with their teacher is an important part of student learning. But how do we do this when the class is offered online? A discussion board, if used well, can be a great tool in providing a platform for quality interaction.

    Almost all Learning Management Systems have this capability. If you are delivering your online course with software that lacks a discussion board, check to see if the publisher of your text has a tool for this purpose or search online for some free options.

    Here are some tips provided by Pearson’s Faculty Advisors to help you get the most from your discussion boards.

    Post a grading rubric

    Consider posting a grading rubric to set expectations and guide students to a complete response.

    A good discussion begins with a good question

    Avoid questions that read like exam questions. Provide students with a debate prompt. Ask students to express an opinion and back up their position by applying course concepts. Encourage them to practice being critical consumers of information by having them use primary literature to back up their statements.

    Allow student-led or peer-driven discussion

    We like having the students pose a question at the end of their post to prompt better discussions. Many times the original post reads more like a report and then the replies are “good job” or “I agree” because there is nowhere to go.

    Throw out questions like “Can you think of an example of this you have encountered?” or “What about this article stood out to you?” or “Did this make you think about something else that is related but different from this?” If you ask your students to provide “substantive responses,” be specific about what “substantive” means.

    Require that students respond to classmates

    Many faculty require at least three classmate responses, and additionally, ask a question of their classmate based on the posted response. You might suggest a minimum word count for both posts and responses (students frequently ask for this).

    Some discussion boards (this can depend on the Learning Management System) have the ability to hide other students’ responses until they, themselves, have responded. We like to have opinion questions in this format so that a student’s response isn’t colored by what has already been written.

    Set regular deadlines

    You might want to have a set day to submit a main post and another set day to submit peer responses. For example, the main post could be due on Wednesdays and the peer replies due on Fridays. This regular schedule helps students organize their time and remember their due dates.

    Consider “outside the box” ways for students to deliver content

    In addition to written text, you can allow students to respond to discussion prompts with PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos, and concept maps. Show sample responses from prior semesters that “successful” students shared.

    Add different forums for different purposes

    A Cyber cafe

    Cyber cafe gives students an opportunity to ask each other questions about the course and concepts, as well as seek support and interaction with their peers. Keep this forum separate from the content and teacher-created prompt discussions. But be sure to still check on this forum and ensure the students are following the netiquette guidelines for all written communication that you have posted.

    The Water Cooler

    The Water cooler allows students a safe place to discuss anything not related to the course. This allows you to get to know your students’ personalities within an online environment even though you aren’t spending time with them in a classroom.

    “Ask the Instructor”

    “Ask the Instructor” gives students the ability to post questions about the class or course content that you answer. This allows all students to see the same answer instead of getting the same question via email from multiple students.

    Enforce rules of netiquette

    Finally — don’t forget to remind students of “netiquette” right up front. For some ideas of what guidelines to set, see our blog post on Netiquette for Students.

    Remember, many students dread discussion boards. It is just another thing they have to do; it might feel like busy work. They may think nobody cares about their opinion. Give good feedback, encouragement, and appreciation for contributing, even if the contributions need to be improved.

    We hope these tips will help you get the most out of your discussion boards, leading to an engaging and interactive online experience.

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  • Helping students develop proper internet etiquette

    by Diane Hollister

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    If you enjoyed Downton Abbey as much as me, you might think of etiquette as knowing how to set a table worthy of a stately dinner. But that kind of etiquette might not be so useful in an online course, unless we’re studying the Edwardian era!

    In the context of online teaching and learning, it’s more appropriate to think about the etiquette involved in engaging others in conversations and providing guidelines for smartphone use than how to handle a dinner guest’s dietary restrictions. We want to apply the best practices of etiquette to every interaction in the course.

    Netiquette (net + etiquette) is the “code of conduct” applied to online spaces. Teaching students about netiquette is just as important (if not more so) as teaching them to use technology or master content.

    Crafting a netiquette document or post for your class and informing your students about the importance of these rules can help you create an engaging, respectful, and meaningful learning environment.

    If hosting lectures or office hours live online, you might want to include guidelines for expectations around arriving on time, reducing noise by using earphones and the mute button, and minimizing distractions the best they can.

    Keep in mind that students might have their children or siblings home from school or day care and some flexibility and understanding might need to be extended during this season.

