Posted 09/11/16
New demographic of student

Executive Director Sales & Marketing Teresa Smith shares her insight into how OES is bringing education to non-traditional demographics of students.

Studying online and remaining engaged

Online Education Services (OES) recently celebrated five years in operation. Through delivering the courses of our first partner, Swinburne Online, we have already seen over 1,100 students’ graduate, testament to our commitment to student success. We know how to engage and support the non-traditional student who is attracted to education.

At the recruitment stage it is made clear that getting a degree means you have to put in the work and time. We don’t enrol students who aren’t ready to make that commitment at this stage in their lives. For us, student engagement is our primary concern, it is not a numbers game. It is about recruiting students who genuinely want to pursue a higher education or VET qualification.

New technology causing a dramatic new shift 

As digital technologies advance, we are seeing doors open up for new groups of students to access tertiary education. We are witnessing a real shift in the ‘traditional student’ these days and online education is offering access to students who otherwise wouldn’t be studying. Instead of people delaying or deciding against study due to the limitations of accessing a traditional campus, almost anyone can study immediately due to the flexibility of online education.

I witnessed a similar shift when working in the retail sector. Initially the sector was reticent to embrace online opportunities. Back then it was either bricks and mortar shops or online stores. The reality is it’s now a hybrid of bricks and mortar and online. And we can now see that happening in the education space.

Education at any stage of life

In the past, the ‘traditional student’ has been a school leaver. However, OES is trying to reach a broader group of people in various stages of life. Through the flexibility of online study, we are aiming to attract different demographics; those re-entering the workforce after a break, well-educated individuals who are keen to build on their skillset, those who can’t or don’t want to leave their home country town to move to the city as well as digitally-native school leavers.

Building awareness, building trust

In order to reach these new groups, we need to build awareness. We use a blend of traditional marketing methods and new mediums to get on the radar of people who previously didn’t know that online study was an option. From a marketing perspective, it is important to use a mix of above the line and of course, digital strategies, which represent a significant amount of our marketing spend. Our courses are online – so we need to be seen online.

While Victorians are familiar with the Swinburne University, the Swinburne brand is not as well known in other parts of the country. Therefore, it is crucial that we build the trust and credibility of the university in new markets.

Getting in line, not falling behind

It is only logical that we find new ways of marketing to students. The market has changed drastically in the last 10 years and it is imperative that institutions recognise these changes and adapt accordingly. One of the advantages of being a developed country is broad access to education, and education in turn leads to economic success. There has always been a demand for education in these markets but now the technology is actually in place which creates exciting opportunities for many people. People born today won’t be dictated to do two semesters a year on campus by the time they reach adulthood in 18 years’ time. They will want and expect the true flexibility of studying what they want, when they want.

Studying anywhere, at any age on any device

Because the industry is evolving and students are speaking with their feet, education institutions must put more emphasis on marketing now than they have in the past. The evolution of online education means you truly can study anywhere. So now it’s not just a matter of going to the local university or the institution that’s most convenient to you, it’s about choosing a degree that offers the most desirable outcome.

Fostering a sense of community

While there are some who are hesitant to study online, I think the most important thing is to foster a sense of community – and that is merely facilitated by us. It’s about students being able to identify what they want, when they want it. Direct interaction is occurring online now, arguably even more so than on a campus. We are investigating new ways of bringing our online “campus” to more future students. From an education point of view, there really is no need for the students to be face-to-face.

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