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The Evolution of Online Learning: Leveraging Digital Partnerships

The Evolution of Online Learning: Leveraging Digital Partnerships

Stream It Now

While traditional online learning has been developing for the past two decades, the national pandemic crisis has sped up the rate at which the entire online learning ecosystem has needed to evolve. Our panel of experts from Wiley Education Services, The University of West Alabama, and Keystone Academic Solutions explored the current state of online learning and the important role partnerships can play in enhancing online program offerings.

Topics of Discussion

Panelists in this webinar discussed key insights and recommendations surrounding the needs of online students in a changing landscape, including:

  • Growth trends pre- and post-COVID and university reactions
  • Exploring the hallmarks of successful partnerships
  • Supporting student success throughout their journey
  • Improving awareness and developing the potential for global collaborations

Stream the Webinar

Read Video Transcript

Saba Chafiki:

Hello and welcome. I’m Saba Chafiki and today we will discuss trends within the online education market. Online education has experienced a significant growth during the past decade. In the last months, the impact of COVID-19 on higher education and international mobility has accelerated the evolution of online learning. To explore these trends, I will be joined by a panel of higher education experts. We will cover the role partnerships and online program managers can play to help institutions with digitalization. We will also discuss the different steps universities and partners are taking to ensure online student success.

Saba Chafiki:

Before we get started, I would like to share some housekeeping information with you. All audio is muted, so if you want to ask the panel a question, please use the Q & A function. If you experience any technical problems, please email marketing@keystoneacademic.com. We will also be sharing a recording of this webinar via email after this event. Today, you can also take this conversation to social media using the #futureofonlinelearning.

Saba Chafiki:

Now, I would like to introduce our three panelists. Joining us today, Erik Harrell, CEO of Keystone Academic Solutions. Jan Miller, Dean for the Division of Online Programs and Dean for the College of Education at the University of West Alabama, and Jay Hatcher, VP of Global Business Development at Wiley Education Services. Erik, Jan, and Jay, if you could please introduce yourself to the audience.

Erik Harrell:

Guess I need to unmute myself. Good afternoon, good evening, and good morning. My name is Erik Harrell, CEO at Keystone Academic Solutions, and just to give a little bit of background, I’ve been in the education space and technology space, and in the consumer internet spaces for about over 20 years, and I’m also proud to say that I have a bachelors degree and masters degree from one of the Wiley schools, John Hopkins University, so that’s great.

Erik Harrell:

I think just to say a little bit about Keystone. The focus we have at Keystone is about student success, and when students are making a decision to decide on university and what we do basically, is help universities recruit students, and when a student is in the process of making a decision, student success is very, very critical. It’s a life-changing decision, it’s a life-altering decision, it’s a track for some people to get social mobility, and so ensuring that the students choose the right university is critical for them, and it’s also critical for the university itself. So, that’s the main mission we have is ensuring student success.

Erik Harrell:

And then from a university standpoint, we’ve been working with thousands of universities over the last 13 years to help them recruit students and we have a range of university partners around the world working with, for example, in the United States, we work with George Washington University, for example, we have the University of London and a number of many universities in Asia as well, so we have a full range of universities around the world. And what we do is, one of the powerful things about Keystone is our reach, we have more than 6 million students, potential students that come to our website every month to research the right university choice for them. So that’s just a quick background on Keystone and myself.

Jan Miller:

Hi, I’m Jan Miller from the University of West Alabama, and I serve as the Dean for the College of Education, as well as the Dean for Online Programs. The University of West Alabama, we’ve actually been in the online world for 18 years, and so we were one of the early starts. We did have some really, really strong highs, and as competitions continued to come online, we saw some pretty significant dips, and so we’re excited today to talk about our success with Wiley and how we have turned our enrollment and our services, and so I look forward to our conversation.

Jay Hatcher:

Hello, everybody. I am Jay Hatcher and I’m the Vice President of Global Business Development for Wiley Education Services and we collaborate with institutions of higher education and employers to develop strategic partnerships by providing bundled and unbundled services on a revenue share or fee-for-service basis to help institution of higher education and employers launch, develop, and grow quality online courses, certificates, and programs.

Jay Hatcher:

And just a little bit about Wiley Education Services, we were birthed out of two acquisitions, one of a company called Deltac, which is one of the first companies in the online program management space, and then more recently, an acquisition of a company called the Learning House back on November 1st of 2018. And now collectively, we serve over 70 partners throughout the globe. The thing that I’m most proud about is the fact that we graduated over 50,000 students. So I appreciate everybody joining us today.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. Now to kick off, I would like to talk about the online learning space before and after COVID-19. Erik, this first question goes to you. With over 6 million students visiting the Keystone websites every month, can you share with us, any shifts seen on the sites, and specifically, the websites dedicated to promoting online programs?

