• 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how to convert their face-to-face content to an online format, which often results in synchronous video lectures and outdated text materials.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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  • 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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