online students

Online learners say these social perks are program musts

A new survey reveals that fully-online students identified interaction with instructors, classmates as paramount to their learning experience.

As competition for fully-online students grows, new research calls for universities to update their strategies in order to win over students.

The research, compiled from a survey of 1,500 students who are seriously considering, currently enrolled in or have recently graduated from a fully online program aims to help higher-ed leaders and policymakers better understand both the traits of online college students and what they’re looking for in their educational experience.

The Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences report, from The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, shows that online students are seeking interaction with their classmates and course instructors. In fact, more than half of survey respondents said interaction with the academic community is important.

Roughly one-quarter said having more contact with their instructors and more engagement with classmates would improve the caliber of their online courses.

Fully-online students use mobile devices regularly, according to the survey. Eighty percent of online students use a mobile device during their search for an online program and school, and 40 percent go on to use their device to access their online coursework.

(Next page: Recommendations to help online schools improve their programs for students)

The report also highlights an increase in the number of online students who are applying to more than two colleges or universities, and 23 percent of those surveyed said they would consider more schools if they could repeat their search. Because students are looking at more schools, the report notes, institutions need to work harder to stand out.

The most frequently-cited change to the school selection process, as identified by surveyed students, would be having a better understanding of the total cost and reputation of their program.

One of the key findings signals that visibility and interest in competency-based education is significantly increasing. Eighteen percent of online students have enrolled in competency-based programs, and even more importantly, 53 percent would definitely consider such a program. Stackable certificates that add up to a degree were also of interest to respondents, demonstrating that students are embracing alternative pathways to earning their degree.

“Online learning is no longer new, and online students are becoming savvier consumers. It’s no longer enough to offer flexibility and convenience,” said Todd Zipper, president and CEO of Learning House. “Institutions need to offer the right program, at the right price, in the right modality, and with the right support services in place to create a welcoming community that helps students achieve their career ambitions.”

Report recommendations include:

  1. Online programs should better reflect student career and educational goals. Because online students are so career focused, understanding which programs will best educate students for the job market is critical to online program success. While business and healthcare programs remain the stalwarts of online education, computer science and IT are increasing in popularity for graduate students, and arts and humanities programs are also making gains for undergraduate students.
  2. Admissions offices should place greater emphasis on their responsiveness by giving online students fast responses. Admissions officials also should provide online students with upfront figures on financial aid and transfer credits.
  3. Schools must adapt their online access to accommodate mobile technology.

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Laura Ascione

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