An E-Marketing Plan for Online Learning (Part 1)

By IGI Global on Jul 22, 2011
IGI Global would like to thank Shalin Hai-Jew for contributing this article regarding the various audiences institutions must consider for e-marketing plans and online learning. Dr. Hai-Jew's newest publication, Constructing Self-Discovery Learning Spaces Online: Scaffolding and Decision Making Technologies, will become available this Winter. An excellent resource for any library, her edited research volume, Virtual Immersive and 3D Learning Spaces: Emerging Technologies and Trends, is currently available in the IGI Global Bookstore.

The hope goes something like this: A university or college offers online learning that is so stellar and engaging, and with a faculty core that has such high-wattage star power, that the learning sequence (certificate, module, degree program, or other cluster) appeals to learners from around the world.

However, things have not quite worked out that way. What seems more common is that universities have to set up branch offices for direct and local outreaches to appeal to potential students. Corporations that go with preferred universities or programs, and government entities that choose certain institutions of higher education and programs—drive some of the student traffic. Otherwise, consumers seem to choose the schools that are tied to their respective localities. People do seem pretty tied psychologically to place; in some cases, people seem to like to attend universities that their parents attended. For a virtual university to go "viral" (with exponential word-of-mouth growth and popularity), it would have to break through certain habits-of-mind and the emotional connections to location and the familiar.

Higher Education in Electronic Spaces

Universities and colleges are said to have three main core competencies: to contribute world-class research, to contribute world-class teaching, and to contribute high-level community volunteerism. The world wide web and Internet are a critical aspect to all three main competencies.

Most institutions of higher education have all sorts of presences online. Invariably, there are websites. Also, there are repositories of research articles and dissertations to meet the school's needs to reach out to the larger research publics. Some institutions have open courseware that they're sharing with the larger public. Some faculty and staff share information through blogs and wikis. Some have referatories that point to various resources. Some new student orientations are done online, and graduations sometimes happen in virtual worlds. Universities build virtual campuses (many with simulations of buildings on their actual campuses) where students may meet through their avatars. . .and conduct classes and share digital resources. (Second Life URLs or SLurls connect the Web to the Second Life spaces for those who have the SL viewer downloaded onto their computing devices—desktop and laptop computers with fairly high-end video cards.)

The following is a SLurl link to NASA's CoLab, which allows a general public audience:

Once the URL has been put into the Web browser, it will take the person to a place where he or she can teleport to the site.

Plenty of learning contents and lectures are podcasted and vodcasted, with many lecture-capture systems hard-wired into physical "smart" classrooms. Some faculty and staff use automated avatars to communicate information. Others use machinima captures for sleek 3D looks. Some slideshows integrate a mix of multimedia. At professional conferences, many are making and presenting digital poster sessions. Librarians offer real-time chat with clientele.

Schools need to reach out to various publics. Examples of external publics include the larger community, the business community, the military community, and the grant funding institutions. Internally, there are the institution's employees. Part-way in between are the transitory students, the vendors, and others who are both part of the institution but also part of the external environment. Institutions of higher education need to maintain high profiles for their integrity, professionalism, and skills in order to attract grant dollars and maintain smooth interrelationships. They also need to maintain an influx of tuition dollars to sustain the school's various activities. In general, the intranet serves the internal publics; the internet serves the broader external publics, and the extranet serves the in-between publics (particularly vendors). Public relations endeavors reach out to the local media and larger communities to push positive stories of research and professional collegiality.

Online classrooms showcase some of the online savvy. Many institutions of higher education teach in fully online and blended ways. Face-to-face classrooms will tap into online spaces for augmented learning: they will use wikis and blogs to collect research information; they will use virtual worlds for mediated interactivity; they will use virtual polling to get a sense of the quality of the learning in the classrooms; and many assessments are done via online assessment suites. Primary research is conducted using online survey systems. Some have online laboratories to complement their online courses. Various fields of learning involve the uses of high-end software and hardware with unique design, simulation, analysis, and research implications.

Electronic mailing lists are still very popular to segment out particular recipients for particular messages. Emergency campus responses use short message system (SMS) text messages, emails, and automated telephone calls. Offices use instant messaging for colleagues to connect with each other.

With the popularization of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), the mobile device "third screen" (after televisions and computers) also figures into the presence of universities and colleges in electronic spaces. Many schools are also offering some learning via mobile devices. One locative feature involves the geotargeting of certain locations on a campus with opt-in information about the school's history at that particular location, along with pop-up map information. Physical spaces are tied to virtual resources with the uses of 2D codes [or Quick Response (QR) codes].

The Need for a Full Environmental Scan

The professional marketers on campus work on the school's overall image and standing in the image world. They are the ones who set the marketing goals (based on the school's main competencies and interests as well as their student statistics), consider the broader audience, and measure the outcomes of their endeavors. They setclear guidelines on when logos might be used and when certain slogans might be applied.

However, when it comes to marketing courses, this often falls to the department, the individual faculty members, or possibly to an intermediary bureaucratic structure. For many, simple marketing involves the uses of flyers all over campus. Sometimes, that may be sufficient.

Given the many types of presences online, it helps to have a full analysis of a school's online presence. It helps to know what is being received from the various publics—across cultures and age groups and other demographics. A review must also include the digital artifacts and comments created by others—both formal and informal. It's important to know what is being said about the school, its leadership, its faculty and staff, and others. The world wide web and Internet have a long memory, and while new information supplants the old continuously, a lot of press can be found technically into foreseeable perpetuity. Beginning with a simple organic or natural search is helpful for some of the top-level information of a particular university or college. Those who care to be more thorough may engage in Deep Web scans to find information on the Hidden (or Invisible) Web.

A full environmental scan also means checking out the competition to see what they're doing, what technologies they're using, and how to push one's university or college forward competitively. Dr. Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University (K-State); she teaches for WashingtonOnline (WAOL).

Readers interested in reading more educational marketing might want to take a look at two of IGI Global's recent releases, Marketing Online Education Programs: Frameworks for Promotion and Communication and Cases on Innovations in Educational Marketing: Transnational and Technological Strategies.

An excellent addition to any university library, the International Journal of Technology and Educational Marketing (IJTEM) offers a wealth of scholarship educational marketing strategies, pitfalls and challenges. This journal presents, analyzes, shares, and collaborates ideas, experiences, research studies, and cases on the advancements and innovations in technology and educational marketing. Targeting educational planners, administrators, researchers, educational technologists, educational specialists, and marketing educators, IJTEM uses technology and marketing management for sustainable educational development. In addition to full-length research papers, this journal publishes insightful books reviews, case studies on educational institutions and their marketing initiatives across the globe, and technological initiatives taken by institutions for marketing their educational programs. You can learn more at
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