“Serving students with a single model developed over the course of previous centuries no longer works.”
And so begins The Future of Learners, a compelling report from Pearson and higher-ed expert Jeff Selingo that discusses how today’s students perceive the value of higher education and how they want to learn.
The report provides a blueprint for institutions to consider when rethinking how they recruit and retain students, aka future learners.
Students coming to campus in the 2020s will be more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before, and these Gen Z students will have different expectations for campus services, instruction, and technology. As a result, higher ed needs to change the lens through which it views students and create learner-centered universities. Part of that change starts with segmentation.
The importance of segmentation
Student segmentation involves using survey results and data to “segment” students in order to build new academic offerings and personalize campus services. Segmentation isn’t new, but it hasn’t gained widespread adoption, and the report argues that colleges and universities should work to adopt it throughout their institutions.
Segmentation could help institutions inform academic majors, help students navigate campus offerings, and improve recruitment practices.
The 5 types of learners
The report segments learners into five different personas to help higher-ed leaders understand how their institutions might use segmentation to build academic programs, market to prospective students, and serve students in new ways.
1. The traditional learner is a typical college student who likes to learn new things in a conventional environment and who views college as a way to prepare for life and the workforce. Colleges can serve these learners by improving face-to-face learning and high-impact interactions with professors; blending classroom learning that is highly-valued with experiential, hands-on opportunities; and providing add-on services such as boot camps focused on skills building.
2. The hobby learner is an older self-directed learner who looks at education as a learning journey. Colleges can serve these learners with shorter, flexible academic programs; by creating alternative credentials that meet this segment’s desire to learn without needing to earn a degree to get a job; and by adopting digital tools to satisfy these learners’ desire for a mix of learning styles at a lower cost.
3. The career learner loves college and is academically successful. These learners are similar to traditional learners, but they tend to view higher education mostly as a means to an end–a way to obtain jobs. Institutions can serve these learners by integrating career services into the curriculum; creating opportunities for students to align learning experiences across school and work; and by building co-ops into the curriculum that allow students to toggle between semesters and longer periods of work.
4. The reluctant learner is the most diverse segment and is academically average while lacking a passion for learning. Campuses can serve these learners by meeting them where they are and letting them mix and match learning modalities; creating a flexible calendar offering different start times and mini-sessions; and building a pricing approach based on degree progress rather than time-in-seat.
5. The skeptical learner has little passion for learning, and they like the social aspect of higher education, but not the academic aspect. They tend to prefer digital and online learning over in-person and textbook learning and are very concerned about their ability to pay for higher education. Institutions can serve these learners by creating low-price program pathways; redesigning online learning environments to replicate the social aspects of face-to-face learning; and building a low-residency campus option and offering work experience to lower their costs.
The report describes various approaches colleges can use to segment their students using data analysis. Selingo recommends that higher-ed leaders use the survey to build their own personas to understand what motivates their current or prospective students, how they want to learn, and what they will pay for. That information can inform the products they start to develop as they shift their approach to remain relevant.