Tony Bates recently posted comments on an article about informing potential online learners better. I couldn’t agree more with this article (Meyer, K. and Wilson, J. (2010) ‘The “virtual face” of planning: how to use higher education web sites to assess competitive advantage’ Planning for Higher Education, Vol. 38, No. 2). In my recent doctoral study I examined the needs of online graduate students and surmized the following:
Marketing Online Programs
For online learning initiatives, the Internet becomes a key venue to market programs and provide important information. Considering most of the study’s participants did not live near the university under study, it is assumed they accessed most program information online. Placing online all information about graduate programs and courses, appropriate departments and faculties, and the university alleviates unnecessary telephone calls and helps potential students make informed choices. Merriam (2001), Merriam and Caffarella (1999) and Cross (1981) also found a main barrier for adults to pursue education was the lack of information to make decisions. Creating more accessible information by a university, especially through institutional web pages, was suggested by Harris and Jones (2007) and Meyer (2008).
For instance, potential graduate students can access faculty web-sites and other electronic resources that:
- Promote online programs through text, sound, images, and videos;
- Provide quality statements and accreditation procedures used to develop online graduate programs;
- Display testimonials from previous online learners;
- Offer notification services for graduate program changes and events;
- Allow access to sample online graduate courses;
- Announce upcoming orientations for future graduate students, and
- Provide access to other important information, such as university services, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, library resources and services, and staff contacts.
As well, exploration of the best ways to design web pages, structure digital information, and meet user needs would ensure students gain answers to important questions at any stage of their graduate program, such as during initial inquiry, while registering, at mid program, or near completion. Furthermore, examining the websites of successful online education providers could supply ideas and strategies for creating virtual environments that serve the informational needs of potential and current students. Also, using well designed websites as a promotional tool can reduce costs associated with printed and mailed materials.