Distance Learning Programs: Distinctively You
People who decide to use distance learning as their higher education resource are a unique to effectively market to. People interested in this method of education live all over the country in different settings and can lead very different lifestyles. The age range of a typical online learner is huge: students can be as young as 18 or as old as 60. They may be looking to finish the education they started years ago or aspiring to advance in their current occupation with a specialty degree. So, how do you develop a market identity when your target audience is so vast?
While it is a challenge, you can definitely create a valuable brand for your distance learning program. The key is to consider regional benefits and to understand what people want from a distance learning program today, rather than, say, 15 years ago. You should also strive for a modern, useful environment that today’s students desire. When all those things unite, a powerful brand will emerge. Here’s what you need to know.
Location and Audience: A Perfect Match
Distance learning comes in many shapes and sizes. That’s good from a branding perspective because it gives your school the freedom to stand out. Many distance learning programs have a regional student body, not a national one. That means your students have physical access to your campus even if they aren’t taking classes on site. Students get the best of both worlds: an online experience with campus resources.
Your location is more than your campus. The region where your school is located matters, too. Here are some things to consider:
- What is it about your location that makes your school desirable? It could be resources, like particular industries or cultural offerings.
- What kinds of people are attracted to this region?
- How are you utilizing your region’s advantages to entice your student body? This is a good way to focus on your pool of potential students – an important element for your brand strategy.
In determining your school’s unique criteria fingerprint, you’ll be able to attract the kind of students who will love your program.
Offer What the Student Is Looking For
The age range of your applicant pool is going to run the gamut, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fit into a certain mold. Distance learners aren’t typically non-working 18-year-olds. Instead, they may be recent high school grads who work to offset the cost of higher education, or they could be enrolled in a campus degree program and are filling in their schedule with online classes out of convenience.
Let’s not forget that many online learners are older adults. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics indicated a 35% increase in the number of adults aged 25-34 who returned to college between 2001 and 2015. Perhaps these learners never finished their undergraduate degree and are finally going back, but have a full-time job to juggle. They may be baby boomers who have always wanted to finish university, and now, in their later working years, they can complete a life goal. Or, they may have left the workforce to have a family and want to re-enter in a new sector. The University of Phoenix was founded on such a notion back in 1978. It’s still an appealing idea today – in fact, they made a commercial centered around the concept of a working woman who is struggling to have a career while pursuing a higher education.
An increasing number of students – up 1.2% as of 2016 – are adults enrolled in graduate programs to enhance their careers. They may be looking for a promotion from their current role or seeking credentials for a career change.
Today’s learners are not the same student consumers as 10-15 years ago. What is attractive to them is a model that easily fits into their current lives and helps them make the leap. Successful brands learn to adapt to this trend quickly.
Bring the Campus Online
Students may favor a location program over distance learning because campuses tend to have myriad resources not offered to online enrollees. With today’s technology and changes in peoples’ lifestyles, universities have the capability to improve in this area. Even when attracting national enrollment to your program, you don’t need to offer a physical campus. You just have to make the same support available to all students. Distance learners lead busy lives; they need easy access to information and help. A robust online system can do just that.
Jay Spencer, DMin and VP Online Operations at Houston Baptist University, reminds us that when it comes to branding an online program to the adult learner, you are working with someone who views the school as a service, like your local dry cleaners. Adult online learners expect dynamic customer services, so you should market and operate your program as such. Think of your students as customers and your school as a service business. What will unfold is a program in which students are eager to enroll because they’ll get superior support from both an administrative and academic perspective.
For more information on how to model a serviceable online program, visit the previous blog post What to KNOW: Launching a Distance Learning Program and watch the video where Jay Spencer discusses online campus services and more.
Whether your goal is to build a local or regional brand or to branch out nationally, make your online program distinctively yours. Run a platform that delivers solid results for your online learners, no matter their age or reason for attending your program.
Steve Peterson, Ed.D, VP of Online Operations at Houston Baptist University, shared the strategy he used when, during his former role at Liberty University, he decided to build a national brand. On the other hand, now that he’s working with HBU, he’s shifted his mindset to implement an effective metro area marketing plan. See the video below to hear all about his online university development brand strategies.