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8 steps colleges should consider to improve online learning programs

University Business, April 2016

At Touro University Worldwide, we are always looking to improve our online learning programs, including leveraging third-party providers that complement our competitive advantages by supporting us in growing our online degree programs and providing unique auxiliary student services that are learner focused.

Our process continues to evolve, but we have had some significant success thus far. Over the past three years, we’ve more than tripled the number of new online students enrolled in our programs. How have we done so? By strongly committing to excellence and implementing some best practices. Here are eight steps you should consider to improve your institution’s online programs:

Get University Leadership on Board

Meaningful change can only happen when initiated and supported from the top. Once presidents, provosts and deans all agree on the mission of the university, the plans for implementation can begin.

Make Sure You Have an End Goal

Schools need to think beyond offering any and all online programs and develop more targeted and strategic plans. At our institution, outsourcing certain tasks to a third-party provider has helped us think through what the right kind of online learning programs are, how to target them to the right people, and ensure that our students benefit from exemplary supporting services. Institutions should consider their goals first, and then organize their programs with their competitive advantage in mind and outsource other components. The overall structure should focus on improving the academic quality of the programs, securing the institutional capacity and growth, and enhancing the financial bottom line.

Leverage Best Practices

Part of developing and improving online learning programs is about creating a path for growth. The way to do this is to use best practices to develop processes that will provide the best quality of learning experience for the student. Best practices should be implemented across the board, from articulating the programs and need assessment all the way through to graduation. For example, we found at our institution that 8-week terms result in the best leaning outcomes for our target population, quick acceptance decisions dramatically increase registration, and clear transfer credit policies enhance retention and reduce the time-to-degree.

Recognize Your Strengths

To help successfully market ourselves, we took an honest look at the value we bring to students and our competitive advantages – this might be a robust alumni network, strong outcomes after graduation, or unique degree programs serving our mission, depending on the institution. Understanding the competitive advantages and value proposition are the keys for designing and attaining faculty-focused program learning outcomes and curriculum, marketing, enrollment, supporting student services, and retention strategies.

Don’t Lose a Sense of Urgency

Oftentimes, we’ve heard other schools, including ourselves, say “Oh, that’s just how things work here.” That excuse no longer works, and schools should think about how to push past the status quo. By developing a sense of urgency, we’ve become leaner, more efficient and more committed to success.

Be Results Oriented

Part of shedding politics is to focus on outcomes, not pointing fingers. If institutions urgently want to find solutions, there won’t be time to worry about shifting blame. Instead, we are more focused on trying new things, evaluating results and refining processes. And we always try to remember that failures are learning opportunities.

Collect Data Every Step of the Way

Information is key to success. Be cognizant of things like where prospective students are coming from and what classes have the highest dropout rates. Everything should be measured, and then that data can be used to inform decision-making.

Be Persistent

Success doesn’t happen overnight. It can be tempting to say, “We tried, but it didn’t work,” and go back to the old, comfortable way of doing things. But by giving up too soon, there’s potential for schools to doom themselves. It’s important to be patient and develop realistic timelines for seeing results.

Hopefully, these steps can help schools across the country as they think about how to optimize the online learning experience for themselves, students and professors.

Yoram Neumann is the chief executive officer of Touro University Worldwide and University Professor of Business Administration at the Touro College/University System.

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