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Differentiate With A Blended Learning Strategy
November 12, 2020

By Teresa de Onis

The steps you take now to improve your online product serve both your institution’s short-term and long-term interests. The more you lean into blended learning as a way to attract, retain, and graduate students, the more value a robust online experience will provide.

Enhance traditional learning, don’t replace it

Blended learning is here to stay. This isn’t because we believe a return to a purely traditional model isn’t possible, but because the value online learning offers as an enhancement to traditional learning is so exciting.

In the months since the pandemic started, in your personal life, how many times have you caught yourself saying, “this is one change I hope sticks around”? We already see the massive potential for synchronous and asynchronous modalities to improve the in-class experience. These changes aren’t going anywhere.

Imagine a student sitting in class, simultaneously streaming the lecture happening right in front of her. With the flexibility to pause or rewind, she can capture areas of challenging content in a way that is most helpful to her. New tools might allow the professor to be instantly alerted when a defined threshold of students interacts with the content in this way, providing feedback useful in real-time or for future lectures.

Likewise, students who miss a lecture or who are organically adapting to online learning by grouping together with other students to stream and study (as we discussed in this blog post), can rely on asynchronous recordings of the lectures to create the experience best for them.

Your pre-pandemic challenges to enrollment and the intense competition between schools of all sizes haven’t vanished. Use this time to be strategic about the way blended learning can help you differentiate and win.

Escape the “be everything to everyone” trap

For small and midsized schools, the temptation to try and be everything to everyone is strong. Resist it. Most larger schools were already skilled at delivering a relatively healthy remote learning experience before COVID-19. The pandemic-driven push online has only helped cement their leadership position.

Corporate employers rarely ask prospective employees whether they studied online or on campus. This dynamic, combined with their experience in online, has led larger schools to massively expand their reach – to enroll, retain, and graduate more students in more locations.

These same schools are exploring blended learning as a way of making their online offering more attractive. Satellite “pop-up” campuses located in other cities offer an in-person option a day a week, for example, through which students in the area might attend labs. These can include a shared-educator model where faculty members work for more than one school, allowing each school to operate with maximum financial efficiency.

Start with a winning strategy

As exciting as its potential seems to be, blended learning alone won’t help you win. You must think first about how the combination of online and traditional learning modalities can accentuate what you do best. Like any other business with strong and resourceful competitors, you must find your unique value proposition and work outward from there.

I’ll use an example to explain:

Many hyperlocal or regional schools make their way by serving the educational needs of their surrounding communities. It’s undeniable that these types of schools do this one thing very well. This value differentiates them from larger schools where the degree is more important than intimate, highly collaborative classroom discussion.

Blended learning offers these schools a way to expand the core competency and reach more students. Imagine a nurse interested in more education to advance her career. Through blended learning at her area college, she can attend classes synchronously or asynchronously as her busy work schedule permits. On her off days, she can make the 20-minute drive to campus to attend class in person: same value, expanded enrollment.

Defining your differentiation is as hard as it is important. But it’s fundamental to making blended learning a part of your vision and strategy. Don’t rush through it. Invest the time and energy required to get it right. Once your unique value is defined, ask the following questions to help build out your blended learning strategy:

  • How can blended learning help us enhance our unique/differentiating value?
  • What technology providers, platforms, or solutions might help us do so?
  • What are the implications for our technology infrastructure?
  • What can we do in-house? What do we need to outsource so we can focus more directly on the student experience?

Creating a strategy based on the thoughtful answers to these questions positions you for long-term success.

The role of higher ed IT may never be the same. IT leaders are no longer a supporting function but a critical contributor in the pursuit of student enrollment and retention. In our next blog, we’ll discuss how the higher ed IT landscape is changing and how IT leaders can most effectively deliver on this challenge.

To learn more about blended learning and how it can work for you, read our previous blog posts: Why Online Learning Is So Hard, Online Learning as a Competitive Advantage, Inspire New Levels of Collaboration in Online Learning, or check out our white paper Transform the Educational Experience Through Blended Learning.

Author Bio

Teresa de Onis joined Apogee in 2019 and is a 25-year Austin marketing veteran with marketing expertise in distance learning systems, IT, and higher education. She combines strategy and storytelling to create and execute compelling and authentic value propositions, communication plans, brand architectures, sales enablement plans and tools, campaigns, and customer experience journeys. Teresa holds an MBA, BA, and certificate in change management, all from the University of Texas at Austin.

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