Today, it is fast becoming mandatory for universities to have online/distance learning programs. Global educational reforms are gaining strength and there is no better way to meet the needs of modern education than through online learning. However, the world of distance learning is fast becoming saturated.
You have to find ways to attract students to your distance learning program and once you have made them a part of your online program, you need to retain them. You will have to make some efforts to do that. Most importantly, you will have to learn the tricks of the trade in an online world. Here are the best ways you can market your distance/online learning offerings.
Optimize Your Website
Just a few years ago, the online part of the program rested in one corner of university websites. This is not practical and effective anymore. You can take the example of the University of Florida. They have a main website for the university but a dedicated website for continuing education and distance learning. This distance learning website is just as detailed as the official university website.
In a similar way, Harvard has dedicated an entire website for online learning. On this website, the university talks about distance learning, provides information about available courses and shares other useful information about online programs and the university as a whole.
Build an App Fast
Once you have your app up and running, you have to make e-learning or distance learning a separate section for the students. There should be no overlap between the main application and its e-learning section. From the application, students should be able to access general university related information, watch official videos, view calendar of events, make payments on the go, receive newsletters, access the portal to upload and receive their assignments etc. That takes us to…
Your e-learning website needs to be mobile friendly. You want your website to be as much convenience to distant learners as possible. All the big universities in the US have optimized not only their main but distance learning websites for mobile users.
Improve Your E-learning Website for Mobile
Why do you need to optimize the website when you already have an app? First and foremost, you need to be ready for any unusual circumstances. Applications can start acting up more often than not. Furthermore, you will have students using your app from all corners of the world for distance learning. They use different types of devices and a number of operating system.
Compatibility issues with those operating systems and devices are common in applications. This is why you must have a mobile friendly website ready for your students. Large font and images, easy-to-tap options, quick links, back-to-top and search options etc. are great examples of an ideal mobile optimized website.
Create Social Media Accounts For Online Learning
Just like your website, you need to have social media presence as well. There are institutes that provide distance learning but they have not created dedicated pages for their distant learners. They are rather relying on the first pages they had created on social networking platforms for interaction with students. However, this is the sign of an incomplete marketing strategy.
There are some great examples of universities with effective and impressive social media pages for their distant learners. On these pages they share information about the ongoing events, messages from chancellors and other authorities, and tips that are specifically directed towards distant learners.
Western Carolina University, Stanford University, University of Florida, Colorado State University etc. are all great examples of social networking pages for online learners. To see an example of one of these pages, you can click here.
Make Your Information Interesting
It is totally up to you to treat your website specific to your offerings or go a step further and give students what they need. If you have course information available on your website, other online learning websites have the same information too.
You need to find ways to make information appealing to your students. Rather than just providing information about the courses, tell students the scope and benefits of acquiring certain courses. For example, Harvard on its website has a separate “highest paid” category of courses that you can see here. This gets students’ attention immediately as they are interested in knowing about certifications and degrees that have high remunerations.
Think About Lead Capture
When you have a website for distance learning, you don’t want to keep it limited to enrolled students only. You can use this platform to create leads and target prospects who could be your students in future.
Create helpful information, such as guides or checklists that will show intent and interest. Remember, you’re competing against several other programs that are all as easily accessible as yours. This way, they will receive information about any new announcements, additions to courses and changes to policies from you in their emails.
This creates a connection even when the students have not signed up for your online program. Almost all the distance learning websites should offer this option. Colorado State University has one of the most detailed Contact Us pages. They also have an online form for students to leave their messages. In addition to that, they provide a staff directory with updated phone numbers of all the staff members.
Create Useful Content
A blog for your institute can be just as important as the website. Most universities with distance learning programs have their blogs too. When you want to share useful tips, tutorials and guides with your students, your blog has to be the first platform where you share all that information. While you can share this information on social media as well, there has to be a platform that’s entirely yours and serves as an informational repository for your students. This is the place where you can involve your students with you as well. Many universities have student-run blogs, but there are distance learning websites with student-run blogs running parallel to them.
Once again, Colorado State University has a very detailed blog that should serve as an example for you if you are looking to create a blog for your institute. Another university blog that should help you create your own belongs to University of Colorado Denver.
Find Ways to Instantly Connect
How can you answer queries right away?. Potential students are restless to know the answers to their questions. This is why emails are not as appealing to them as some other instant method of contacting you. Since you don’t want your lines busy all the time, it is best to introduce methods for instantly connecting on your website. Many online websites are using online chat feature.
As soon as a student lands on a website, they are greeted by a live person through a chat window. You can use this chat feature to answer general inquiries and whatnot. The best use of the online chat feature is to collect leads. Ask students to submit their questions to you and leave their contact details for you to contact them.
Students are mostly comfortable giving their contact details on chat because they know someone is willing to help them. Here’s an example of having chatting feature on your website. You can see the live chat option on the top right hand side of the website.
Build a Detailed FAQs Page
FAQs page is a great addition to any university or educational institute’s website. Your website, live chat and emails will help you identify the most common questions that your students usually have. Once you know most of those questions, you can compile answers and put them on your website on a separate page called the FAQs (frequently asked question). Keep in mind your FAQs section will have to be very detailed and big being an educational website.
Talk Proudly about Accreditation
Students are still wary about online degrees and what the value of that means. To allay some of those fears, discuss accreditation and how students can improve their careers with an online distance program from your university. Most universities talk about accreditation on their websites. You should do the same on your distance learning website. Information about accreditation easily wins the trust of students in an institute’s quality of education.
It is best if you dedicate a page for accreditation and in addition to stating your accreditation authorities you also highlight the importance of accreditation. Take a look at this accreditation page for example, or this one.
Offer A Few Free Courses
A free course for students from your institute is a great favor for them. Even if they don’t enroll to be a part of the course, they will have a very respectable image of your institute when they see you offering something for free. It does not matter how basic a course is, you still have to dedicate a great number of resources to offer a course and complete it.
Here is a page from Harvard University’s online learning platform. As you look into these courses, you will realize that they are pretty basic, but at the same time very useful courses. Harvard has a bunch of free courses available for its students. In a similar way, Colorado State University offers some free courses as a great online marketing tactic to get students’ attention and loyalty.
Reinforce with Social Proof
One of the most powerful aspects of marketing anything is social proof. This shows that your program or course has worked for others. Find successful alumni or others who have had a great experience with your programs and work with them on a testimonial or case study. This shows real value to any potential students considering your university or college.
Which of these marketing strategies are you already doing for your online distance learning? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked out as well? Let us know in the comments!