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, sure. As I said before, we have more than 6 million students coming to our websites every month, potential students come [inaudible 00:06:10] every month, so we have a lot of data on this, and I think what we’ve seen just overall in terms of Keystone is that the number of potential students coming to our websites overall is up 16% since the beginning of the year. And when it comes to online studies because we have a dedicated online studies website, that traffic is up close one thing 50% since the beginning of the year, and that really demonstrates the interest, the massive, I think quite a big increase in interest from students in online programs over this period. And also during this period, that’s the traffic, but also, in terms of leads that we’re generating for universities, that lead volumes up more than 40% during that period, so there’s no only interest, but there’s also action on the part of students.

Erik Harrell:

And the other thing, of course, is that we have a lot of in terms of programs, and we’ve done some surveys, and I’ll talk about some of the survey results during the course of this conversation, but in terms of programs, we’ve had a 25% increase in the amount of programs, so while we’re seeing an increase in demands from students for online programs, we’ve also seen an increase in universities putting programs online, and as I said, 25% increase there. Where we’ve seen the most increase is around academic courses, short courses, around certificates, interestingly enough, we’ve seen an increase in interest for online PhDs as well during this period, sort of the interests in terms of masters degrees and bachelors is about the same. And I think the other thing which is interesting vis-a-vis the survey and we’ve done a survey of university employees, as well as students, is that according to our survey close to 80% of folks in universities feel adequately trained and feel like they’ve got the training to do online in a good way, and I think that’s a really good sign. So I think you have this very nice confluence of things where you have a lot of student interest, students are taking action in terms of interest, and then universities and professors are well-prepared to meet that demand.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. Jan, could you tell us from your experience first-hand how universities reacted to this shift?

Erik Harrell:

Absolutely, happy to share. Of course, many of the universities were not prepared for the pandemic, to convert classes online, but I’m happy to say that with our partnership with Wiley, we were ahead of the curve. One of our services that we actually have partnered with Wiley was the academic instructional design piece, and so for the last couple of years we’ve gone through the process to make sure our own online courses had the rigor, and the relevance, and the credibility that it needs, and so we were really ahead of our competitors because we had those already designed and ready to go and roll out. Also for those classes that weren’t ready, we were able to easily go through the process by which they taught us and get those classes converted, so that was a super tremendous help for us.

Erik Harrell:

Also, I think, because of the pandemic, people now see the importance of online learning. They see that it is a legitimate way to learn, especially in remote rural areas where universities and colleges are not near access, so our enrollment has actually increased due to the pandemic in our online programs.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. And again for both you Jan and Erik, how did such accelerated growth impact students, but also faculties? Jan?

Jan Miller:

Yes, for our faculty, again, we had the buy-in was there. When we went through the partnership we were an early starter in the online world. Like I said earlier, we’ve been in the online business for 18 years. We were one of the first in the area. But as competition grew we saw less and less students so we knew we needed to find a partner to help us market and recruit more students. Through that process, we also took faculty by the hand and they were trained. We were very transparent. We had strong operating procedures, standard operating procedures with Wiley and so we make sure that we had all areas on campus whether it’s registrars offer student support, financial aid, faculty, everyone would understand the process, so it’s been a tremendous relationship, and again, it’s been so seamless when the pandemic hit for us to convert, pretty much 100% had to go online, but it was because of our early successes that we were able to do that.

Saba Chafiki:

On that note, I would like us to move to our second topic. From the results of the poll we just ran now, we can see institutions are facing some challenges regarding online programs. Some institutions are able to address these concerns in-house, but many find they still need assistance, and this is where partnerships can play a valuable role. So, Jay, could you tell us a bit about how universities benefit from working with an OPM, and also, what trends have you seen over the past years?

Jay Hatcher:

Absolutely. I think the big benefit that institutions gather from working with an OPM is really twofold. Number one, obviously we’ve got tremendous expertise as we’ve been doing this for over 20 years, but also dependent upon the type of relationship that we enter into, we are in the position where we really can de-risk the investment for institutions, and obviously, Jan can speak to that a lot better than I can, both from a capital standpoint that we’re willing to invest, but also from a human resource capital perspective.

Jay Hatcher:

I think the biggest change that we’ve seen recently is that pre-pandemic most institutions were focused on long-term growth, and as a result of that most of the partnership discussions were centered on us providing marketing, enrollment, student retention, and clinical placement services on a revenue share of fee-for-service basis, but as the pandemic hit many of the conversations transitioned to what can you do for me now as we’re not certain what the academic experience is going to look like moving forward in the short-term, and as a result of that, many of the conversations domestically and internationally transitioned to what support can you provide to our faculty through your instruction design, faculty support, and faculty development that you are capable of providing.

Saba Chafiki:

Erik, have you seen similar trends when it comes to student recruitment?

Erik Harrell:

Well, I think, well the first thing I’d say is just in terms of what Jan was talking about as far as data and interest from students, and we did a survey of 12,000 students because we have all this traffic, and I think what was interesting from that survey is that of students coming to our platform, 45% of them were interested in only online programs which was quite amazing actually, and just the level of interest. This compares to 38% for on-campus. And the other thing which is also very, very interesting is that 44% of our students believe that online has the same sort of standard, if you will, as on-campus, which we thought was also very, very good. So, I think the table is really set for recruiting students to online programs. And I think as you said, as Jan was saying that that has happened as results of just COVID-19. Because I think the interesting thing here in this space is this has the potential, I mean if you look at the wider market, we know that on-campuses where most students go, but I think we definitely should see, and I think we will see a move for a more niche to really forefront in this area, and I think as you mentioned earlier, we’re seeing that both in terms of student interest and in terms of university interest on our platform.

