Interaction with learners

How can colleges meet the needs of a growing base of online learners? |

The Wiley Education Services survey indicates that institutions should offer three key elements to students operating remotely.

Eliott Reyna / Unsplash

Pushed towards distance education by its overall flexibility and in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, the pool of potential online learners is not only growing, but are also happy with what colleges and universities are offering.

These findings were revealed in the 10th annual report by Wiley Education Services – now called the “Voice of the Online Learner” – which shows that higher education institutions have enormous potential to improve career paths. and create a basis of trust between current and new. students.

A third of the more than 3,000 students surveyed by Wiley who take online courses said they would consider switching to fully online learning. More than half said they were so impressed with the value, implementation and flexibility of distance learning that they were considering enrolling in these programs.

“We are seeing that online learning is playing an increasingly important role in providing education that is flexible, affordable and enables learners to succeed in their careers,” said Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services. “We are proud to share our knowledge of online learner attitudes and behaviors to help universities create impactful programs that empower students to achieve their goals. “

These learners have clear expectations of what should be included in an overall online curriculum. The first is faster paths to gain credentials. The study authors note that 70% would prefer to take several courses or take them consecutively rather than being forced to take breaks. The second is flexibility, and that means multiple dates throughout the year to start classes, much more asynchronous course options, and an adjustable degree plan. The third is cost assistance. The majority of online students surveyed said they would not choose a program just for affordability reasons (although over 50% said it was the # 1 reason for choosing one), but that ‘they look at stock markets and reputation when making decisions.

Respondents, which included a large number of graduate students, indicated their goals in choosing an online program: get their first job (50%), change careers (42%), get promotions (42%) and get a salary increase (36%). However, there is a group of learners that schools should also have on their radar: those coming out of high school and interested only in the online option.

Inside the data

One of the surprising results of the survey is that students believe there is almost no difference between online and in-person learning. Only 24% of students said they thought face-to-face education was better, compared to 20% who thought online education was better. Another 45% said they were tied. The numbers were almost identical when students were asked about employers’ views on online programs versus traditional programs.

But the most powerful percentage indicating the value of online learning was that 63% of those who graduated online would do so again. Less than 20% said they would pursue the option. Wiley said these are the types of numbers that institutions offering online programs should promote.

“Students have positive experiences in online programs and their testimonials can help recruit future students,” the authors wrote. “Schools should empower these advocates to provide reviews on third-party sites and in relevant marketing materials, as well as to highlight the positive results of their programs online by investing in tools to listen to alumni.”

Other notable data points and recommendations from Wiley’s study:

  • Changing programs online will not have a negative impact on the choices made by current or future students. But those who don’t offer online options or renew face-to-face online courses may have the opposite effect, especially on students who want more flexibility.
  • There is good news and bad news when it comes to attracting new students. Institutions that offer online programs are not suddenly going to attract large numbers of students from across the country. Most still prefer to stay close to home. However, there may be opportunities to attract certain students who might study specific areas that are not offered elsewhere.
  • To this end, it is important in college promotions to emphasize the strengths of the programs and the flexibility they offer. Online learners are all different. so it is difficult to set up a single marketing campaign. One thing that online learners want is the assurance of interaction with the instructor. They want to know that if they have questions or need help, they will get it.
  • Even the smallest scholarship offer can entice online learners to enroll. “Almost 60% could be transferred from one to the other for $ 1,000 per year, which is less than the cost of a course at many universities,” the authors wrote.