Six Things You Must Know: Launching a Distance Learning Program
It’s important to count the cost before launching a distance learning program. There’s a lot to consider: curriculum, size, overhead, specialties, faculty and staff, support system, and most importantly, students and how to attract them. These are concerns for any type of education program, but the task gets trickier when you factor in good design for distance learning.
If you’re introducing a distance element to your curriculum, you really need to think about what you’re already doing well and what you’re looking to accomplish with this new program. Consider these six areas when launching a distance learning program.
1. Know Your Mission
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to understand what you hope to accomplish with this program. What’s the mission? Knowing exactly what your intent is will guide you to design a program that supports your purpose. It helps to know how you see your institution and how you’d like students to see it, too. This program should support your goals and be structured accordingly.
2. Know Your Greatness
Everyone has a reputation. What’s yours? While you want to be great in every aspect of what you offer, the fact is, there are probably a few areas that stand out as truly exceptional. What are they? Do you have a fabulous MBA program or a nationally-recognized nursing bachelor’s program? What you do well in an on-campus environment is a good launching place for your distance learners. A great reputation in a particular sector is something that you own – use it to your advantage.
3. Know Your Market’s Needs
The advantage of starting a brand-new program is that you can design it to fit your market’s needs. What does the prospective student want? How can you make your program fulfill that desire? Industries like STEM and business are rising. Employers need people who are educated in these sectors. Do a little research and figure out what kind of employees these trending industries need. Then conduct a survey for the students themselves – they’re not only your consumer, but your best resource, too.
4. Know Your Local Market
By the same token, it’s best to look around and see what’s needed in your local market. Yes, you’re launching a distance learning program, but your location will dictate regional expertise. Not only that, but if your local area has a need, chances are other areas have the same demand. Think local marketing agencies, hotel management, IT resources, and other industries in this vein. What may surprise you is that a high number of “distance” learners actually live near their university. A 2016 survey by the Learning House and Aslanian Market Research indicated that 57% of online students actually lived 50 miles or less from their physical campus. This concept is echoed in the video link below. You’ll hear the Houston Baptist University administrators discuss how they’re handling this concept in their own market.
5. Know How to Be Irresistible
What program would you want to take? What would be the dream course load that would fully prepare you for what you want to do in this world? That’s what you should create. Don’t make the same distance learning program that everyone else is offering. Design one that only you offer – and one that everyone wants. Establish an online “campus” that can serve distance learners just as a physical campus does. Your program should be the most attractive to anyone looking to get a degree in a particular sector. Make a program that is impossible to refuse.
6. Know How to Make Several Offerings
It’s very important to have degree tracks that arm students for brand new careers or bigger roles in their current industry, but keep in mind, too, that not everyone is ready to take the full plunge right away. This is particularly true for adult learners or those who aren’t able to get their employer to fund their education. A certificate program can entice students to try out a new career track without making a full commitment. Consider attracting hesitant students with a “test-drive education package.” They’re more likely to convert to graduate paths once they see how great your school is.
If you’ve been around marketing professionals or follow their blog posts, I’m sure you’ve heard that a successful campaign is driven by truly knowing who want to attract. When it comes to attracting students, it’s really important to have solid understanding of what today’s industries are seeking. Above all, stay true to your own mission.
During the past two years, Dr. Steve Peterson and Dr. Jay Spencer have been leading Houston Baptist University in the launch and growth of its Pampell Online Division. They recently visited our Scottdale, AZ offices to discuss their decades of experience launching and growing distance learning. See the video below for their in-depth discussion of how program development has been an important factor in HBU’s growth.