    Another area for need of netiquette guidelines is in the use of discussion boards. I often share things like this with my students:

    • Use proper language. This means no emoticons, text message language, or swear words. The discussion board is like a workplace and is meant to be professional.
    • Run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion board. This is especially important if your instructor is grading these comments.
    • Read through your comments at least twice before hitting submit. (Some professors use settings that allow students to edit their responses, while others don’t.)
    • Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you do, it will look like you are screaming.
    • Recognize and respect diversity. It’s ok to ask questions to clarify things you don’t understand. If you’re not sure, email the professor privately for more information.
    • Avoid sarcasm and dark humor. Take your posts seriously. Never say online what you wouldn’t say in real life to another person’s face. Your posts are a permanent record, so think about the type of record you want to leave behind.
    • If you are frustrated and finding the course material difficult, please reach out to the professor, use the tutor resources, etc. You can ask your peers for study tips. A discussion board is not the venue to complain about why you need to take this course or how hard you have to work.
    • Don’t wait until the last minute to make your post. Allow time for other students to respond before the deadline. Likewise, don’t wait to post your replies until the deadline; the author deserves an opportunity to address any questions you have or respond to points you make.
    • Before asking a question, check the instructor’s FAQs or search your Learning Management System resources and/or the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
    • Be forgiving. If your classmate makes a mistake, whether it’s a typo or grammatical error, don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go.
    • The same rules apply for email. “Hey, teach, heeeelp!” is probably not the best way to ask your professor a question. You should communicate with your professor in the same way that you would speak to your boss or a potential employer. Also, any email you send your professor should always include your name and which class you are in.

    While it is tempting to think we should only have to focus on content, surveys of Fortune 500 company CEOs over the years have resulted in very similar responses: they want students who can communicate clearly, collaborate well, think critically, etc.

    We know those skills are being developed and enhanced in our courses everyday, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time encouraging them to be respectful, contributing members of our online course communities.

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  • Deterring cheating in an online course

    by Diane Hollister

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    Cheating isn’t new. Many students do it, and in many different ways. As courses move to online environments, we might wonder if the lack of the instructor in the classroom makes it more likely cheating will happen. Technology certainly changes how students cheat.

    A 2017 study by Kessler International reported that 76 percent of surveyed students said they had copied text from someone else’s assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Around 72 percent said they’d used mobile devices to cheat.

    An astonishing 42 percent of students admit to purchasing custom papers or essays online, and 28 percent have paid someone to do their online work. Sadly, many of them thought it was ok to cheat.

    Colleges and universities have implemented a variety of tactics designed to minimize cheating. They include tools such as the following.

    Clearly defining cheating and setting expectations

    This may seem elementary, but letting students know you are aware of cheating and will take it seriously can help curb cheating. If your assignment does not require the use of their phone for apps or resources, remind them to keep devices out of reach.

    Academic integrity policies

    Many colleges and universities have policies about cheating in their student code of conduct, and these are perhaps the simplest methods to deter cheating. When students break the policy, they may be dismissed from the program. It is a good idea to require students to sign an honor code statement in an initial assignment or prior to each test.

    Using proctored exams

    Many schools require students to report to campus or to official off-site testing centers for proctored exams. Proctors are typically required to check students’ IDs, enter passwords if needed, and watch them during tests. Tools like ProctorU support digital online proctoring and record the testing session for the instructor, flagging any concerns.

    Restricting IP addresses

    Some software will allow you to restrict access only to certain labs on campus. This is often done in conjunction with proctoring.

    Use a Lockdown Browser

    Require students to use a Lockdown Browser with online quizzes and tests. This is a custom setting that literally “locks down” the browser that displays the test or quiz, preventing students from copying or printing the questions or accessing any other websites or applications.

    Utilizing keystroke verification software

    Keystroke verification software, such as Keystroke DNA, is perhaps one of the most common tech-based cheater prevention methods.

    The approach is simple: Students type a short phrase, which is then analyzed by a software program. The software assesses the students’ typing speed, rhythm, and other personal characteristics to create a behavioral biometric data profile for each user. Before any work is submitted, it needs to be verified.

    Embedding text-matching software

    These are tools like Turnitin, SafeAssign, or CopyLeaks, where software is used to read an essay or paper and assess the likelihood of plagiarism.

    Variable testing

    Students tend to share old tests, use study material sharing sites to share answers and methods, etc. To prevent cheating, professors may find it useful to use question banks and randomize the questions so that students have a more difficult time in sharing answers.

    Professors should change assessments each semester or create multiple versions of tests or quizzes for a class. Include essay or explanation questions, as it makes it more obvious if an answer was copied from somewhere else. If possible, consider pooling questions so all students get similar but slightly varied test questions.

