Visit Modern Campus

Learning from Past Trends and Preparing for Future Growth

The EvoLLLution | Learning from Past Trends and Preparing for Future Growth
The greatest lesson from the MOOC experiment is the importance of using freemium content as a lead-generating tool.

In 2012, everyone across higher education was talking about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). From deans to presidents, everyone I spoke with about online education, non-traditional students and their institution’s goals for bringing the former to the latter mentioned the acronym “MOOC” at some point. Over the past two years the hype around MOOCs has faded. Many institutions have stopped or slowed their MOOC initiatives and even the MOOC providers themselves (Udacity and Coursera, chief among them) are looking outside the higher education market for new opportunities.

However, a number of market-leading institutions have found a way to make MOOCs work—not only for the students, but also for the institution.

The Internet has revolutionized so many industries and now—partly due to rising cost of a college degree—that transformation is happening in higher ed. As a result, we are seeing a mindset shift away from the once-in-a-lifetime degree to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Secondly, students are behaving more like consumers, and asking to be treated as such. Both shifts are instrumental in making MOOCs a useful venture for institutions. But for many leaders, MOOCs seemed like a short-lived trend without clear benefits.

On the other end of the spectrum, some institutions saw that MOOCs offered a great opportunity in the form of lead generation. This business term, just starting to be applied in higher education, is an important means to succeeding in today’s highly competitive market. While it is simple in theory, colleges and universities have done a very poor job of actually making lead generation work in practice.

The idea is to give students a compelling reason to reach out to the school, and then to provide them with immediate value. In return, the students share their information and reveal their preferences, making it easier to “upsell” them with a course or program that generates revenue for the school.

The problem with the way many institutions approached MOOCs was that they did not maintain relationships with MOOC-taking students. A lack of administrative infrastructure or coordination meant that schools ended up outsourcing the relationship-building process to MOOC providers, rather than owning it themselves.

For many institutions, when a student registered for one of their MOOCs , the registration took place directly through the MOOC provider, and the institution held no record of the registration and had no direct touch point with the student. While administratively easy to operate, this process eliminated any opportunities for the college or university to communicate with and market courses to specific students. Failing to create this relationship—or worse yet, failing to nurture it—meant that institutions essentially gave lead generation to an outside company that may or may not be a competitor.

Although popular in business, the “freemium” model is only useful if executed properly. The concept is to give a product or service away, with the intention of nurturing the lead and later upselling. The caveat is that you must have a plan in place to turn these freemium customers into paying customers. Otherwise, you are spending money providing a service without any hope of recouping costs or generating revenue. Institutions that have been the most successful with their MOOCs have been able to leverage them by putting mechanisms in place to manage student relationships.

As enrollment of traditional students declines, non-traditional markets become even more important for the 6,900 accredited postsecondary institutions across the country. Successfully managing relationships with MOOC students offers schools a means of connecting with an engaged group of lifelong learners. In other words, these students are amongst the best candidates for other related programs that the school offers.

People often ask if MOOCs can lead to an increase in a college’s bottom line. Much like any other marketing or lead generation activity, they can, but only if managed properly. When colleges and universities give away appetizers, some students will want to stay for the full-priced entrée. However, whether that entrée will come from the institution, the MOOC provider, or another savvy education institution depends on who best capitalizes on the relationship in order to cater to those students’ needs.

Some look at MOOCs as a bygone trend; others have found that they offer real value by giving the school a means of engaging meaningfully with prospective students. Looking back, it’s clear that MOOCs present an opportunity. Streamlined business processes and well thought out student engagement practices allow colleges and universities to capitalize on this opportunity.


Author Perspective: