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Why Your Marketing Team Needs to Be a Part of the Online Program Development Process

  New programs are not paying off the way they should, concludes a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies. As reported on HigherEdDive, Burning Glass’s analysis found “that of programs that first graduated students in the 2012–13 and 2013–2014 school years, about 30% didn't have a single graduate in 2018. Burning Glass notes those programs had relatively few graduates in that roughly five-year period.” Wisewire and Circa Interactive are excited to partner on this series of recommendations so that universities evaluating new programs avoid a similar outcome.  As universities quickly transition to online learning in response to changing consumer preferences and the COVID-19 pandemic, undergraduate and graduate programs are launching at an unprecedented pace. Online education will be the financial lifeblood of institutions moving forward, but that doesn’t come without risk and the reality that not every degree program is suitable for the time, investment, and resources required to be successful online.  While many factors and considerations come into play when universities are deciding which programs to take online, more often than not, we see one particular team not included in the decision-making process: marketing. As you’ll see below, this decision can greatly impact a degree program’s viability in the online market, creating a scenario where additional time, resources, and budget are essential to giving a program a chance to survive, let alone thrive. What is (marketing) program feasibility? When you say program feasibility, many people in higher education immediately think of EMSI, BLS, and employment data, for example. These data sets are an important component of understanding where market demand lies, but they don’t paint a complete picture. Launching an online program that you know is in high demand is one thing, but overcoming the challenges associated with successfully — and economically — engaging with target audiences and differentiating value propositions among dozens of competitors is another. In addition to leveraging job and market data, we recommend including the following as part of the program feasibility process:
  • Competitive analysis (paid and organic)
  • Identifying UVPs and differentiators
  • Audience intelligence
  • Traffic and lead forecasting 
Below, we’ll take a step back to understand the reasons that many online programs fail and shed more light on the program feasibility process. Where do we typically see universities go wrong? The online program development process is no easy task for universities, especially over the last eight months as they navigate COVID-19. While higher education institutions are noble in their decision-making around which programs to launch online — they are almost always hyper-focused on the student and what will create the most opportunity and value after they graduate — a number of influences and politics are at play, often hindering their success and resulting in programs that are far too competitive or expensive to compete. Common themes include:
    • Faculty dictating which programs to launch. A university faculty is immensely valuable, and our team at Circa work closely with over 200 faculty members across the country to help them translate their research and expertise for a broader audience. That said, a faculty should not operate on an island when determining which online programs to develop. Its industry expertise doesn’t normally translate into marketing and demand knowledge.
    • Operating under the assumption that “if we build it, they will come.” This theory no longer applies, even for top brands.
    • Underestimating the budget and time needed to be successful. This is the most common challenge we’re tasked with solving and is usually a result of the marketing team being brought into the fold too late in the process. We often see budgets as low as 50% of what is required in order to reach enrollment goals. 
  • Not accounting for market saturation and failing to establish clear UVPs when going to market.
  • Failing to bring learning design, marketing, enrollment, and retention teams together. This oversight can result in an inconsistent experience from the first touch through graduation, in addition to the lack of a clear and engaging story throughout the enrollment process.
  How do you determine which degree programs to take online? Once you’ve developed an initial set of programs (usually five to 10), informed by EMSI and other tools to understand job demand, the marketing team can get to work. The questions below should help your team determine the top three programs that have ample market demand, aren’t too saturated, and fit within budget requirements:
  • Who are the competitors for a specific degree program (e.g., Master of Science in Accounting) locally, regionally, and nationally?
    • How do they differentiate themselves?
      • Do they have unique specializations?
      • Are their faculty members well-known or thought leaders in a specific industry?
      • Do they effectively communicate their UVPs through their marketing efforts?
    • How strong are their brands?
  • Who are your target audiences, and how does your program fit in their journey?
    • Where are they located?
    • Where do they work?
    • What are they interested in or passionate about?
    • Where are they most active online?
  • What volume of traffic and inquiries, by channel, will you need to generate in order to exceed enrollment goals? How much is actually possible through each channel and platform?
    • Does the program naturally generate traffic and inquiries?
    • Do we know conversion rates throughout the funnel (e.g., click to lead, lead to app, and app to start)? 
    • Using known or assumed conversion rates, what will it cost to generate the traffic and inquiries needed?
    • How much will it cost to compete? Does this fit within your budget?
      • If not, is there a specialization area that you can include that will help differentiate the program and allow you to target a smaller, less competitive audience?
While many other questions can guide your feasibility analysis, we’ve found these three to be the most impactful and insightful when seeking to uncover opportunities and avoid common pitfalls. Through simply including your marketing team during the early stages of development, you can ensure that you’re setting yourself, your team, and your institution up for success as you expand online.   About Circa Circa Interactive is passionate about establishing a new way of thinking in enrollment marketing. By amplifying a university's unique story, executing data-driven, multi-channel engagement campaigns, leveraging innovative technology, and working with faculty to inspire content creation, we connect colleges and universities with the students who will help change our world and push forward big ideas.