    Offer low-stakes quizzing

    It reduces the incentive to cheat because the value of each quiz is lower than that of an exam, but it still provides opportunities for assessment.

    Assign collaborative learning activities

    Use collaborative activities liberally. Consider using social media, shared documents, discussion forums, cyber cafes, video conferencing, and other types of collaborative tools to engage students with one another.

    Studies indicate collaboration in online classes increases problem-solving skills more effectively than the student who is completing all classroom activities alone. There is little motivation or ability to cheat when students are working cooperatively for a common goal.

    One study at MIT in the 1990’s forbade student collaboration in a programming class. The students collaborated anyway, and became more effective programmers. MIT determined that collaboration would be the new normal in programming classes. After all, the goal is student learning!

    If students learn better when collaborating, and collaborating reduces the chances of cheating, then increasing the collaborative activities in an online environment will lead to increased learning and decreased cheating, which is a win/win by any standard.

    Use resources already in your arsenal

    You might find it helpful to use your Learning Management System to provide links to resources like Turnitin, which can often be linked directly with assignments.

    Students think of cheating as a way to avoid learning the course material. But I tell my students that as hard as they work to avoid doing any actual learning, I will work harder to find ways to encourage and guide them to do what they should.

    There are resources out there to help me do that. Check your Learning Management System instructor resources, explore other available technology tools, read Chronicle of Higher Education articles or Learning Scientists posts, and talk to your campus instructional designers. These are all great places to find tools you can use to deter cheating in your online courses.

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  • Tips for moving a class online quickly

    by Dr. Stephanie Tacquard

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    Are you moving your traditional class online and need to do so quickly? You might be feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure where to begin. Take solace in the fact that many have done this before you and there is a plethora of information available to assist you.

    If you start by answering these few questions, it will put you on a pathway to success as you design and implement your online course. Don’t forget that you should always start by talking to your institution, or search their website, for information about any specific requirements they have for teaching online courses.

    How will you teach?

    You’ve got to start with this fundamental question. Will your class be an online course that will still meet via video/chat at a certain time (synchronous), or will it be a work-at-your-own-pace type course (asynchronous)? Keep in mind that students’ lives may also be disrupted by changes due to COVID-19 (kids now home from school, etc.), so you may want to consider an asynchronous course.

    If you will be meeting synchronously by chat/video, make sure you have an account with, or access to, software that will facilitate this. Your institution may already have agreements with online web conferencing software that will enable your meetings. Or, there are some companies that provide free licenses online (If doing this, be sure to check the fine print! Some free offers limit the length of the conference and/or the number of attendees.)

    If your students will be working at their own pace, but you will be recording videos for them to watch, make sure you have video recording software and reliable space on a school server to host the videos. Additionally, think about the length of your videos. No one really wants to sit and watch a 90-minute lecture on video. Consider breaking them into bite size chunks that are topically based and less than 15 minutes in length.

    How will students engage?

    It’s easy to tell if students are engaged while you’re in a classroom. You’re interacting with them face-to-face, engaging them in meaningful discussions, and posing questions on the fly. How do you get this same level of engagement in an online course? Whether or not your course is synchronous, how can you generate an interactive atmosphere in your virtual classroom? Consider using discussion forums, self-directed learning, and small group work to assist you with increasing engagement.

    Self-directed learning can take many forms, all of which encourage the learner to formulate investigative questions around your learning outcomes and test their hypotheses. You could offer a variety of bite sized assignments and videos around various outcomes and allow the students to pick and choose which assignments work best for their learning modalities. Another option might be to have them develop a project incorporating several learning outcomes, or even come up with their own critical thinking questions around your course content and then providing answers.

    Discussion forums are highly interactive and truly facilitate participation. You could start a discussion and ask students to post thoughtful, meaningful insights in response (and if you make it for a grade, they’ll definitely interact!) Your topic question should be open ended, meaning it can’t be answered with a simple yes or no, nor does it have a single “right” answer. You should encourage students to post questions, comments, and insight, to which you can provide feedback, and advocate for other students to provide input as well. One piece of advice here, set out guidelines for posting in the forum, such as the number of responses required as well as behavior expectations. Make sure they are clearly communicated ahead of time.

    Small group work provides a more collaborative type environment that students typically enjoy. They get to work together to solve problems, share ideas, and discuss content. A truly interactive way to engage the class (and take a bit of the workload off of you), would be to give each group a different topic and have them create a short video and a few assessments around that topic tin which the other students in the course would be required to participate. Most students have ways to gather virtually in smaller settings, but you might want to make some suggestions on free tools that allow for group chats and interactions.

