3 older students collaborating at a table with laptops

6 tips for reaching adult students

Are you communicating effectively with adult students?

Lynn Morton, strategy director at digital marketing agency R2i, specializes in working with higher education marketing teams. eCampus News talked with Morton about ways to best target Gen Z last year; this time, we asked her about reaching adult students.

How to reach adult learners

Tip #1: Flexibility is more important than you think.

“As people get older, they have more responsibilities,” says Morton. “Offer systems and programs that are flexible.”

Tip #2: Allow adult learners to learn on their own time.

“Older students have to pay for higher ed while balancing a house, a schedule, a partner, kids, animals, etc. Understand that most people going back to school have full-time jobs; they can’t just redo the college experience.

“It’s not about adapting what you have—it’s about building it from the start. How can the systems you develop better support anyone who needs a non-typical college experience?”

Tip #3: Learn from the mega universities like Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University.

“These schools are delivering education at scale. They offer accessibility and flexibility and provide support for students to be accountable. They focus on keeping students motivated, moving, and on track. In essence, they offer extreme amounts of flexibility at a lower cost.”

Tip #4: Focus on the outcome.

“With adult students, you’re competing for their time and energy, so outcomes are really important. You want to make sure people graduate and are getting jobs. You need to provide support efforts and use that as part of your selling package.

“Let students know what differentiates you in the way you provide support. The entire consumer world is focused on customer experience, and this applies to higher ed as well. For me, the Target app sets the standard. I get disappointed if I don’t have that same level of experience with other apps. How do you maximize the return of your technology to provide that experience?”

Tip #5: Understand the older student’s experience.

“Interview students to truly understand what they need. For instance, people want more customization and personalization, which higher ed doesn’t always believe.

“Education has a ton of data, but many institutions are unsure about how to tap into it. Leverage your data to understand who’s visiting your website and cater that experience to an adult learner vs. a typical college student. People don’t want to go where they don’t see themselves, and choosing a college involves lots of research.

“Make sure your app improves the student experience. Use your data to figure out how to better serve your students, such as sending out homework or class reminders.”

Tip #6: Use the right social media for this population.

“Facebook is everywhere. It’s effective for driving awareness but privacy concerns are abundant. The Boomers and Gen X use Facebook, while millennials are starting to delete platforms.

“Many adult learners are already on LinkedIn, so you might want to hire a good marketer to get creative. Have an authentic message that resonates, and ask yourself, ‘What are we offering adult learners? What is their reason to buy? What opportunities and customization do we have that will appeal to them?’”

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