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Top tips to cut through the competitive online program market

When we think of higher education, our minds jump to the traditional classroom setting. But with the internet changing just about everything we once knew, and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s created this perfect storm where online education has now come into its own.

"Another influential factor is gender, with women being more open to online learning than men"

But with more and more people turning to online learning formats, how can you stand out from the crowd and persuade prospective students that your online course is the one to go for? 

First things first, you must understand where is the supply and where is the demand?

The increase in virtual students isn’t the only major change occurring in the higher education landscape. Recent student, labor market and search trends show that certain fields (such as computer science and math) are experiencing increases in popularity. Meanwhile, other programs (like history and theology) are declining.

Having this insight into the market trends will enable you to be proactive in your launches and marketing, rather than simply reactive to the moving trends. In other words, if you want your graduate program to grow, it’s important to adjust to accommodate student needs.

What’s more, students can typically take up to two years to enrol. You need to be in the market planning and promoting for your 2023, ’24 and beyond online programs now. Our research also found that the majority of searches are conducted in the first quarter of the year. Factor in this two-year nurture cycle and Q1 preference alongside the existing peaks and lows of your own application cycle to make sure your messages are hitting the right people, at the right time.

“For most fields, the biggest motivation behind further study is to increase knowledge”

Openness to online learning varies among different fields of study. While 50% of history students were interested in either online or hybrid coursework, only 16.7% of theology students were willing to attend a postgraduate program that wasn’t in-person. Another influential factor is gender, with women being more open to online learning than men. Incorporating these different motivators among the target audience is critical to resonating with your content. 

Ensure your program marketing aligns with the correct audiences’ needs. For most fields, the biggest motivation behind further study is to increase knowledge. Computer science, math, architecture, history and theology students all prioritise the quality of education over other factors (such as increased earning potential or job prospects). Law students, on the other hand, rank career potential above knowledge.

When it comes to what students are looking for, most majors agree that their future university needs to “offer the right program”. This only emphasises the importance of conducting market research and understanding your audience. If you’re targeting students looking for courses that you don’t offer, you’ll end up wasting time, money and resources.

Digging deeper into online behaviours; older audiences are more likely to listen to radio and podcasts as their lives are potentially more ‘on-the-go’. Use these platforms to further engage with these audiences and tailor your messages to address their key motivations and barriers to study.

So in summary, data is essential. Student, labor market and search demands are constantly changing. A course that was popular as recently as 2019 may no longer be desirable. The only way to keep track of what prospective students need from their schools is through detailed marketing insights.

Ensure you understand your audience, through insight tools like Akero and optimise towards the platforms, messaging and times that cut through. And finally, don’t wait too long. Connecting with your students and promoting your graduate programs should not be a last-minute course of action. Since students take time to enrol, you need to engage their attention from the minute they show interest in higher education. 

Our strategic marketing experts can help you achieve this, you can download the full whitepaper here of these findings or get in touch, and we’ll take it from there.

About the author: This is a sponsored article by Ellie Davidson, Content Manager at Net Natives. Ellie has spent the last four years uncovering insights to tell the student stories of the mental health crisis and the lack of representation we often see in marketing. You can often find her writing content about the barriers to higher education that this cohort faces and the motivators that drive this inspiring generation, such as sustainability and standing for more than just an organisation’s bottom line.

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