    How to Prepare for Online Teaching

    How will you communicate?

    Communication methods are abundant in this day and age, but you need to figure out what will be your main form(s) of conveying important pieces of information like assignments and deadlines. A few ideas for communication strategies are using email, creating announcements in your learning management system (or other online learning platform), and holding virtual office hours. Just remember, whatever you choose needs to be clearly communicated to the students on your first day of teaching online (or as close to it as you can get). It’s okay to be redundant and deliver important messages via several routes to make sure it is seen.

    With e-mail, it’s always best to use your school email account to bulk email the students as a class. It’s secure, quick, and gives you an easy way to archive all correspondence. Be warned, it can be a bit overwhelming if you use e-mail as your primary means of communication for an online course (imagine ALL of your students emailing you question after question). Perhaps you consider just using email for individual communication that is more private in nature (illness, grades, etc.), and encourage the students to post content questions to a discussion forum. Don’t forget, you don’t like it when people don’t respond to your questions, and students feel the same. Try to get them answers and responses in about 24 hours (or 48 on weekends), or whatever the set response times are per your institution.

    Announcements in your learning management software are a fantastic way to get out important dates, new assignments, suggested readings, and anything else you feel warrants the whole class knowing. Plus, many systems will automatically email the students when an announcement gets posted, so there is already built in redundancy (no complaints of never seeing the announcement for a due date then). Try to limit these announcements to 1 – 3 per week so you don’t inundate the students with excessive emails, and keep them short, sweet, and to the point.

    Virtual office hours are a great way for students to drop in and see your smiling face. You can set up 1 – 3 office hours per week or more and keep a virtual video meeting software open for the whole time you’ve allotted. Students can then drop in, like they would into your office, and ask you questions. Remind them though that this is not the place for personal or grade related questions if you hold group office hours. If you prefer a more individual approach, have the students sign up on a live document for specific 15-minute time slots.

    How will you assess learning?

    This is the ultimate question. You’ve had your assignments laid out for weeks, you know what they were supposed to achieve in your face-to-face course. Now, you need to really analyze if those means of assessment will work in an online environment, or if you are going to need to pull together some assessments of a different type. You also need to consider the timeframe for assignments. Are you still going to have them do the same number or are you going to increase the number? How many assignments per week should there be? Consider these options for graded assignments for your course: discussion forums, group work, and online learning assessments.

    As mentioned previously, discussion forums are a great way to give out some points. One possible way for grading them would be twice a week – once midway through that looks at questions or comments they have posed, and once at the end for their replies to other posts. This method corresponds to your discussion participation guidelines that lay out the number of posts and when they should be made. One tip here would be to ask students to post on more than one day. This helps build the discussion and avoids a last minute “pile on” of posts that leave no opportunity for interaction. You can go so far as to make a rubric for how you will be grading the discussions, and maybe even consider bonus points for really insightful posts!

    We discussed small group work earlier, and you may have some projects you already use for your class that you could adapt to an online course, or maybe you do a quick search of the web to gather some ideas for projects. Group work assignments truly do engage the students and stimulate them to learn from each other. We all know that the best way to really learn something is to be tasked with teaching it to someone else, and that’s what we’d like to think is going on in the groups of our class. Sometimes it is, but sometimes one person is doing all of the work while the others kick back and enjoy the grade. To mitigate situations like these, have the students assess each other at the end of a project, and take their assessments into account when providing final project grades.

    Online learning assessments can include directed reading assignments followed by a quick reading quiz, watching videos (yes, there are ways to track who has watched and who hasn’t), typical homework assignments (that can even be automatically graded for you), and yes, even tests. Some learning management systems allow you to build these assessments directly into an assessment management tool, but there are also numerous online programs (or publisher provided software) that can make the creation and grading of these assignments quick, easy, and ready for launch!

    Right now, it may seem like this is an impossible feat to accomplish in a short window of time, but you can do this! Seek help from colleagues, publishers, and the web. There are many more resources out there to help you weather through this change, and who knows, you may see a positive outcome in the form of higher grades, positive student feedback, and increased engagement as a result!

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  • Wake Forest: Extending innovation in online programs

    by Pearson

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    Getting the partnership right

    We’ve partnered with Wake Forest University for years. For example, we support its nationally respected online graduate program in counseling. It’s been a success for everyone — especially students, who are achieving strong academic and career outcomes.

