“Understanding student needs in multiple ways allows institutions to direct their limited investments toward features that have the greatest impact on meeting their objectives, enabling schools to maximize their resources,” explains the report.

To help higher-ed colleges and universities make their greatest impact, there are five factors that reach 90 percent of all students with online experience:


Yet, the report emphasizes that forward-looking institutions should also tailor their approaches to each student segment to better attract and retain students.

“Amid the reality of constrained resources, leaders must meet unique student needs and generate insights into which factors meaningfully increase reach among high-priority groups,” it states.

For True Believers: Make available knowledgeable academic advisors and responsive faculty. Institutions can add new members of this segment by making investments and innovations in both self-paced courses and career advising and services. This segment is also potentially reached by gaining greater recognition from other institutions of transfer credits for online courses, by offering access to exclusive or unique courses and instructors, by providing students the ability to complete a degree faster, and by increasing opportunities for personalized learning.

Institutions that currently fare best with this segment are for-profits and nonprofits with associate’s degree programs. To best tap into the segment’s attitudes, marketing messages should stress convenience, flexibility, self-pacing, a shorter time to complete a degree, independent work and study options, increased personalization, and lower cost.

For Online Rejecters: This segment places a higher priority on faculty than other segments. Other valuable features to Online Rejecters are virtual classrooms that offer significantly more interaction with peers and professors, as well as a curriculum aligned with a professional license.

Nonprofit institutions and postgraduate programs with predominantly traditional, on-campus classes currently have the best chance with this group. Traditional messages about high-quality faculty; the exclusiveness of admissions; the challenge of coursework; and the social, emotional and experiential benefits of campus life remain most relevant. However, given the attitudes of Online Rejecters about online degrees and courses, or even the benefits of technology to the campus experience, marketing would be a costly endeavor.

For Experience Seekers: Game-like learning and simulations, employer-aligned curriculum, a social media presence, and online collaboration tools all disproportionately appeal to students in this segment. This segment’s unique needs also signal potential emerging expectations among future students, including mobile access to online education and a tight integration of courses with social responsibility efforts and opportunities to do good. As with Online Rejecters, this segment sees barriers in other faculty members’ acceptance of online education, faculty and teacher quality, evidence of outcomes, the online classroom experience, the reputation of online education, and in technical issues.

Institutions with the best potential to reach this segment include both for-profits and nonprofits that offer predominantly bachelor’s degrees. Marketing messages should emphasize the social, emotional, and experiential benefits of the institution and of online and hybrid programs; innovative interactive features; and employer-aligned curriculum and work experiences.

For Money Mavens: Career advising and services and self-paced learning are the defining factors. Emerging needs that may better position institutions with this segment include transparency about outcomes and game-like learning and simulations. Money Mavens have a higher than average degree of awareness about alternative models, such as MOOCs, which allows students to assemble a degree from several sources.

The tactics to watch in terms of appeal to this segment are virtual group projects, badges and certificates, and ePortfolios. Institutions that fare best with this segment today are nonprofits with associate’s degree programs. Marketing messages about career services, proven outcomes, self-pacing, and program costs are likely to appeal to this group.

For Open Minds: Open Minds generally see more barriers to the adoption of online and blended degrees and courses than True Believers due to their perception of barriers related to research on proven outcomes, the online classroom experience, and the quality of faculty and teachers for online programs. These students would like to see [in order of priority] features such as: virtual chalkboards; the ability to search class textbooks, videos or resources online; the ability to post questions and answers online; the ability to meet professors or student groups online via chat or video; and mobile access to the online classroom and course materials. Technology-enabled needs that are emerging include the ability to see, hear and interact with faculty and classmates using real-time virtual classrooms and collaboration tools.

Institutions that currently fare the best with this segment are nonprofits with online and blended educational offerings. Marketing messages should include those about curriculum pragmatically aligned with obtaining a professional license, about blended courses and the technology-enabled classroom experience, and about the institution’s investment in technologies that improve the student experience.


For more in-depth research, as well as how parents perceive online learning, read the full report here.

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