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Students as Customers: Time for Educators to Get On Board

Students as Customers: Time for Educators to Get On Board
Treating students as customers enhances the learning environment while ensuring students are better served.
The simple fact that a degree program is offered online does not mean it’s truly student-friendly or designed to effectively meet the needs of the busy working adult. Yet that doesn’t stop some institutions from positioning their programs that way.

More and more institutions, including non-profits, are spending millions of dollars to let huge numbers of potential students know they offer “flexible” and “tailored” programs built to fit their busy schedules. To get this message across, institutions are using sophisticated marketing platforms to deliver personalized messaging to attract new enrollment. Institutions leverage best-of-breed technologies to treat prospective students like customers to be acquired prior to their enrollment, so why aren’t more using equally sophisticated technology to deliver the education in truly “flexible” and “tailored” ways?

Most online learning management systems are still asynchronous and mostly one-way. Online course-based resources and media are often loosely aligned with the curriculum and are far from being interactive and personalized. While the sophistication of educational technology is slow to improve on a broad scale, more and more institutions are using marketing tools that can deliver behavior-based communications and adjust, in real time, to the anticipated needs of the prospective student. If we invest so much in motivating the student prior to enrollment, we should leverage that technology to drive the same level of engagement and motivation in the student learning experience.

Perhaps the lack of progress in incorporating these technologies stems from traditional instructors’ belief that automated communications couldn’t possibly match the value of faculty interaction. But it’s not about replacing faculty; it’s about enhancing the learning experience in alignment with faculty efforts.

Automating services and communication provides students with efficiency related to administrative and tedious tasks associated with their educational experience so they can focus on what educators agree is most important: learning. Further, faculty would be able to focus on the delivery of instruction where it is needed most, rather than leaving the students’ ability to receive and process course content to chance. Adaptive learning technologies, for example, are popping up in a variety of major educational systems as a way to adjust the learning experience to the needs of the individual student in real time, in a highly scalable way.

The online environment presents educators with a vastly enhanced insight into the behavior and needs of the students served. Whether we call it customer service or enhanced learning, it’s clearly what’s best for students and their education. Breaking down the silos that exist between marketing professionals and academics will open the opportunity for bidirectional communication and data utilization that can both inform the effectiveness of marketing and enhance the learning experience through to students’ program completion.

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