An Introduction to the Principles of Project-Based Learning

“But why do I need to learn about biology? When will I ever need to use algebra? Who cares about what happened in Rome 2000 years ago?”  If you’ve ever heard these questions, you know how meaningful it is for students to understand why it is important to learn certain subjects, and how they can apply this knowledge in their daily lives. Project-based learning is an instructional method that clarifies this relationship between knowledge and application.  What is Project-Based Learning?  Simply put, project-based learning is a teaching method in which students apply knowledge to solve an authentic problem or challenge. Unlike summative projects, which typically occur after students have completed a series of lessons on a topic, in project-based learning, the project is the lesson. Project durations may be short (a few days), or they may cover an entire semester.  According to the Buck Institute for Education, the “Gold Standard” for PBL must include the following project design elements:   
  • A challenging problem or question
  PBL begins by asking a driving question. The question should be meaningful to students and to the real world, and should be appropriate for their age and experience. Effective driving questions are focused and should communicate the purpose of the project. They should also answer the question “Why am I learning this?”  
  • Sustained inquiry
  A key consideration when developing a driving question is the capacity for sustained inquiry. The project and question need to be rigorous enough to support investigation and application, while stimulating student interest. Questions with simple answers are not well-suited for PBL.  
  • Authenticity
  Authentic projects are designed to address a real and relevant need, such as providing clean water to a community or planting a pollinator garden. Authentic projects may also involve realistic scenarios, such as mock trials, or the use of real tools such as scale models.  
  • Student voice & choice
  Open-ended questions give students the opportunity to make choices about which direction they want to take with the project, and allow for a variety of outcomes.   
  • Reflection
  Throughout project-based learning, provide opportunities for students to self-reflect on their progress. This includes documenting any challenges and new questions that arise.   
  • Critique & revision
  Allow opportunities for peer review. By reading their classmates’ work, students can re-evaluate and revise their own approach to the project.    
  • Public product
  Publishing the finished product to a forum that goes beyond the classroom affirms that the work has value in the real world.  As with any instruction, project-based learning should address standards and objectives that are appropriate for your classroom. PBL is well-suited for in-person and online learning. Support student success by breaking the project into manageable segments, and offer frequent checkpoints throughout the process of research, collaboration, and publication. Use forms or self-assessments to document project work that students do offline.  So, when a high school student asks why biology is important, consider PBL that focuses on how to apply biology to today’s medical or environmental issues. When a middle school student feels frustrated about why she has to learn algebra, consider PBL that applies algebra to a fundraiser or meal planning. When an elementary student struggles to make the connection between ancient history and today, consider PBL that examines the influence of an ancient society on our modern world.   Students engage in deeper learning experiences when they work towards the process of solving a challenge. This creative discovery process helps students learn to ask important questions, while taking some of the mystery out of why learning matters.     Resources: “What is PBL?” PBLWorks, Buck Institute for Education. www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl Brengard, Aaron. “Four Ways to Think about Authenticity - Through the Lens of Gold Standard PBL Videos.” PBLWorks, Buck Institute for Education. 22 Aug 2018. www.pblworks.org/blog/four-ways-think-about-authenticity-through-lens-gold-standard-pbl-videos Miller, Andrew. “How to Write Effective Driving Questions for Project-Based Learning.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation. 20 Aug. 2015. www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-how-to-write-driving-questions-andrew-miller Orlando, John. “Understanding Project-Based Learning in the Online Classroom.” Faculty Focus, Higher Ed Teaching & Learning, 5 Feb. 2016. www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/understanding-project-based-learning-in-the-online-classroom/  Spencer, John. “How to Make PBL a Reality in a Distance Learning Environment.” 14 April 2020. www.spencerauthor.com/pbl-distance/