Saba Chafiki:

Great.

Jan Miller:

And Saba, I wanted to chime in as well. Jay mentioned the benefit that UWA experienced with our partnership, literally overnight, before we partnered with Wiley, we had a small staff of four or five, and those people did the advising, the scheduling, the marketing, I mean we did it all on a small staff of four or five. Instantly when we signed our agreement with them, we inherited a marketing division, I mean full of people. Not only that, but we were dedicating, and I’m making this up, about $100,000 toward marketing cost, when we signed the partnership with the Wiley and I’m making this up to, overnight we now get $2 million with people in the marketing field that will dedicate their dollars to help us attract more students, and so we never in a million years could’ve done that on our own.

Erik Harrell:

And just one thing to add too, and this is also part of this sort of the step change that we’ve seen from COVID-19 is, of course, is when you’re doing recruiting of students for online programs, I mean, you need to do it online, you’re not going to have a physical event to recruit online students, most likely not, and you can’t do it now anyway. So, what we’ve seen across the board in terms of digital recruiting is a real move of marketing departments from moving their offline budgets to digital budgets and so you see much more activity on social media, you’re seeing virtual fairs, you’re seeing webinars like this, and of course, you’re seeing more institutions using services like ourselves and I mean the advantage of services like ourselves, not to sort of pitch us or anything, but is we, for example, we have 6 million students that come to our platform every month and we have reach around the world, so we’re able to, we have 8 websites in different disciplines of bachelors, masters degree and it’s translating to 46 languages, so we have this reach around the world in local languages as well, to drive leads and traffic to our partnered websites.

Saba Chafiki:

Jan, could you give us a little bit more details on specifically on the design and development process when working with an OPM.

Jan Miller:

Absolutely. So, on the design side, I’ll start with the instructional design piece. So, when we partnered with Wiley on the front end, we didn’t partner with that piece of the puzzle, we only partnered with the marketing and the recruiting and the advising piece. But very quickly we saw the need for that instructional design piece because in fact, if your course is well-managed and well-developed, it is in fact, a marketing tool. And so, across the board, one of the first things we did with Wiley, we talked about the importance when online students go into the class, whether they’re taking algebra or English, or whatever, there needs to be a process where the classes feel the same, so we standardize, where do you find your instructor, where do you find your activities and assignments, so regardless of who’s teaching the classes, the look and feel feels the same so it’s very familiar to students. And so, prior to our partnership, we didn’t do that. Everybody had their own spin, everybody looked different, they were bright colors, they were this, now they’re very standardized and again, I think that lends to student success. And part of our partnership is that student success piece where the online advisors literally walk students to class that first day, and so the advisors know what the classes look like, they can tell the students exactly where to go to find their books, and how to have a successful start.

Jan Miller:

So that instructional design piece was absolutely critical. We didn’t have that service to begin with, but absolutely, I think it’s needed. We have the whole package and we went all in and we wouldn’t change a thing.

Jay Hatcher:

And there’s one thing that I’d like to focus in on that which I think is very important to understand is is we do not take a cookie-cutter approach, it does not infringe upon academic freedom, is we engage in that course design process. The initial conversation starts with what is the faculty members vision for that course, and at the end, after there’s a lot of collaboration, each faculty member signs off on the final version of the course so that you all make all final academic decisions and it’s very important to also understand it’s the number one question we always get when we come to campus, you know this is who owns the IP? But the intellectual property is owned by the institution’s faculty member or whatever the intellectual property policy on campus is.

Jan Miller:

Absolutely, Jay. I failed to mention that, but yes, when you partner with Wiley, we have an instructional designer and our faculty are considered the content expert, and so the design is one thing, but the content is what the university and the faculty that’s been their pride and joy, so the designers help present the material so that it’s easier for students to participate and engage, but Jay, that’s a critical point of the puzzle, it truly is faculty-driven.

Saba Chafiki:

Jay, in your opinion, what are the key hallmarks for a successful partnership?

Jay Hatcher:

Yeah, so I think that the key hallmark for any successful partnership whether it’s in life, or whether it’s in business is communication and transparency, and you want an understanding what is working well, and more importantly, what is not working well, and when a potential barrier does present itself if you are willing to communicate and get through it. And I think a prime example how we communicate is after every student start, which most of our partners is on an eight-week basis, we have a follow-up meeting with our partner institutions to discuss how are we performing collectively across every single operational area. So again, no difference in life, but I think the communication is the key. And, I think, it’s also important is you appropriately level set expectations on the front end and make sure that the actions that you all are taking as partners are going to lead to your desired results.

Jay Hatcher:

And I’ll give you a prime example, which is a little flip is some institutions will say we want to grow, we want to get to 1,000 online students, but we want to do two niche programs and clearly we’re not going to get there if we take those actions. So again, it’s about making sure we take the appropriate actions that are going to lead to the results that we want to collectively achieve.

