Sunday, February 19, 2017

Online College Students Preferences

The report "Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences" from cloud HE services provider Learning House, Inc reports on a survey of 1,500 US higher education students. There are no great surprises in the report, but it is useful to have evidence to back up intuition. Many of the findings would also apply to face-to-face education. In particular, that students expect to be able to use a mobile device for admission and expect a quick response is significant.

Key Findings

  1. An Increasing Number of Students Prefer Online
  2. Online Students Are Cost Sensitive
  3. There Are Many Paths to a Degree
  4. Mobile Is Widespread Throughout the Admissions and Education Process
  5. Students Make Decisions Quickly
  6. Schools Need to Respond Faster
  7. The Online Student Demographic Is Changing
  8. Online Students Prefer a Nearby Campus
  9. IT Is Becoming a Popular Graduate Field of Study  

Lessons from the Report for Athabasca University

Athabasca University (AU) and the Government of Alberta have commissioned a review into how to make the university financially viable. The review would do well to address the points in Learning House's report. I suggest:

1. As a distance provider, AU should take heart that online study is becoming a more popular option. However, AU need to provide all services on-line. As an example, AU only provided me with my MEd certificate and transcript in paper form. Such paper documents are easily forged and of limited practical use. In contrast, the Australian National University (ANU) provided me both paper and electronically certified documents. AU should also accept such electronic documents in preference to paper (AU refused to accept my ANU e-certificate and required a lower integrity paper copy).

2. AU should compete on price, at least for international students, who do not receive a government subsidy. AU can price its programs to suit local markets, as it does already with the MEd, offered to residents of Eastern Europe, for about one quarter the Canadian price.

3. AU should make it easier for students to obtain credit for prior study and experience (I found this impossibly difficult for my AU MEd).

4. AU should change to a desktop-comparable mobile interface for its admissions and education processes. Currently AU's web pages, LMS and e-portfolio systems are reasonably mobile compatible, but are more complex and harder to use than they need be. By placing an emphasis on a simplified mobile interface, this would make the system easier for all users.

5. AU should provide quicker responses to students. As an example, I applied to graduate from AU (having completed all program requirements) on 13 December 2016, but my degree was not awarded until 18 January the next year. This is considerably faster than many bricks and mortar university, but still could be reduced.

6. Online students are becoming younger, but are still older than the average university student. AU should continue to cater for students who are in employment or have other commitments which prevent full time enrollment and who are older than the typical university student.

7. Online university students want some form of campus experience. AU could provide this by facilitating and funding social events and study groups for and by AU students, throughout the world. AU's on-line system could automatically identify which students are in the same area and provide a way for them to arrange events. AU could also explore more collaborations with institutions around the world, as already done in Greece. In three years of on-line study I felt the lack of connection, never meeting another student face-to-face and only meeting one out of eleven instructors (at an international conference).

8. AU should offer business, education and IT skills in all programs. The three popular areas for online study are business, IT and education, but as well as offering programs in these, AU should integrate them in other programs. That is, all students should be offered some knowledge of how organizations work, how to use IT in an organization and how to mentor and teach.

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