Here’s how to meet the needs of online learners

Today’s generation of perspective learners has different life experiences and expects a world that operates in real-time, and they want the offerings to adapt to them. The on-demand learner can be the working parent who wants to complete a degree program online, one course at a time, or the high school student who wants to get a jump on college prerequisites before college even starts.

What neither of them wants is to be pigeonholed into the classic academic calendar. They want to pick the start date, have some flexibility in terms of completion timeframes, and still have access to financial aid.

In order to serve this growing constituency of on-demand students, that original model needs to be flipped: Instead of starting with fixed academic calendars and programs that students then adhere to, institutions should start with student demand and build systems and programs around that demand.

Many schools believe that they cannot meet student needs for more flexible, on-demand learning because they don’t feel that they can overcome the current limitations of their student information system, which was designed for a previous era.

To address this issue, some schools try to reconfigure or customize programs on top of the existing student information system (SIS). Others have tried to retrofit systems with varying degrees of success.

At a recent conference we attended, one Midwestern university chronicled its odyssey of trying to offer non-term courses for the first time using a traditional system. One of their slides called out: “any system that claims to be ‘date driven’ really means it can be date driven with customization!”

That ‘customization’ turned into a nightmare for the institution. They learned that true on-demand learning programs place new demands on the system in terms of financial aid, grading, reporting, and so much more.

(Next page: Solutions that work)

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