    So, when Wake Forest’s School of Medicine sought to deliver two new, purpose-built degree programs, it was natural for them to talk to us. However, Wake Forest’s School of Medicine has distinct capabilities and priorities.

    Its entrepreneurial leaders asked us: How can we customize a partnership that reflects our internal resources and capabilities? How can we use our ability to provide funding to help launch these online programs?

    We offer multiple models for delivering our best-in-class services. Together, we built an innovative, co-investment agreement that gets the risk/reward balance right for both parties.

    The final contract promotes shared interests and alignment (like traditional revenue share agreements) but Wake Forest’s upfront contributions allow us to share the financial risk. That way, we created a shorter contract commitment that will allow us to make changes, if the market changes quickly.

    Meanwhile, Wake Forest benefits from the same comprehensive online program management services that are already working well for the University — from our strong national marketing expertise to one-on-one student coaching and support through graduation.

    Innovative curriculum to transform healthcare

    Launching this fall, these online programs are a perfect example of an institution that’s found an unmet opportunity to use its strengths and positively impact the lives of students and society. Let’s look at each one:

    • Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Clinical Research Management will empower professionals throughout the clinical research field to move research and development forward, advance health and save lives. Through an engaging, supportive and interdisciplinary online program environment, participants will learn how to select and apply relevant scientific knowledge, critically analyze research designs, help construct/lead clinical trials and improve patient care.
    • Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership will prepare a new generation to transform healthcare for the better. Graduates will be exceptionally qualified to lead their organization and improve patient outcomes. They’ll be ready to address everything from strategy to culture; change management to innovation.

    Online education is about helping more people thrive. That’s what Wake Forest is doing — and we’re excited to partner with them.

    To learn more about our customizable models, world-class expertise, and the resources we offer, contact us.

    Learn more about Wake Forest’s new online master’s programs in Clinical Research Management and Healthcare Leadership, and the other biomedical graduate programs offered by the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Science.

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  • Growth advice from an institutional leader

    by Pearson

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    Today, online programs make sense, but given growing competition, few institutions have the resources to launch or scale them alone. Take Duquesne University, for example.

    When Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow arrived as dean of Duquesne University’s School of Nursing, its online programs were already delivering world-class instruction — however, online enrollments had leveled off.

    This is where Duquesne saw opportunity.

    “We’d been really good at running a solid small-to-moderate-sized online program,” Glasgow said. “But today, success is about more than just a good program: institutions have to sell it, market it, and provide strong student support. Trying to do all that on their own can distract them from educating students. We needed an infusion of fiscal and human capital to attract candidates throughout the US.”

    As part of its due diligence, the university’s leadership found that institutions that work with Online Program Management (OPM) partners average better performance than those that keep programs in-house, and in 2016, we formed a partnership.

    If your institution is considering a deeper online commitment, Glasgow has some practical advice:

    • Clearly explain a potential partnership to stakeholders. Share what it will mean, what will not change, and how you’ll safeguard academic quality.
    • Prepare carefully. Help students and faculty prepare, and make sure students understand the workload upfront.
    • Identify potential “cracks” in your system. Look for places where small communication issues can become big problems as you scale.
    • Focus on quality improvement. Optimize assignments, improve consistency between courses, and ensure that student support is always available.

    The problems are solvable and the rewards are high.

    “We all know it’s a challenging time in higher education. So, being at a school that’s growing, where people are being offered good jobs and finding new opportunities, is most gratifying,” said Glasgow.

    Learn more about Duquesne and our partnership.


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  • 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.

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  • One size doesn't fit all: The value of segmentation

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    This is the first blog in a two-part series about segmentation in higher education.

    The individuals in your institution’s target audience aren’t just “students”. They have unique wants, needs, and expectations for instruction, campus amenities, and technology. A mass, “one-size-fits-all approach” is no longer enough.

    Colleges need to adopt a broader segmentation approach throughout their institutions to:

    • guide and inform academic programs
    • understand which programs/services to reposition or launch
    • navigate students through the experience
    • help determine which go-to-market strategy to employ

    The more higher-education leaders understand what motivates prospective students to enroll and persist and what offerings and services meet their needs, the better offerings can be tailored for them.

    Jeffrey J. Selingo, author, The Future Learners

    What’s segmentation?

    On a basic level, segmentation is the separation of a broad, homogeneous target group (like “students”) with different needs into heterogeneous subgroups (like the “traditional learner”) with similar needs and preferences.