Open Educational Resources

  There are many resources available online for educators to use in the classroom or for distance learning. These resources cover a wide variety of subject areas and grade levels, and include many different resource types, including lessons, assessments, online textbooks, and various types of multimedia educational resources. In this entry, we will look at a few of the places where educators can find online resources that can help them provide high quality educational content. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/ Teachers Pay Teachers offers free and paid educational resources created by educators. On the Teachers Pay Teachers marketplace, you can find lessons, worksheets, assessments, projects, and other resource types for a variety of subject areas and levels.  https://www.commonlit.org/ CommonLit is a nonprofit education technology organization that offers a variety of free reading passages for grades 3-12, along with teacher guides and assessments to help educators implement these passages in lessons. https://www.oercommons.org/ OER Commons provides free teaching and learning materials for various educational areas and at various levels. These resources include lessons, assessments, courses, textbooks, and various other resource types covering a variety of educational standards. https://openupresources.org/ Open Up Resources is a nonprofit organization that provides free online math and ELA curricula. Math curricula include a G6-8 curriculum and a high school curriculum. ELA curricula include a K-8 language arts curriculum and a K-5 reading and writing curriculum. Curricula include teacher guides, student workbooks, and supporting materials. https://greatminds.org/ Great Minds provides online math, ELA, science, and history curricula spanning GK-12. These curricula include a variety of print and digital resources including instruction, assessments, and other resources. https://www.unbounded.org/ UnboundEd provides free online ELA and math curricula. The ELA curriculum spans Pre-K through G12. The math curriculum spans Pre-K through high school math. The curricula include instruction, assessments, and other resources, such as scaffolding tips. https://www.matchfishtank.org/ Match Fishtank provides free online ELA, math, science, and social studies curricula. The ELA curriculum spans K-12. The math curriculum covers G3 through high school math. The science and social studies curriculum covers G1-5. These curricula include informational texts, project-based learning, and discussion. https://www.ck12.org/teacher/ CK-12 provides free online textbooks, called “flexbooks,” in a number of subject areas, including math, ELA, science, and social studies, at a variety of levels. Flexbooks include instruction and practice that students can work through, as well as teacher-facing versions that can be used to assign work and track student progress. https://www.wisewire.com/ Wisewire is a learning design company that offers access to a wide variety of educational resources, including lessons, activities, online textbooks, assessments, as well as “playlists” that integrate various educational and multimedia resources. On Wisewire’s marketplace, you can find ELA/reading, mathematics, science, and social studies resources for K-12 and higher education.  Wisewire’s playlists align to Common Core State Standards. In addition to including a variety of helpful educational resources, they can also be used as a resource for students who need remediation in a particular skill. For example, if a grade 7 student is having trouble with CCSS Reading: Literature standard .7, the student might benefit from this Grade 6 Playlist: Compare & Contras: Read & Listen, aligned to CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.7: https://www.wisewire.com/item/grade-6-playlist-compare-contrast-read-listen/ This playlist includes instruction and multimedia resources to help guide students in comparing and contrasting reading literature with listening to or viewing an audio or visual version. It also includes teaching notes and tools for instructors, as well as an assessment. Educators can also create their own assessment items on Wisewire’s marketplace: https://www.wisewire.com/create/ Here, you can use Wisewire’s item templates to create your own assessment items, including tech-enhanced items, which you can deploy directly to students. Pending review, you can also make items you create available to other educators, either for free or for sale.