Online learning has become the fastest growing avenue for acquiring a degree, with 2.65 million students studying exclusively online in 2013, and a projected 5 million by 2020.
The increase in students pursuing degree programs online is a factor of both technological advancements, such as high-speed internet and low-cost data storage, alongside widespread acceptance that online modalities are a viable medium for learning.
Though, there has been a dramatic shift in the way students access education, the majority of online students attend universities and colleges within 100 miles of their home.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the findings from Carol Aslanian’s 2016 Online College Student Report in which her research team, in collaboration with The Learning House, surveyed 1500 prospective and enrolled students from across the nation.
Their findings provide data-driven insights on how your institution can attract and serve this growing segment.
In 2016, 75% of online college students chose to study online with an institution within 100 miles of their home, with 55% of those students studying online with an institution within 50 miles of their home.
While online learning is linked to the misconception that students will pursue online degree programs with institutions across the world, these data show that students who choose to learn online, actually value the ability to visit their campus and remain connected to a physical space as they complete their degree.
Though, online learning has become a buzzword in the world of higher education, many institutions still do not understand that online learning does not mean distance learning.
What does this actually mean for your online degree programs and the students who enroll in them?
Successful online colleges recognize that prospective and enrolled students’ desire to stay connected to campus, and thus, provide essential opportunities for online students to maintain an active presence on their campus.
Here are a few ways that the successful institutions engage their online students on campus:
Hybrid online degree programs are the best of both worlds
Hybrid programs, also commonly known as blended learning programs, provide students the best of both worlds. They provide the convenience of being able to complete coursework remotely while having opportunities to connect with their instructors and fellow classmates in person when necessary.
As with full online learning modalities, it’s important to pay close attention to the way your blended learning is designed and delivered, ensuring that you build rapport between instructor and students and provide adequate opportunities for students to interact with each other.
A bonus of hybrid or blended learning programs is that they’re a great way for smaller institutions who are unsure whether they have the ability to develop full online programs to make a foray into the world of online learning in order to stack up to their competitors.
Features of engaging regional online degree programs
Overall, online students who were surveyed for the 2016 Online Students Report responded that they value many diverse opportunities to be available to them on their campus. Some features that they cited as important to be included in their online learning experience are:
- One or more on-campus courses where they will meet with their instructor
- Face-to-face clinical or laboratory opportunities
- Face-to-face campus orientation
The data show that online students prefer the ability to test-drive what they’re learning in their degree programs by the inclusion of experiential learning opportunities, which can appear impossible in an online modality, is actually fully possible when you require your students to come to campus a few times per semester.
The possibilities of alternative credential programs
A relatively new development, in terms of online education, has been the path chosen by many professionals: alternative credential programs.
Many of today’s online students are choosing these programs as alternatives to online degree programs or as a way to re-enter higher education or work around some of the barriers associated with achieving a degree online.
Some examples of alternative credential programs being offered include:
Badges. Badge programs offer online students the opportunity to have their skills, accomplishments and technical standards verified by online software. Examples of badge programs can be found with OpenBadges.org.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Emerging within the last 5 years and still up for debate is the MOOC, which are usually free, non-credit based and set up to encourage mass participation.
Major colleges in the country are now delivering MOOCs, which can foster a regional relationship between online learners and the colleges within their radius, while still giving the option to “study” across the world.
Bootcamps or Microdegrees. Bootcamps or Microdegrees are a certification based on a required number of online contact hours in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It provides online students with a certification that acknowledges participation in these open learning formats.
These alternative credential programs are becoming increasingly popular, yet are not well understood by potential online learners.
Thus, it becomes important for your institution to adequately explain how the alternative credential process works in your marketing and contact strategy.
Maximizing online learning reach in your region
What are some ways that your institution can maximize its opportunity to enroll students in your online degree programs or alternative credential programs?
Here are a few tips:
- Optimize your website to ensure that your online learning programs are the first to show up
- Provide attractive financial assistance programs
- Advertise in your region through highly targeted digital marketing campaigns
- Respond to inquiries in less than two days to increase the lead to enrollment conversion rate
Most of all, learn the demands and preferences of today’s online students by downloading the entire 2016 Online Student Report.