    While segmentation in higher ed has been used in limited, siloed functions such as admissions, fundraising, and marketing, the process must expand so institutions can better tailor and target offerings to meet each segment’s needs.

    To be effective, each segment should be:

    1. Measurable: Are your segments uniquely identifiable? You should have enough information available on specific target characteristics to be measured or categorized.
    2. Differentiable: The students in a segment should have similar needs (preferences and characteristics) that are clearly different from those of other segments.
    3. Substantial: Is your segment large enough to be profitable? Small segments without viable spending power can be a waste of time and resources.
    4. Accessible: How might each segment be accessed, and is it efficient? Your institution should be able to easily reach its segments via communication and distribution channels.
    5. Actionable: What is the segment’s practical value? Your institution should be able to design and implement effective programs for attracting and serving the segments.

    What’s the value of segmentation?

    While segmentation is not a new concept by any means, the higher ed industry has been slow to adopt it. However, attitudes and the use of segmentation are slowly beginning to change because of pressures on enrollment and tightening budgets that together require institutions to assess who they want to serve and how.

    In the short term, segmentation can guide your recruitment and marketing teams and aid in targeted efforts to ensure that you’re reaching the right students with the right messages. Long term, it can guide decision making on expanding your institution into adjacent categories or segments.

    While segmentation provides the groundwork for sound strategy, to truly unlock student-centric growth, segmentation must galvanize your institution around priority learners.

    For colleges to remain relevant in the decades ahead, it’s critical that leaders start thinking about the broad range of students they want (or need) to serve and how to appeal to their specific needs and desires.

    In our next blog, we share five examples of major learner segments your university could use to strategically market and grow your programs.

    To learn more about segmentation in higher ed, 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.

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  • Top 4 fears (and realities) of working with an OPM partner

    by Jason Simmons, Director of Strategic Marketing, Pearson Online Learning Services

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    “Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” Dale Carnegie

    Humans don’t like change. While the unknown can be exciting, fear is always a part of our emotional mix. This is especially true when you’re dealing with new innovations at your institution.

    As you look for a partner who can help expand or take your programs online, you’re bound to experience some common fears:

    • Fear of success/failure: Will our program fail (and what happens if we succeed)?
    • Fear of losing control: Who runs the show?
    • Fear of upsetting others: Who will we need to convince?
    • Fear of the unknown: Will we become just a “diploma mill”?

    The last one here is critical — we don’t know what to expect when we don’t have enough information about the change, and this stops us from taking any action at all.

    Knowledge is power. Below you’ll find answers to some of the top fears we hear from institutions across the country — and the true realities of working with an Online Program Management (OPM) provider.

    FEAR:  Our online programs will be less rigorous and our online students will be less qualified.

    REALITY: This is the #1 block. After all, your faculty and students are your top priority. From admissions to program development, maintaining academic integrity is of the utmost importance. However, don’t be afraid, as evidence shows online can be as competitive (if not more so) than on-ground. You determine the educational experience built into each course, and the same academic policies and controls that govern on-campus programs generally apply to online learning programs.

    FEAR: If we partner with an OPM provider to deliver online programs, we’ll lose academic control.

    REALITY: This is one of the most common fears that institutions experience — the desire and need for certainty. Rest assured, similar to on-campus programs, your institution will always maintain full control over academic standards and admission decisions. Your regional and professional accrediting bodies determine the academic standards of all programs, including online programs. Faculty are responsible for creating the course curriculum, selecting materials, designing learning activities, and assessing student learning.

    FEAR: Faculty will never get on board with launching and teaching online programs.

    REALITY: Resistance to change is normal, and faculty can often be the most challenging audience to get on board when choosing to go online. Often, they feel that online programs are “watered down” versions of on-campus programs, or that they’ll require extra work on their behalf.

    OPM’s can provide a one-stop link to your institution’s critical services (marketing, recruitment, and student services), freeing faculty to focus exclusively on teaching and learning, not program and course logistics. With this direct support, we’ve found that some of the biggest faculty challengers become an institution’s greatest advocates. Also, online programs can lead to additional resources for faculty — more TAs, more tenured positions, or more time to do research.

    FEAR: OPM providers aren’t flexible and will only work with us one way.

    REALITY: I can only speak to our services, but we think you’ll find Pearson to be highly flexible. While we offer core services (marketing, recruitment, and student services), many of our other services are optional and can be customized. For example, course development is available but not required, we are technology agnostic (working with any LMS, SIS), and don’t require the use of Pearson print content.

