75% of students taking courses online do it for career progression or career change according to a 2018 report by The Online College Student. Studyportals.com reported that short courses providing professional education are growing at twice the rate that traditional degree courses are growing at. Yet, no one is talking about networking, recruitment and placement of these students. With the reign of free courses, students did not have any other expectations from their course providers but as the pressure of monetization causes even course providers such as EdX to start charging a fee – students are bound to ask: “But how do I assess if this course is right for me?”. We have seen that apart from cost, key aspects that matter to students when deciding which online course to take are very similar to their expectation from traditional universities:
Quality of instruction: “95% of the students choose universities on the basis of positive word of mouth,” according to research done at Forman Christian College, and quality of instruction is the most critical factor in delivering a great student experience. In fact, teaching (the learning environment) has been given a 30% weightage in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Given that a majority of student dropouts happen when students do not find their online course relevant or do not attach value to the time being spent on it, focusing on who is teaching is extremely important for course completion and student retention. This assures the students that they will acquire the right skills and knowledge to progress in their career or to switch careers. A recent survey undertaken by Connect2Teach.com asked students for their instructor preference and 84% of students said that they were more likely to choose a course where the instructor had industry experience. Given that the main motivation behind enrolling in an online course was to acquire a new skill or career progression, an instructor with industry experience would assure the students that they are learning the most relevant material.
Brand name: Prospective students typically place a lot of importance on ranking and rating systems for universities, and so it doesn’t come as a surprise that this is an important factor to consider even for online courses. According to Forbes Magazine, “Schools that do not have a unique brand will be casualties. They can spend more on marketing, they can bribe applicants with more financial aid, but in the long run, they will lose to schools whose brands can survive without offering the lowest price.” In fact, 56.2% of the participants in the Connect2Teach survey, stated that brand name was the most important aspect that determines a course’s credibility.
Intrinsic brand value is built over several years and cannot be changed overnight. However, brand name doesn’t need to be derived only from the university – it can be borrowed from the credibility of the instructor too. The Connect2Teach survey also showed that 34.2% participants believed the lecturer on the course contributes most towards its credibility and so a highly regarded teacher recruited by a university can increase the institution’s perceived value in the minds of the consumer.
Prospects post-completion: When students invest their time and money in an online course they expect to get a certain return on their investment. Aside from the knowledge that they gain from the course, they also want a guarantee that they will be able to advance in their career because of it. Online courses typically do not contain career service centres as extensive as the ones in traditional university because the logistics are often very difficult given that the student body can be in different stages of their career or be in different geographies.
However, there are certain online course providers that have taken steps to assist students with their career prospects after they finish the course. Lambda University, for example, has industry partners like IBM and Slack that not only advise them on their curriculum but also help in providing job offers to graduating students. Open University offers apprenticeships for their students in companies like BMW and Mini Cooper so that they can gain work experience and also be able to network in their industry.
Networking is incredibly important as it helps introduce the student to people in their industry who could help them in the future. Forbes magazine “estimates that around 25% of all jobs filled in the United States are done so via this more informal form of recruitment, with this ratio rising significantly as the pay for each position goes up.” Therefore, by promoting networking, online universities would be significantly improving a graduate’s chance of getting a good job. Online course providers can incorporate this easily by hosting live webinars and case studies through the duration of the course. This would not only help students understand prospective career paths, application of concepts but also increase their network for recruitment. Mentoring is another effective way of creating pathways to work-readiness and employability and many online course providers are adopting 1:1 or group mentoring sessions. These mentors are able to guide students through projects, answer their questions on use cases from industry and answer career related queries. It also ends up creating a high-touch online course to prevent drop-offs and increase student satisfaction.
- Unbundling of the Degree Has Arrived: Demand for Short Courses Grows at 2.1x the Rate of Traditional Bachelor’s or Master’s Degrees. (www.studyportals.com/press-releases/unbundling-degree-has-arrived-demand-for-short-courses-grows/)
- The Online College Student 2018 Report by Learning House and Aslanian Market Research (https://www.learninghouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/OCS-2018-Report-FINAL.pdf)
- Forbes Magazine: What Higher Ed Marketers Can Learn From Luxury Brands (https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2014/08/21/higher-ed-luxury/#64d4960a6d01)
- Forbes Magazine: Using Social networks to advance your career (https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2017/09/11/using-social-networks-to-advance-your-career/#6fc71c7a50a6)
- What factors affect a students choice of university for higher education (https://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/RHSS/article/view/3380/3407)
- World University Rankings 2019 methodology: (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/methodology-world-university-rankings-2019)
- Connect2Teach Survey: Making online education more relevant 2019: (https://www.connect2teach.com)