Saba Chafiki:

Jan, anything you would like to add from your experience at UWA?

Jan Miller:

Absolutely. The one thing that we say from day one, and I really heard this from the Wiley side, it’s not an us versus them. It becomes a we, almost like a marriage. And so as Jay said, that transparency, that trust is essential. If we do have an issue or a problem, we have a partnership director who I can call immediately and she’s on the phone taking care of problems. We don’t let problems build, we take care of them right away.

Jan Miller:

Also, that attention to details, as Jay said, everything is data-driven. We have monthly strategic calls, we have goals and benchmarks, and we’re informed all along the way, and so to me, that transparency, that trust, and attention to details makes a very strong partnership.

Saba Chafiki:

Okay, so with that, I will now turn to the next topic, supporting students’ success. One thing we’ve seen during the pandemic is how both institutions and students have adapted. Many have realized that we need to change the way we have been doing things to better support student success, so my first question for the panel is, from your own experiences, how do you think partnerships can be leveraged to better support student success? Erik, would you like to start?

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, sure. I mean, as I said at the outset, the key for us and the mission we have is to ensure student success, and we know that, as I said before, these are very big decisions for a student, and the journey for our student in terms of finding that university and making that choice is very important, and it starts first with us, with discovery. The reason we have so many students, 6 million students, potential students coming to our platform, our websites around the world every month is because we are very good at SEO. We rank typically the vast majority we’re going to be number one, number two on the first page on the search results, and that’s how they discover us, is that way. And then when they go to the website it’s making sure that we give them tools, we give them information on the various programs so they can do proper research to find the right institution for them, and I think from a partnership standpoint, this is really where the partnership with a university is very, very important. And effectively, when a university puts up their programs, it’s basically a storefront for them, where they have the opportunity to market their programs, and their services, and what differentiates them, so we spend a lot of time with our university partners making sure that the way it’s presented is best it can be. And that’s the second bit. So, discovery, research.

Erik Harrell:

And then the final piece which is also super important is the communication part of it. We facilitate on our website, students when they find a university which is interesting to them, they can communicate directly with the university using our platform, contact university, and then the university can use our platform or their own platform to communicate with that student. What we see in terms of ensuring a successful partnership, and this is based on the 12,000 students that answered our survey is the expectation is that the response time is within 24 hours. So, that’s the expectation of students. And I think the other part we’ve heard, and have got good sort of empirical evidence on is that the quicker universities responds to students the higher likelihood there is for a student to go to an application and ultimately an enrollment. This communication bit is also very, very important and we provide for universities we provide the tools to communicate with the students in a very efficient way and we’re also launching a service now which enables universities well, they can use us actually to call some of the leads or call leads as well.

Saba Chafiki:

Jay, would you like to add anything from your experience at Wiley?

Jay Hatcher:

Sure. I mean, our primary focus is always on the learner, whether that’s a student, whether it’s an employee or a faculty worker that we’re working with, and I think that what we found as the market evolves, as the cadre of programs and institutions are willing to take online broadens, the type of support that is needed by students is greater. Specifically, for many of our partners, we’re going to handle the entire application process for the student, and as Erik mentioned, for our international partners, we’re going to reach out within hours, but really for our domestic partners in order to be successful, we’re going to reach out to those students within minutes to make sure that they’re getting the attention they need.

Jay Hatcher:

In addition to walking them through the entire application process, we’re going to act as that one-stop-shop for the student once they are enrolled in the program, and where applicable, we will also handle clinical placement for the student in the institution which is obviously very important in the healthcare field. But I think really, there are two main takeaways, over time, partners have asked us to evaluate providing those same types of services for on-ground students as well since we’ve delivered such great results and such a high level of service, so I think that speaks to the type of support that we can provide from an infrastructure standpoint. And then I’ve heard this many times, and Jan is a great example, but many schools say to their on-ground team that you need to implement the best practices that Wiley has implemented for our on-ground students to make sure that they are receiving the type of service, or the same type of service that Wiley is providing so that we can differentiate ourselves from the market. So, it’s all about being that one-stop-shop, it’s all about being available to our students, and it’s all about responding in a timely fashion, and it goes back to my point in partnership, it’s all about communication.

Saba Chafiki:

Yeah. Jan, how do you think these partnerships can help enhance the quality of the educational experience for the students?

Jan Miller:

Absolutely. What I would like to use is the word, it’s very personalized. So when students from number one starting to fill out that application, prior to our partnership with Wiley we had a very cumbersome, broken process for completing an online application. For online students, it needs to be quick, easy to do, so that they can mark that complete button. So, it’s very personalized, the students complete the application, immediately they’re assigned an advisor, a financial planner who will also help them, you know don’t borrow all you can, only get the money you need, helping the students make wise choices. Prior to Wiley, each of my online advisors probably had 400 or 500 students that they were trying to advise, you can’t be very personalized with trying to advise that many students. With Wiley, they’re dedicated. We have a dedicated group of advisors that only belong to UWA, so when those advisors get to visit campus, they go to our book store, they turn their area into UWA. Again, going back to what I said, it’s not an us versus they, it’s a we, and they want to embrace the UWA spirit.