    Access our full mythbuster list here (myths and realities of going online).

    Let’s talk about it

    There’s one more fear we haven’t mentioned yet — fear of missing out, or FOMO. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to take or expand your programs to the next level online.

    But first, ask yourself what’s standing in the way of your institution launching or expanding its online degree programs? We’d love to have a conversation with you about the realities of partnering with Pearson.

    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.

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  • How to identify strategic opportunities for online growth

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    Over the past decade, many leaders in higher ed have shared the same mantra as it relates to growing online: If you build it, they will come. But are “they” showing up? Or are “they” the right people you want knocking at your door?

    There’s no doubt that online enrollment keeps rising, but at the same time, institutions are finding it harder than ever to grow successful online programs and often face risks when doing so — financially, academically, and with respect to reputation . To control risks and improve performance, institutions must become far more strategic about how they build, deliver, and scale online programs.

    Four keys to building a successful strategy

    Going online isn’t a tactical approach. You need a strategy that will help you understand and react to the demands and shifts in the market. It starts with gathering market data, choosing the right program, and lining up appropriate resources.

    Understand your market

    Taking the path of least resistance by going online with the most convenient program option or providing a generic online degree is no longer the answer; you need to identify key differentiators, true demand in the market, aligned with strong program outcomes.

    • Identify or reevaluate your core target audience. Your online programs can’t serve everybody.
    • Understand and pay attention to competitors (including your own institution’s on-campus courses and programs). Many schools forget to look beyond their own region when analyzing online program competition. For a good example, perform a Google search for “online nursing degree” to see who’s advertising in your own backyard (as well as nationally).
    • Is there a market segment that is not currently being served or is not being served well?A niche strategy allows you to focus your efforts. For example, perhaps you can build a highly successful program around your faculty’s expertise in business analytics, a specific industry, or new partnerships with key regional employers. A strategy like this can lower the cost of student acquisition and allow a program to be sustainable.

    Identify a need

    Rethink segments around students’ unmet needs — the needs you’d be uniquely positioned to meet, once you innovate properly around your core assets.

    • Assess your students’/prospective students’ overall journey to discover potential opportunities. Opportunities can sometimes exist when it comes to simplifying the application process, admissions review timelines, or communication with prospects.
    • Understand what motivates them to take online courses. Is it saving time? Money? A convenient location?  Focus on programs that students “have to have” and that are tightly aligned with the career outcomes (license, credentials, certification, professional requirements, etc)
    • Take the time to listen. What do your students or prospects think of your institution? Where are there program opportunities where your school is well known, highly-ranked, or well-suited for a creative opportunity, like taking a program online?

    Invest in research

    Professional market research should objectively assess student demand and shifting labor markets, as well as your brand strength, reputation, culture, and ability to deliver.

    • What qualitative and quantitative data will you need to make the right decisions and do you have internal resources to get it, or do you need outside expertise?
          • Consider this: “on average, schools partnering with traditional end-to-end OPMs [Online Program Managers] have outperformed their peers in increasing enrollment.” Eduventures, Expanding the OPM Definition, 2017)
    • Often, the key to unlocking new opportunities for profit doesn’t require changing what you offer. It requires changing what you charge for it. Understand the ramifications of improperly pricing a program and attracting the wrong student demographic.
    • Realize the importance of your program name. This can attract radically different students.

    Create a culture to succeed

    Dig deep to understand if your university has established a culture that allows for an entrepreneurial and growth-minded atmosphere.

    • Are university tax policies and faculty incentive structures in place to make sure critical team members have what they need to take a program online, once one has been identified? All university stakeholders want to feel supported and also feel part of the conversation — be ready to ensure the right kind of support so your top talent has what they need to succeed in the venture of launching an online program. No one wants to be part of a project that feels like twice the work with no incentive or support in sight.
    • Do current university approval processes allow you to be nimble with your strategy?  Program, department, college, university, and accrediting body approval processes can take anywhere from months to years to navigate. This kind of delay allows any kind of competitive advantage to disappear. At public institutions, procurement processes may not always be accustomed to evaluating solutions like enrollment management or marketing services. Know and understand how your university is “positioned to move” in order to succeed.
    • Is there a centralized strategy to prevent conflicts between programs and colleges? Some universities will see situations where programs within the same college are actually competing against each other. Other schools can have multiple marketing vendors or enrollment partners all working within the same university — creating costly competition and conflicts for the university. Create alignment and alliances within campus leadership to prevent this costly mistake.

