Higher learning institutions have been using the internet for enrollment since it first hit the scene in the late 1990s. At first, only institutions with large enough budgets were taking on this initiative. Now, a vast majority of colleges and universities have brought or are bringing their enrollment processes online as it's no longer a nice-to-have option - it's necessary.
With overall enrollment declining across the board, colleges and universities that extend enrollment to students from any geographic area are finding new opportunities for growth. By meeting the needs of the modern day learner, higher learning institutions can establish their position throughout the current digital revolution and beyond.
The Benefits of Online Enrollment in Higher Learning
With revenue from online learning on the rise, it’s no wonder that colleges and universities everywhere are undergoing large-scale digital transformations. Some of the top benefits of introducing online enrollment as an option include:
- Improved Access and Affordability: Introducing online learning is one of the most cost-effective ways to widen the net of higher learning to include students from every background, and improve access to those potentially facing financial and geographic barriers.
- Reduced Operational Costs: Although implementing an online learning strategy across an entire faculty (or in many cases, across an entire institution) might sound time and labor intensive, having students complete their coursework from the comfort of their own homes leads to reduced operational costs in the long run.
- Better Outcomes for Everyone: Online learning often leads to higher retention and graduation rates, as well as increased student engagement.
Whether you’re looking to offer online enrollment as a way to support a competency-based curriculum or to create your own internal OPM, offering online enrollment in some way, shape, or form is a must have for any institution.
The Digital Learning Paradox
While many institutions are still ironing out the details of their online enrollment policy, much research has been done into the effectiveness of this type of higher learning modality. In fact, Mark Leiberman of Inside Higher Ed covered a recent study that took a look at six higher learning institutions, from top-ranking four-year universities to community colleges.
These institutions offer a mixture of online learning options, as well as the traditional face-to-face higher education experience.
When comparing whether or not students benefit more from an online environment versus a face-to-face one, researchers found that while the majority of students benefited most from a mixed modality approach, or blended classroom, there were stark differences between those who opted for either online-only or strictly face-to-face learning.
Although those who opted for online learning typically had a lower grade point average than those who did not, they were also more likely to complete their courses and overall areas of study, leading to higher retention and graduation rates.
According to Leiberman, these findings fall in line with the “digital learning paradox,” a theory that suggests that although students in some cases perform worse in online classes, they are also more likely to follow through and complete the course in its entirety.
The case for the blended classroom is clear, and it’s on institutions of higher learning to commit to the creation of a new era of learning and discovery.
6 Strategies to Keep Your Online Learning Efforts On Track
While the overwhelming results of Arizona State University’s 2018 report, Making Digital Learning Work, suggest that a mixed modality approach is the most effective for boosting results across higher learning, it’s also worth noting that these findings don’t come without a lot of hard work and dedication.
In fact, ASU’s report lists six core practices shared by all of the successful institutions examined. These six practices include:
1. Adopting a Strategic Portfolio Approach
Introducing online enrollment doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Take a step back and focus on designing initiatives that put students at the center of learning, and shape your online enrollment offerings in ways that make sense for your institution and your student population.
Houston Community College, for example, redefined their course offerings across 19 campuses and 6 colleges into units based on discipline instead of geographic region - all to meet the needs of both students and staff alike. In the past, each campus and college likely had its own distinct English department with its own introductory English course.
However, strategically introducing online learning and enrollment led to a centralized English department that controls all of the funding across every campus. Not only did this initiative reduce the overall duplication of effort by eliminating the need for 19 different courses across 19 different campuses - it also reduced internal competition among students thanks to increased accessibility of course offerings online.
2. Building the Capabilities to Design for Quality
Committing to online learning asks students to take on a higher degree of self-motivation and discipline. Gone are the in-class lectures and on-the-spot discussion items, as the online-only learning environment requires the student to manage their own time and deadlines through the power of technology.
For that reason, it is of utmost importance that colleges and institutions looking to introduce online enrollment employ first-class instructional design standards, and create meaningful digital experiences that resonate with the needs of their learners.
In the online learning environment, usability and overall design take a higher priority, and engaging today’s learner is not always a walk in the park. Provide your team with the right strategies, learning opportunities, and most important - the right toolkit - so that they can make learning memorable for every student regardless of their location.
3. Engaging Faculty as Partners in Digital Learning
One of the largest barriers facing each of the institutions covered in the report was the ability to engage faculty constructively in digital learning. When first introduced, some faculty may be hesitant about the overall impact on course quality, learning outcomes, and their own past experiences with introducing mixed or online-only modalities.
It is imperative that institutions that plan on introducing online enrollment make a commitment to educating and supporting their staff and faculty, hearing their concerns, and encouraging buy-in across the board. Professional development, incentives, and fostering a culture of innovation will help higher learning organizations establish partnerships and buy-in in the online learning process.
4. Committing to Digital Learning as a Strategic Priority
Many institutions struggle with the process of introducing high-quality online learning. In many cases, this results in high turnover of institutional leadership. As leadership shifts its focus from one initiative to the next, funding levels tend to follow. Maintaining a dedicated capacity for developing an online learning infrastructure is crucial to success.
In order for your college or university to see the true benefits of online enrollment, it is crucial that digital learning is set as a strategic priority at the institutional level, and carried forward regardless of change.
5. Strategically Leveraging Outside Vendors
Leveraging outside vendors is a great way to boost the level of innovation in your institution without footing the bill for R&D, and striking the right partnership can lead to accelerated learning opportunities and a competitive edge for online enrollment.
Be strategic when selecting your third-party partners, and look for tools and resources with benefits that can carry themselves across your institution whenever possible. Take some time to do your competitive research and identify use cases before making a commitment to a partner.
6. Strengthening Your Analytics to Monitor Success
It should come as no surprise that making a commitment to digital learning also means making a commitment to measuring, analyzing, and improving your efforts by using analytics along the way. Thanks to the increased visibility offered alongside online learning initiatives, colleges and universities can become more agile in their efforts, and apply lessons learned to processes, policies, and procedures as often as required.
Be sure to invest in tools that integrate with your existing data structures, and take a good look at your existing data architecture in order to identify your gaps and opportunities for improvement. Create disaggregated data sets to monitor and compare the effectiveness of your online learning initiatives, and implement change as needed to drive results.