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University | 6 minute read

How Can Continuing Education Support Students Across their Learning Lifecycle?

Higher education has undergone rapid transformation!  

The target demographic is no longer exclusively 18- to 22-year old’s fresh out of high school. Today, an increasing number of adult learners are enrolling in postsecondary programming, attempting to re-skill and acquire new knowledge as technology has significantly altered their basic job requirements—let alone the requirements to advance their careers. 

Learner expectations have changed too. Learners want to invest their time and resources with education providers who understand their priorities and can support them in their learning journeys as they seek to develop valuable and future-ready skills. It’s important to note that universities aren’t alone in meeting the ongoing education needs of adults; there’s a significant industry of education providers including MOOCs, private providers and employers competing for adult enrollments.   

Finally, people’s career plans have evolved. In the 100-Year Life, people no longer have three-stage lives (education, work, retirement). People are expected to live for much longer, meaning they will have to keep working into their 60s and even beyond. As such, they must keep updating their skills to remain relevant in a rapidly changing workforce 

 If you are a continuing education provider, this situation presents both an opportunity and a challenge.  

It’s an opportunity in that you are uniquely placed to meet students’ lifelong learning needs. If you are able to tap into it, you can create customers for life.  

It’s a challenge in that serving lifelong learning and keeping pace with rapidly evolving market dynamics requires effective and agile systems and processes in place.  

 In his interview with The EvoLLLution, Scott DeRue, Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, stressed the importance of prioritizing the “open loop” education model (developed by Stanford) that champions and supports lifelong learning.  

 Learning does not start when we arrive at a university, and it certainly does not end when we graduate and become part of that university’s alumni community,” he said.  

 If learning is continuous, why isn’t a person’s relationship with the university also continuous? This is the essence of the open loop university—a continuous relationship between student and university throughout one’s life.   

What is the Student Lifecycle (and How Can You Make the Most of It)? 

One way to capitalize on the lifelong learning opportunity and even thrive on it, is to adapt to delivering education across the modern student lifecycle. The student lifecycle depicts the different stages a learner goes through during their learning journey.  

Traditionally, the student lifecycle was fixed over a short term. You recruited students out of high schools, delivering necessary financial aid, supported their persistence and degree completion, then engaged them as alumni to generate donations. 

In the modern education market, though, the lifecycle has changed. Universities can no longer get by on a short education engagement followed by a long-term donation-based relationship. Instead, universities need to continue delivering meaningful and contextual programming to learners over the course of their lifetime. 

The modern student lifecycle actually mirrors the customer lifecycle. Below, we list the stages of the modern student lifecycle and share some pointers on how you can leverage each stage to create a lasting relationship 

1. Acquisition (bring learners in the door)  

There are plenty of programming options for today’s learners to choose from. While curriculum quality is definitely a major differentiator, there are more factors that play in students’ decision-making. For example, how quickly are you able to modify course contentto address particular employer and student needsand launch market-responsive programs?  

You will also have to prioritize the student experience keeping in mind that they need access to up-to-date and accurate information before they make program choices. You need intelligence around learner preferences, the outcomes they want to achieve so that you can push targeted campaigns to generate interest and bring them in.  

 And once you have each student’s attention, you need a simple and effective registration process that helps them enroll in a few clicks.  

2. Retention (keep learners satisfied and content)  

Once students are enrolled, you need to keep them happy and satisfied. What you must remember is that learners have taken time out of their busy schedules to gain new skills. This crucial time must be spent on education alone, and not in managing other administrative tasksthings like requesting for transcripts or payment receipts. Use of self-service portals, which allow learners to manage most of the administrative tasks themselves, can not only make learners self-sufficient but also enhance their lifelong learning experience.   

3. Win-back (enable learners to keep coming back for more) 

Learners today operate in an open marketplace. They don’t have any particular ties to enrolling in courses offered by one institution over another—especially when they’re engaged in non-credit offerings. However, even if they are pursuing a credit-bearing credential, the ease of transferring credit means universities need to be aware of the low barriers for exit and re-entry elsewhere.  

These “swirling” students try to find the most economical means to meet their learning needs. To serve these learners, you need personalized marketing that educates them about new courses—as well as offerings relevant to their experience—as and when such programming becomes available. Information about past enrollments, interests, goals or career outcomes can inform your strategy to win these learners back.  

Career advising has an important role to play here as well. Think about your current students and alumni. You need to show that you are committed to their success by educating and showing them the pathways that can help them accomplish their goals or support their learning needs through the different stages of their lives or careers.  

4. Advocacy (make learners your promoters) 

Your past learners can be your biggest advocates. But you need to keep them engaged well beyond course completion so that they not only keep returning, but also act as references as you try to grow your enrollments.   

 Digital credentials can provide a basis for learner advocacy. They allow your learners to articulate their own learning experiences and marketable skills in a meaningful way to the external world. Over a lifetime of learning, these credentials not only help learners progress towards their desired career outcomes, but also bring you the eyeballs and advertise your brand. After all, you can embed rich content into digital credentials—like a student’s ePortfolio or the program’s website—that can add context to an otherwise static market of learning. 

 Empowering your learners to showcase their credentials makes prospective students feel confident about their decision to pursue education with you. 

 Lifelong Learning Is the Future 

As lifelong learning becomes more the norm, it’s critical that continuing and professional education leaders become comfortable with new and modular learning approaches that are impactful and can be applied across the different stages of the student lifecycle.  

Read our whitepaper and learn more about the fundamentals of student lifecycle management and how you can apply these at your continuing education division.  

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