    If you’re struggling with scaling your institution or finding new areas of profitable growth online, you’re not alone. Learn what it takes to compete in today’s competitive market. Get our free white paper to help you answer one pivotal question — should you build or buy?


    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reaching 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.

    Learn more

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  • Marketing online programs: Five questions to ask yourself

    by Rob Bishop, Vice President, University Partnerships, Pearson Online Learning Services

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    In a sea of online programs (often touting the same messages of high quality, low cost, great faculty, etc.), how does your institution stand out from the crowd? As new platforms to reach prospective students arise, sticking to traditional approaches might leave you falling behind your competitors. Ask yourself these five questions to help your institution market smarter — and gain an edge over the competition.

    Are you visible?

    In this day and age, it takes more than just having a website and a few social media profiles to be visible in the marketplace. It involves actively using them and creating a dynamic digital presence with regular updates. Digital visibility strategies include creating content and ads optimized for a specific audience to appear on relevant channels such as social media, websites, and search engines. When done right, Google AdWords and other search advertising can play a key role in your marketing initiatives. Search campaigns, however, need constant attention, optimization, and creativity. Overall, the goal of online marketing is to create content specific to the ideal audience and display it where they’ll be looking. The more people who find your institution, the more interest you’ll receive.

    Are you providing a clear, consistent experience?

    If your institutional brand is going to work across all audiences and markets, it needs to be consistent. And that means your processes need to be completely focused on delivering equal experiences to students and faculty both on and off campus. An important part of delivering on a superior experience is cohesiveness in brand messaging and outreach in order to provide high-quality leads that turn into enrollments. Being consistent doesn’t mean that your institution can’t change. In fact, consistency gives you a firm foundation for evolving into offering even more options for even more students. Once you have built or refined your brand through the consistent delivery of your brand promise, you are able to evolve and expand. Every interaction a prospective student has with your marketing materials and every person they come into contact with representing your school creates a brand impression. You should think through the entire process from the prospective student’s point of view using this lens.

    Are your marketing and recruitment teams aligned?

    Aligning your recruitment and marketing teams is the best way to fuel institutional growth efficiently and effectively — and keep them from pointing fingers at each other when challenges come along. Structuring and fostering a philosophy of consistent and constant communication along with relevant data is the key. This means defining not only goals and language, but also every stage of the recruitment process. By creating open communication and shared goals backed up with shared hard data and analysis, you can improve your marketing effectiveness, increase qualified leads, and track them through the entire prospect lifecycle: from first contact through enrollment. Defining terminology, developing a plan, and setting mutual goals can help you to align your recruitment and marketing teams, improving your efficiency and enrollment growth. Remember, the purpose of marketing is to produce students, not leads or impressions (which is the smoke and mirrors agencies will try to sell you).

    Are you agile?

    We’re not talking about jumping on every new channel that pops up or addressing every hot idea. By weaving agility through your business efforts, your institution can create environments that stay focused on where the current need is within the higher ed industry, and allow for quick pivots to respond to demands. Successful agile practices require some big, but manageable, changes to implement including a mentality of collaboration and cooperation across the institution that accounts for and encourages calculated risk taking. Do this by creating a culture and system for testing and optimizing, both at the channel and asset level. Marketing leaders can be famously confident, only the market response is a fair judge of performance.

    Are you tracking your ROI?

    Do you know if your marketing is actually working? Evaluating results is a top challenge among many institutions today. Tracking and measuring your ROI allows for an in-depth, data-backed picture of where your marketing dollars are spent and how many leads and students you’ve earned as a result. Clear and up-to-date data can also help you be strategic based on the results. This information can inform your marketing budget allocation so you can reinvest in the tactics that are bringing you a return and pull back on the weaker strategies. Now that you’ve considered the hard questions, here’s one more: Is your institution willing to invest in the resources and expertise internally to address these needs? Or are you ready to consider working with an outside partner who will bring these assets and investment capital to reach your institution’s potential? Read our free white paper to learn what other issues and costs you may need to consider when growing your online programs and get insights to help you answer one pivotal question — should you build or buy?


    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reaching 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. Learn more

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  • Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the U.S. [Infographic]

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    In 2016, distance education enrollment continued to grow for the 14th straight year.

    This is the headline coming out of Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States – a recent report released by Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG).

    As stated in BSRG’s press release: “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”

    Explore the key findings from Grade Increase in our infographic below and download the full report to dive in deeper.

     

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