Published on 2013/08/05

Five Ways Institutions Can Capture More Adult Enrollments Using MOOCs

—Co-Written with Karen Vignare | Associate Provost of the Center for Innovation in Learning, University of Maryland University College—

Five Ways Institutions Can Capture More Adult Enrollments Using MOOCs
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can do more for an institution than show off its experimental nature. When properly utilized, MOOCs can help institutions to drive enrollments.

The introduction of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has made higher education rethink scale. Potential learners are no longer assigned to a classroom; they can be found anywhere. MOOCs attract a variety of students and broadcast learning farther than our traditional methods of course delivery. With this new mix of classroom expertise and experience, will you be able to convert participants from casual to engaged students? What is needed to enroll adults into programs when many free opportunities exist?

A primary role of the university is to lead and educate. With increased competition from for-profit educators and entrepreneurs, some of that megaphone power has been lost in the last decade. Now, traditional campuses are finding ways to offer open online courses and regain leadership and influence. Where does traditional adult education fit in this new model?

With MOOCs, your university voice can shine. Whether it’s supporting faculty passion to teach their subject discipline to a larger community, engaging stakeholders in a particular global or regional community or finding new purpose and direction for adult learners, your institution can suddenly meet the world on a larger stage. Can you design a MOOC that serves your community and your faculty? In what ways can a MOOC reshape your outreach? As you increase your voice through MOOCs, how will you best serve all stakeholders and retain enrollments? New pathways to learning need to be developed around MOOCS. We recommend five strategies to capture interest, test these questions and, perhaps, shape your enrollment of adult students.

1. Unbridled brand

IMOOCs offer an option for addressing multiple marketplaces at the same time. Adult learners are usually well educated and looking for current, work-related knowledge. If you are trying to attract a large group of adult learners, it can’t hurt to have a competitive edge. Surely, finding that edge can best happen through new collaborations within your institution. Who understands the workplace of today? Is someone researching current trends in a field? Which disciplines experience the most change from month to month or semester to semester? If we remain siloed and cross-purposed, it will become increasingly difficult to develop a course that attracts and retains students in the face of increased competition. MOOCs provide momentum to do course development differently, and better.

2. Public mission

For possibly the first time, MOOCs represent a massive extension of our public mission and outreach. This is a positive change, particularly for adults who have learned how to learn. By offering a MOOC that captures your one-of-a-kind assets, your institution’s unique voice in education can be shown without enormous marketing cost. Institutions can be recognized for excellence locally or regionally or for your leadership in a field through courses of varying size and length. Find the sweet spot that highlights your excellence and addresses your public mission. It can be a great leveler and draw for adult learners who value learning for its own sake and desire life-centered awareness.

3. New subjects of Inquiry

The development freedom offered in a MOOC is a boon to content experimentation. Through collaborative remix of content or the reuse of high profile media, we have a low-cost method of seeing if we have traction in a field of study, personal interest topic or add-on to degrees. The flexible MOOC also affords an unfamiliar speed with which we can address changes within a discipline getting us out front on fast-paced issues such as cancer, energy, global health and the environment. Such experimental subjects of inquiry provide adult learners with a self-directed path to supplement, broaden, renew or elevate knowledge.

4. Expanded faculty reach

Crowdsourcing has officially come to education, and it has arguably the greatest impact on teaching. For the first time, a single professor can reach more than 100,000 students at once, opening the academic door to multiple student-institution associations. Students in the same class are credit seeking, non-credit, entering for just a peek, staying for more than a year, working alongside the class or using the instruction while enrolled in a different institution or workplace training program. They are not equally prepared for a class, thereby challenging assumptions about grounding and experiential learning. Massive numbers and mixed purpose should foster the development of new tools and techniques to teach and reach students wherever they enter.

5. Open content is living content

Should a MOOC be open? What is “open”? In referring to the first “o” of MOOC in purely Open Educational Resource terms, there is much to be gained. As institutions and individuals, we tend to isolate our content, placing limits on knowledge and access that should no longer make sense in a truly networked world. There is tremendous possibility for enrollment changes and growth, particularly for adult learners whose desire for knowledge is heavily impacted by real-life challenges. Tweaks to technology and policies might create time-shifted enrollment, deferred registration and fluid re-entry to content once the “course” is completed. If achieved with quality, allowing time-strapped students multiple opportunities to complete could float all boats.

Sharon Smith and Karen Vignare will be discussing the importance of MOOCs in more detail this September at the annual NUTN Network conference in Albuquerque. To learn more about the NUTN Network conference, please click here

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Readers Comments

Tawna Regehr 2013/08/05 at 9:26 am

This makes an interesting case for how MOOCs can be leveraged to increase enrollments. This is the first time I’ve read a piece that actually offered some concrete ideas about the potential of this delivery platform. I’d like to know if these ideas have been implemented at any institutions and what their experience has been.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/08/06 at 2:48 pm

I think Smith is right on the mark about the branding potential offered by MOOCs. That’s why providers such as edX, a joint initiative of two (initially, but now, many more) elite institutions. This platform offers a unique low-cost opportunity for institutions to showcase their instructors and their content/programming, to attract a new audience. The more interesting question for me is what they do now that they’ve captured everyone’s attention.

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