Jan Miller:

And so that personalized advising as Erik said, students want attention. One thing in the online world, instant is what word comes to mind. When a student emails or needs help, they want it right then and there, and so having that personalized advising, they’re going to get it so much better than the way we did it previously. And then the other thing I wanted to mention, we often get the best testimonials from students who will say, “I’ve been at four institutions throughout my educational career, I’ve never had the customer service experience like I have with UWA, and obviously with Wiley.” So, it’s just important that that process be seamless, very personalized and that’s what we get.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. This question is for both Erik and Jan, how do you think online learning will affect international collaboration in the future, and also, how can educators prepare?

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, I guess I can start since I’m not muted. Well, I think if you look at the issues that are going and affecting the world today, I think that online education has an extremely important role to play, and I think in this day and age where you’re dealing with pandemic, you’ve got issues of climate change, you have some social unrest, you have world hunger, you have some really big issues happening, and I think certainly when the flow of international students is a little bit, it’s been kind of stopped, at least in terms of on-campus programs, I think it’s more important than ever that we have a significant growth in online programs to facilitate greater understanding across the world to start dealing with these sort of things. I think that obviously in this period there’s been a, of course, a rapid increase in engagement on online programs, which I think will just continue and grow dramatically in the future.

Jan Miller:

We’re super excited about our opportunities to look at international partners. Right now we have a couple of programs that we’re looking at. One is at our integrated marketing communications masters program. We also have partners internationally looking at our MBA and some of our under-grad business degrees. Our under-grad business degrees we’re actually looking at something like a two plus two, where they can get a degree from UWA and their home institution, so we’re really doing some very creative opportunities that students wouldn’t get otherwise international students.

Jan Miller:

On the curriculum side of things, where again with the instructional designers and our content experts, we are looking to hire people over in their countries, the native countries to help assist, facilitate the classes, so in some partners, the students may come to campus, they can get help and resources, but it’s our classes, our people are instructing the classes, they just help facilitate. Also, we will be sending our instructors over to those areas so that the students get to see the live real-person face-to-face, so we’re just thinking outside the box and so many opportunities internationally that we never even experienced before.

Jay Hatcher:

Okay, so let me just add one thing and I think it’s important because right now we’re in very different times and I think that for the majority of these international partnerships people really value that cultural emerging piece, it’s how can I go be a part of a different culture, how can I get those CPT and OPT opportunities, so I think what is incumbent upon us as a group right now is how can we create that virtual immersion which obviously is not going to replace the cultural immersion that you would traditionally have but how can you create that same type of immersive experience or similar immersive experience where people can get the value of being part of the fabric of another community. And I think Jan, to your point, I think the opportunity we’re speaking about with the two plus two, with the University in Turkey I think is a prime example of how we’re bringing those two communities together.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you, Erik, Jan, and Jay. I’d like us to move now to the Q & A section. We’ve received a number of excellent questions from the audience pre-event and during this event. And I would like to address the first question from the audience to you, Jay. The question is what are some of the biggest barriers to leadership buy-in when it comes to starting up a partnership and how do we best navigate those conversations?

Jay Hatcher:

Yeah, so I always say that top areas on campus are number one, getting faculty buy-in and getting them to understand, and Dr. Miller stated very astutely earlier, getting them to understand that you can create the same quality, academic experience online that you can on ground, it just may look different, but the outcomes are going to be the same. And then, number two, the second issue that we always say is is this going to cannibalize the current population that we have on ground? And based upon the fact we’ve been doing this for 20 years and all the data that we see both directly from our partners, both the online college student survey that we’ve done for the past 10 years shows that it is a different population, and all of our data shows that cannibalization is not an issue and that the rising tide really does lift all ships, and that most of our partners at least see their on ground population stabilize or increase as a result of a lot of the marketing efforts that we engage in.

Jay Hatcher:

Actually, as I was driving today, I saw a billboard for the University of West Alabama, and it did not speak just to online, it spoke to the University of West Alabama programs, and frankly, Wiley is the company that is funding those billboards, so again, they’re going to see some incremental lift on campus, hopefully, as a result of those marketing efforts as well. So, faculty buy-in and the way to overcome that is communication, let them work with the instruction designers, let them understand they own the academic process, and then it’s tackling that issue of cannibalization, and frankly, the best way to tackle that is to let them speak with other partners that have worked with us as opposed to listening to the sales team.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. This question also comes from the audience and it’s more of Erik’s area of expertise, so I will ask you this question, Erik. What are the best digital strategies for lead generation in higher ed?

