Success secret number one for a successful online learning program, according to Jeffrey Feldberg, chairman and CEO of Embanet Corp. and who has launched several successful online programs, is “live technical support” (Feldberg, 2001, p. 1). Many student support services, like technical support, are critical to the successful learning experience of all students, but especially for students who are engaged in online learning at a distance. One director of student support services for an online learning program said it this way: “If they’re having trouble with the technology, it’s like showing up at class and the door’s locked and they can’t get in” (Kelly, 2001, p.5). And, just as trouble with technology may keep the class door locked for one student, so can any other unmet student need for another student.
The Organizational Fit
Not only does the online or distant learner need “more services” – or at least a different configuration of services – the online program administrators also depend on better services to complement their marketing efforts to not only current but also prospective students. It is a well-documented fact that the marketing costs to retain one student are significantly less than those costs to recruit one new student. Knowing and attending to students’ needs will inform marketing strategies (Malan, Rigby & Glines, 1991). And once students’ needs are identified and fitting support services are mapped to these needs, both the enrolled as well as the prospective students should be informed of their availability. One study found that many students are not aware of the services available to them. Marketing excellent student services can not only help retain current students in the program but also attract new students to it (Cain, Marrara, Pitre & Armour, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Student Support Services: Student services are all the services provided by the distance education’s provider to the students (prospective and matriculated) to facilitate their success at the learning institution.
Self-Service: Online students register, request and pay for services, receive basic academic advising, and so forth, without accessing student support personnel. Under this model, students are no longer bound by the office hours of the provider. They can individually access their services anytime from anywhere.
Immersion Training: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro provides a one-day “immersion” as a part of their staff training. The staff trainee works in a student-simulated environment to better experience their program services from the student perspective.
Accreditation: The process of certifying whether a program meets the standards and expectations of any association to which it belongs.
Completion Rate: The most common measure for success in an online or distance learning course, frequently associated with program persistence and retention rates. No standardized algorithm currently exists for calculating completion rates; they are best used in comparing one cohort of the same course with another.
One-Stop: The one-stop model allows students the convenience of talking with one person at one location to find all the services and answers needed. Staff who work at one-stop call, e-mail or chat centers have a very broad knowledge of the services and are able to address a high percentage of student questions and service requests.
Portal: A Web-based environment customized to provide users’ information needs. In contrast to the typical Web page, where a large amount of information is available to all, portals provide information specific to the user’s need and role. The user is able to customize what information is revealed and what is hidden.