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From Free to Degree: How MOOCs Open the Door for Future Online Students


From Free to Degree: How MOOCs Open the Door for Future Online Students
Massive Open Online Courses can be a highly successful mechanism to bring students into credit-bearing offerings, but institutions must be strategic about their programming and marketing.

When Massive Open Online Courses burst onto the scene in 2012, there was a great deal of excitement around the capacity for these offerings to transform the higher education space. While they have been successful in creating access to higher education for underserved populations, many administrators saw an opportunity to both deliver high-quality programming to students they may never have reached and to encourage these students to also enroll in online credit-bearing programs offered by the institution. While some institutions have not seen the return they were hoping for from these courses, others, like Berklee Online—the continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, which offers a range of for-credit and non-credit online music education options—have enjoyed great success. In this interview, Michael Moyes and Pat Raymond share some of the secrets behind the Berklee Online’s success in the MOOC environment.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the most significant challenges in matriculating students from MOOCs into for-credit courses and programs?

Michael Moyes (MM): There are a lot of students from very diverse backgrounds participating in our MOOCs. You get students who are not only from the U.S., but also from India, Australia, and all over the world, many of whom have different amounts of buying power. Being able to educate such a large group of people about the benefits of a more finely tuned post-secondary experience is a challenge. What we offer at the next level through Berklee Online is very direct study in specific areas with only 20 students or less per class and a professor that’s actually going to be interacting with you on a personal level several times a week. It’s less of a challenge for us and more of an opportunity.

Pat Raymond (PR): We have quite a few students in MOOCs and we use this platform to send them additional content offers. For example, we’ll send educational content like videos outside of the MOOC that students can access on our site. Once we have them registered in this additional content—if they opt into our emails—we can market to them and let them know about our paid, more robust offerings available via Berklee Online.

Evo: How have you designed your strategy to maximize conversion?

PR: Students in MOOCs, for the most part, come in for quick lesson content. The first part of bringing them to Berklee from there is more free content. We maximize that with videos, PDFs, whitepapers, free sample courses, and additional educational content. We use a variety of lead scoring techniques to determine how likely these students might be to enroll, how active they are on our site, and how engaged they are with our content. There’s a variety of ways that students demonstrate interest. Someone who explores our course catalog might be more likely to enroll than someone who is just watching videos. Students can also request contact from our academic advisors, who would then send them an email or give them a call to talk to them about what Berklee offers.

MM: Every single lead that says they want contact from an advisor is assigned a dedicated advisor. The advisors are specifically trained to know our curriculum. Many of them are Berklee graduates themselves and have taken online classes so they are the best people to talk about the online school. They’re really the best resource that our potential students have and our MOOC students have responded very well to that relationship.

Lead scoring helps our advisors identify the prospective students who are most interested in different areas. This prevents us from blindly calling students who may not really be inclined to pursue further studies with us. Instead, our advisors can spend their time calling or emailing students about specific interests. The advisors are also using different tools within our system, such as Salesforce, to prioritize these students manually.

Evo: Approximately how many students have matriculated into degree or certificate programs from MOOCs?

MM: We’ve matriculated enough students to definitely make it worth our while. In several cases, the revenue we’ve generated from students who have come from MOOCs to our paid offerings has more than paid for the cost of developing the MOOC itself. Financially, it’s been a major gain for us.

Evo: What kinds of systems do you have in place to ensure that you’re spending marketing resources on students who are likely to be receptive to them?

PR: We use a marketing automation software called Marketo which tracks all behavior that prospective students, current students, or leads make via our emails or website. Our lead scoring system is not based on demographic; it’s based solely on what students are doing and when. We have developed a multi-faceted system based on which pages they’re visiting, how often, if they request information, if they’re attending webinars, how they’re interacting with different content, how often they’re clicking emails, and things like that. We’re constantly reviewing our processes and making sure that we’re reaching the right students at the right time.

We have also seen just by volume that the MOOCs are working. It’s a great awareness vehicle for the over one million students we’ve had in our MOOCs. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of new leads come in to our system. Compared to some of our other initiatives, we’ve seen the best return on investment on MOOCs.

MM: With the lead scoring and systems we’re using, we’re able to collect a ton of data on these prospects. We have a data trail of what they were doing, what class they ended up taking, and what they started taking via Coursera or edX. We have assumptions with this lead scoring. For example, if someone clicks on the catalog, we think they’re engaged and likely to enroll. We can look after the fact to see what actually happened. We can then shape our advertisements around what these students are most interested in. The advisors can pay more attention to these specific interests. We’re constantly collecting the data and it’s an ever-evolving process to tweak it and tighten up the lead score.

Evo: What are the biggest challenges to retention for students who make the jump from the MOOC format to the for-credit, online format?

MM: It’s very common for students enrolled in MOOCs to start a class but not finish. For students who start our paid offerings, they are held much more accountable. It’s still asynchronous learning where they can work at their own pace, but they’re on the hook for various assignments that are due at the end of each week. They’re part of a small group of students; they’re interacting with professors regularly. There’s more accountability for the student and it’s a much more structured, intense environment. That increases retention.

When a student is in a MOOC, they don’t have much interaction with professors and advisors. Students enrolled in actual Berklee Online courses have advisors. The advisors are in touch with their students throughout the term making sure they’re not having any technical problems and submitting assignments on time. It’s our goal to make sure that these students succeed in these classes. Our students are not your typical college students who are right out of high school. A lot of them are working full time. They have families and all kinds of responsibilities that make studying at the college level challenging. Our advisors are right there to jump in and coach them throughout their studies.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the value of the strategic approach you’ve taken to supporting the matriculation of students and how successful the MOOC experiment may have been without the systems that you have in place?

MM: The MOOC platform has undoubtedly been a success in helping us acquire new students and retain them. We were able to capitalize on the opportunity to get our return on investment and really bring in some highly qualified students. We’ve learned that MOOC students may have never tried Berklee or any other school without having that low barrier to entry. Once they’re immersed in a class, they get totally fired up and the rest takes care of itself. They become a walking advertisement for Berklee. It’s been a worthwhile endeavor and something we’re investing pretty heavily in for the future.

PR: The MOOCs allow us to reach millions of learners that we wouldn’t otherwise—people who have maybe never heard of Berklee or would never be able to access Berklee through the traditional channels. Without our system that we have in place, we’d still be getting thousands of people coming to our site, thousands of people interested in Berklee that wouldn’t have been otherwise, but it would be hard to gauge the quality without our systems in place. We’re really maximizing this great quantity of people that are coming to us that we wouldn’t reach otherwise.

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