Erik Harrell:

Well, of course, there’s a range of digital strategies in higher ed. Of course, the expertise that we have is really in our area which is … I mean if most people, I mean just again, talking from our perspective, most people start looking for a university through a search. They will go to Google in US, they’ll go to Yandex in Russia, they’ll go to Baidu in China, and we’re in all those markets with local language capabilities there. They’ll start a search, and as then as I mentioned, we’ll end up being top of mind, so we’ll be at the top of the organic search results, and that’s how they will discover us. So, I think that certainly using websites like ourselves gives very, very broad reach in a one-stop-shop environment. Because I think that’s the challenge, and I know this from personal experience doing digital marketing is that it’s not easy to scale digital marketing across individual geographies yourself because you need to have local language, there may be some specific local requirements, expectations, et cetera, messaging in local markets and that’s the advantage of working with services like ourselves is that we can give in a one-stop-shop way was can partner with our university customers and reach tons of countries, lots of countries around the world. As I said, we’re translated in 46 languages, we can give incredible reach in a one-stop-shop way.

Erik Harrell:

And then when students come to our website they can do the research. And what we typically see is that they’ll either just fill out a lead form, which will then send that lead directly to a university partner. We also have weblinks in it, so they can weblink directly into a university website, or what we see, we also see a lot of students open up a new browser page and go directly to the university website, and then that could generate a lead there. That’s kind of our perspective, at least, with what is effective on digital marketing. There’s obviously others, but for universities that are looking to get tremendous reach in a one-stop-shop way our types of services can be very effective.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. Jan, I have a question for you from the audience. Considering that the number one issue was recruitment, what are the key drivers from Jan’s experience, was it only the content developed together with Wiley?

Erik Harrell:

Definitely, excuse me, what we were doing before Wiley was not working, so probably our lowest point was about 1,200, 1,300 students, and we were continually seeing our enrollment decrease, so we knew early on that we needed to find a partner who would be strategic and help us identify those broken processes, help us with marketing, help us attract more students, we needed that expertise. And so we quickly, I mean, quickly converted. We went from 1,200 now to 4,000 plus in less than 2 years, but that was because of the strategic market efforts of Wiley. They sent benchmarks, we had monthly goals, we worked hand in hand, so having that expertise to go after these students in a strategic way has been extremely successful.

Jay Hatcher:

Okay, but let me just add one other point there. I mean, yes, we do engage in significant digital marketing efforts on behalf of the University of West Alabama, but pre-COVID we also had a team called Enterprise Learning Solutions. It was not digital. It was a team that we were boots on the ground. They were actually out developing strategic relationships with community colleges, with K-12 school districts, healthcare systems, corporations, military, and the public sector with criminal justice organizations to help develop strategic relationships that would act as lead channels for UWA. Now, obviously, with COVID, they’re not in front of those folks anymore, but as Jan can attest, we’ve actually taken that strategy digital as well, and luckily, we haven’t seen a big dip yet, but I think that is a key where I think we have been successful with this partnership where it’s not digital marketing that we’ve engaged in to really set their brand apart.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. Another question that came in from the audience was about nurturing relationships. Do you have any suggestions on how to better nurture relationships with the current and potential student audiences within the context of online education? Erik, or Jan, or both, maybe? Two different perspectives.

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, well I think actually Jan and I are very well aligned. I addressed this I think earlier and I think we’re completely aligned in terms of best practices. And as Jan was saying, it’s not only are students expecting response in 24 hours, they’re expecting a response in minutes. So, I think it’s about, as Jan was saying, I mean and what I was saying, I think it’s now speed of response and also having dedicated people to work with students so they feel special. But I think I’d turn it over to Jan. What would you add to that Jan?

Jan Miller:

Yeah, it’s really funny, our advisors, our online advisors are located in Louisville, Kentucky. Students will talk to me and they’ll say, “Oh, Sally did this, and so and so did this.” I mean, oftentimes they think they’re just two doors down from me, so we kind of say, “Yeah, I’ll tell her when I see her.” You know they’ll call and give me a message to that student so that it’s very personalized and the students feel like they can reach out to us 24/7 and not within minutes, but a reasonable amount of time they’re going to get a response. And that has been part of our success, and honestly, that’s one of the surveys we do internally here at the university is we ask students, how did you find out about UWA? Word of mouth is amazing to me as one of the higher strategies, but because of that great experience that they’re having with that personalize advising, then they go and tell another student, “Oh, they’re not going to let you fail. They’re going to help.” There are metrics in place if students aren’t logging onto Blackboard, somebody’s going to reach out and check on them, and so we have all these bells and whistles and things we weren’t doing previously, excuse me, that we are doing now, and that just ensures that they know we care about them, and they know we’re looking, and watching, and we’re here to support them.

Jay Hatcher:

I think the last piece is communicating them by the means with which they want to communicate. Everybody enrolling used to have the perspective, well, you can communicate however you want but you have to be on the phone, so you really didn’t have choice, so I think now to have the ability to communicate through Facebook, Messenger, to have the ability to communicate on WhatsApp, to have the ability to communicate by text, and many other means, I think that’s absolutely key, especially when you’re dealing with the adult learner. I mean, let me ask the group a question, how many times do you pick up a phone call from a number you don’t recognize? The answer’s zero. So, textbook, Facebook, Messenger, et cetera, are lot better ways to communicate, especially with today’s generation.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. Jay, we received a question specifically for you. With all of the competition in the online world, what factors does Wiley look for in a college in order to partner?

