What Students Are Looking For In Online Education
The online higher education space is rapidly changing, presenting an exciting opportunity for service providers to capitalise on trends and learn from feedback.
At the same time, competition is heating up, putting pressure on institutions to differentiate themselves from competitors.
So, what are the current trends in online education, and how can online schools better address the needs of students?
The latest developments in edtech
With the upsurge in student demand for education services and technology innovation, it is no surprise that the Australian edtech market expected to grow to A$1.7 billion by 2022.
Australia is leading the way with innovative, world-class solutions for the education sector. The commitment to delivering the best-of-the-best has never been greater.
According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission:
With more than 1,000 online education providers – generating approximately $A3.3 billion in revenue – the Australian international education sector is predicted to have one billion prospective learners across 29 markets by 2025.
Students are researching their study options online and using mobile phones for study purposes
Internet and mobile phone usage is integral to so many aspects of people’s lives, and higher education is no exception.
According to a Google and TNS Australia report,
of students researched their study options online before making a decision
57% of these students used a search engine during their path to purchase, demonstrating the importance of a high search engine ranking. Students also sourced information about an institution mostly from a provider’s website, pointing to the need for quality website content.
Google’s findings also draw attention to the importance of institutions’ search performance, with 45% of prospective students reporting that they have a more favourable impression of universities that appeared on the first page of search results.
There is also a trend of increased mobile usage, with most of these searches being done via mobile devices (an 8% increase in 2017). A website or app that is not mobile-friendly made 36% of students less likely to revisit it.
To capitalise on these trends, there should be a greater focus on being present online throughout the student’s research phase by developing targeting and content strategies that are directed at specific audiences (i.e. international students, school-leavers and mature-aged students). There also needs to be a greater focus on creating a smooth mobile experience for students, and attribution models should be updated to value mobile’s role in the path to enrolment more accurately.
When it comes to online courses themselves, mobile usage is also an important consideration in an institution’s online offerings. According to an American study by the Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, 67% of students use mobile devices to complete online coursework, and 70% reported that they would like to complete some of their coursework using their mobile device.
Institutions should therefore look at ways to make coursework mobile compatible in the form of online learning activities, review models and quizzes for students who need to work on-the-go. With Gen Z being more connected to mobile devices than any previous generation, institutions’ websites and course content must be optimised in order to attract and retain online students.
Students desire video content and virtual experiences
Online schools are, of course, unable to conduct open days or on-campus tours like higher education institutions usually do. Prospective students are therefore turning to online versions of campus visits and physical brochures, with immersive video content helping to fill this void.
Google statistics reveal that 79% of students want to learn about institutions and their online study options by watching videos online, specifically relating to the student experience, course content, subject information and campus life.
A virtual open day can be a brilliant way to engage and inform prospective students by way of virtual reality tours and alumni stories. While students prefer online experiences when it comes to researching their study options, reading course materials and completing coursework, they still wish to have the campus experience, whether that’s by way of a virtual tour or video content that replicates face-to-face classes.
Of course, developing engaging content is only half the task: the right audience must also be targeted with a range of video formats to ensure every segment can enjoy content that is relevant to them.
Students need improved career services
There is a need for improved career services in the online learning space. Online students are highly focused on career advancement, with many of them already being employed in a full-time capacity and wishing to upskill for a promotion or career change. In fact, three-quarters of online students are pursuing further education for career-focused reasons, making career services even more important for their post-graduation success.
According to the Learning House, Inc. and the Aslanian Market Research report, online students desire better career services, including opportunities to engage with a counsellor or mentor and access to job shadowing programs, resume workshops and internship search guidance.
Institutions should therefore work hard to ensure online students have the same chance of finding a job after graduation as on-campus students, with greater investment in career services and work-integrated online degree programs helping to set your institution apart from the competition.
Online degree providers now have the opportunity to capture a new segment of the market
Online courses have long been seen as a niche choice, primarily for mature-aged students in remote locations wishing to add to their repertoire of skills in order to make themselves more employable. This is, however, starting to change, with the convenience, flexibility and the relatively low cost of online programs making them a more mainstream choice.
Citing these advantages,
of students surveyed by Google said they would consider online learning in the future
Rising university fees are a significant barrier to entry for many young people, with this generation now questioning the traditional model of completing high school, attending university on-campus and then working 9-5. This presents an opportunity for online institutions to fill a gap in the market, providing an online learning experience that traditional institutions cannot.
How online education providers can address students’ concerns
While there is greater interest in online classes, students still have some reservations.
Google’s survey identified the most common barriers to entering online higher education as being:
As mentioned above, mentorship and career guidance will help students with some of these concerns. Online schools should clearly communicate to students what resources and student support services are available and adopt and highlight course features like on-demand tutor support and synchronous learning sessions.
Education providers taking the lead
One provider that has become a pioneer in online higher education is Monash Online, with the addition of ‘single units’. These mini qualifications are becoming increasingly popular, as universities open up their degrees and enable eligible people to take a single subject from a degree program. This allows students to build on their skill set and industry-relevant knowledge entirely online, without having to undertake an entire postgraduate course.
There are also a variety of single units that teach or encourage soft skills, which can be used for personal development in volunteering or other non-work related situations.
This kind of qualification appeals to the modern student, as they are:
Monash Online is one among many providers that are taking charge when it comes to online education and the needs of today’s student.
With the online learning industry growing, institutions must strive to capture prospective students’ attention with relevant and responsive content, as well as by addressing students’ concerns around career services, the student experience and the like.