Jay Hatcher:

That’s a great question. So I always say that it really starts with four legs and a stool. It starts with leadership, and frankly, Dr. Tucker, Dr. Edwards, and I would say this even if she wasn’t on there, Dr. Miller, having leaders onboard that again understand this is similar to a marriage, and understand it’s not going to be perfect all the time and are willing to communicate to get through potential issues that arise, I think that that’s number one that is key to any partnership. But then also making sure that you have buy-in across campus, and that’s what UWA did a fabulous job of was everybody from Dr. Tucker down to the faculty members we were going to be working with knew what the structure of the partnership was, they knew who was responsible for what, and they knew what the goals of the partnership were.

Jay Hatcher:

Number two, it’s programs. So we can all have lofty goals, but if we do not put the right products on the field, and that can be a degree program, that can be a certificate, it can be a short course, that the population is not looking for we are not going to be successful. But then also, are those programs, degrees, certificates structured and priced appropriately to meet the needs of the adult learner? Do they provide the flexibility that the online learner is going to want? And then the last thing is are those programs, certificates, courses, do they resonate with the brand, is the market going to recognize that the brand of the institution lines up with those programs, and if so, we’re going to be in a better position where we are set up for success. And a prime example would be with the University of West Alabama where they are very well-known in the education field, so we were able to hit the ground running when we signed the partnership based upon their brand.

Saba Chafiki:

All right. Back to you, Jan. We have a question for you. What are some ways of securing honest student and faculty feedback so we can better identify areas to improve as we continue to expand online offerings?

Jan Miller:

Another great question. I’ll start on the faculty side. So, as Jay just said, everyone knew the expectations, everybody was involved in that process. We have a very strong and active faculty senate here on our campus, and so we will often, President Tucker and [inaudible 00:46:29] Edwards will go to faculty senate at least once a year and talk about what’s working, what’s not working. You know, and I mean faculty senate if you’ve ever dealt with them, they’re brutal, let me just say, they’re brutal. They will be completely honest, so we’re asking for that feedback. If things aren’t going right they’re going to speak up. So that’s one way.

Jan Miller:

We also do surveys to our faculty to get input. I know Wiley does the same. We also do the same on the student side of things, so when a student completes a course, after the course is finished and after their grade is posted, they get to do a survey based on their experience. And so, Wiley does that, we share those results, we’re looking for trends and patterns. If we see a certain course a lot of students are not being successful, as the dean two things go off in my mind, A, do we need to look at course design, or are there things that are confusing? B, is it the instructor? I mean, let’s just be honest. So, we look at things and we look at trends over time and so with the feedback we get back from students, it makes me, and it makes our leadership team look deeper at issues and problems so that we can identify those and make changes, but it’s all based on feedback from students and feedback from faculty.

Saba Chafiki:

Right. The next question I would like to have your input, the three of you, actually, on this question. What are the drivers that are making students jump into online rather than on-campus?

Jay Hatcher:

I can go ahead and jump in first. So, I think in today’s time, I think it obviously is a different question than it was six, nine, 12 months ago, but I think that the number one thing that we always hear is flexibility. And so, the majority to the folks who are going into these online programs are working, and so obviously if they are working and they also have a family, this provides them the flexibility that they need in order to be successful. Also, I think an additional factor is time to completion because for the majority of these folks, the reason that they’re entering into these programs is so that they can improve their employment situation, they can put themselves in a better position to support themselves, their family, and advance professionally, so if you can get your degree, certificate, course, whatever the case may be, in a more timely fashion, then you’re going to be able to achieve your goals more quickly, so I think flexibility and time to completion are absolutely key.

Jan Miller:

I agree, Jay. The number one thing that students always ask when we start talking to them about programs is how fast can I finish, how much does it cost, will this lead to a promotion for me. And again we have a lot of educators in our programs, so in Alabama, the state of Alabama, when students get an advanced degree, typically, they do get a pay advance as well, and so we have to be very knowledgeable of those things, and obviously, we have students outside of Alabama, we can talk to them about what this will mean to your career, what it will mean to you long-term. But yeah, how quickly can I finish is probably the number one answer.

Jan Miller:

We also see, interestingly a lot of families, let’s just say a husband, wife scenario where the husband will say, “Okay, I’m going to get my degree, and then now the wife is going to get her degree.” And so they take turns with families trying to manage family life, but they’ll come up with a plan where each spouse can get an advanced degree which I think is pretty interesting because long-term, it’s going to mean more income for their family.

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, I would just add, I would, of course, echo comments from Jan and Jay. I guess, the thing I would add, which is also, of course, driving more people to look at online programs is of course has been our proliferation, a big growth in access. There are many more programs that are going online now. So, I think there’s just more opportunity for students to find courses, academic courses, online degrees, et cetera, so the supply is also leading to a demand. And I also think that, of course, in this world where this is moving more to the forefront, the online part is moving more to the forefront. I think in probably 10 years, or whatever, we won’t be talking about online versus on-campus, it’ll just be higher education. And I think you’re seeing a start. I think that’s where COVID-19 is a catalyst. As we talked about earlier, it’s catalyzing a lot of universities to launch programs online because of course is a revenue opportunity for them. You don’t have the constraint of the on-campus infrastructure.

Saba Chafiki:

We have a follow-up question on something you mentioned earlier, Erik. Apart from social media, what other alternatives can you suggest to attract more students to enroll in online and pre-registered courses?

Erik Harrell:

Yeah, I mean this is a topic that I would open up to Jan and Jay to talk about. Because, of course, I mean we know that universities use other means, they’re using Facebook, they’re using Google, they’re using other ways to … They’re using social media with Facebook included, maybe even LinkedIn as well to recruit students, so there’s a range of digital tools in the toolbox to help universities recruit students. And, of course, I’ve talked quite a bit about what we can do at Keystone to help universities recruit students, but I’d hand it over to Jan and Jay to talk through it.

Jan Miller:

Yeah, I can definitely chime in here. One of the things we have here at the University of West Alabama, we have what we call connect partnerships. So, we have like Teacher Connect, Business Connect, Military Connect, and so I’ll just use Teacher Connect for an example. So, we partner with school districts and we have a contact person at each school district who would be like the person that we send information to, that person then sends the information out to the teachers and to the staff within the districts, but through that teacher connect partnership, we will say, we’ll help write grants for your district if you have a need there, we will do professional development if you need that, and so through that partnership, we start talking about what are their needs and what can we do to support their needs. Of course, our needs are to get more students, and so we have that one point of contact so when we need to send out something important, or whatever, by a click of a button, now we have someone sending out emails, or putting posters up, or whatever it may be. And so we found those connect scholarships, it leads to a scholarship for those people in those jobs, whether it’s in a business, military, or school, those candidates get a scholarship, and, of course, that too becomes word of mouth, another way to market the programs.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. I’m being told we’re receiving a question multiple times, so I want to address it before we run out of time. It’s for you Jan. There have been a lot of questions about online assessment, Jan do you have any insights about your experiences with online assessment? Any suggestions for other educators on how to handle online assessment? What can an institution do to ensure a standard of teaching quality and learning efficacy when taking part in online programs?

Jan Miller:

Okay. On the assessment side of things, I’m assuming they’re talking assessment within courses. I mean there are assessments, like national tests which within the education world would be like a Praxis, which is like the state licensure test. But what we have done through course design, we have carefully mapped our curriculum, so within each program there are standards, there are objectives that are linked back to assessments, and so we have carefully aligned those standards or objectives to various courses within a program, so once you know what those standards are, then you can start backwards planning, what will the assessment look like, at the end of the class, what do we want students to be sure that we know that they understand, how will we assess that? So, we always do a process that we call backwards planning. You kind of begin with the end in mind, and then go backwards.

Jan Miller:

Our platform system has a very strong assessment piece, so whether it’s a classroom assignment that could be used as assessment or a true assessment, we link those standards to that assignment or to that test, so at the end of the course, we can run proficiency reports to find out did our students indeed master the concepts, the proficiency levels, you know, that sort of thing. And then two, to speak to the national test, we prepare educators to go out into the field, and so they have to pass that state licensure Praxis exams. Whenever we do our curriculum mapping, we also crosswalk that with the national test. So, we make sure that when students get ready to take those assessments that they’re prepared and ready. We already know beyond a shadow of a doubt, within a few points, that when Saba takes this test she’s going to score this. But it’s all with design, with your curriculum design and your instructional design, it’s a process.

Saba Chafiki:

Thank you. I think we have time for one last question, and this one goes to Jay. Will the rise in online education continue after COVID-19 is over?

Jay Hatcher:

In my opinion, and obviously, selfishly, I sure hope that it does. But I think what we are going to continue to see as a market, is I think that the blur of the line between online and on-ground is going to be greater than before. I think you’re seeing a lot of traditional students that are 18 to 22 years of age that actually are not taking a gap year this year, and while they’re not getting the social aspect of being on campus, they are finding that the quality of the academic experience they’re receiving online is just as good of what they would be seeing online, so I think yes, there’s going to be an increase in online education, but I think we’re going to continue to blur the lines between online and on-ground, and I think you’re probably see a lot more flexibility for these students to go back and forth between modalities, and I’m hoping that 10 years from now, hopefully sooner, there’s not going to be an on-ground student, there’s not going to be an online student, it’s not going to be a hybrid student, it is just going to be a university of West Alabama student that we are going to provide a high quality, academic experience to.

Saba Chafiki:

I think that’s a great note to conclude on as we now come to the end of this event. Firstly, I want to thank the audience for all your questions and the engagement we’ve had during the event. A big thank you to our panelists for this insightful conversation. I would also like to thank the team at Wiley Education Services for producing this webinar together with the Keystone team. We will be sending out an email in the next few days sharing a copy of the video recording, as well as the additional resources. In the meantime, please check the Keystone website and Wiley’s library of research using the links you see on your screen. Thank you for attending and have a great day.

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