Leading the Way with Student-Centered Learning for the 21st Century

September 26, 2018

Editor's Note: As we prepare to explore the challenges and opportunities for today’s educational institutions at LinkedIn’s Education Connect 2018, Meghan Rodgers, CMO of Jack Welch Management Institute shares her thoughts on modern education and how higher education marketing has evolved.

For decades, the education industry made slow, steady progress. Now the industry is evolving at breakneck speed. Consider how online classes were a unique offering in 2008 and now they’re a must-have. Or that, in 2015, US News & World Report reported 146 schools with an online MBA, and total enrolled students of 43,020. This year, the magazine ranked 282 online MBA programs – a nearly 100% increase in just three years. It’s the reason some schools are shuttering their traditional, brick-and-mortar MBA presence entirely, including University of Iowa, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech.  And the online shift isn’t limited to MBA programs. According to the Department of Education, in 2016, 30% of undergraduate students at Title IV-eligible institutions were enrolled in at least one distance education course.

As the demand for online education skyrockets, just about every educational institution is embracing new approaches and strategizing on how to meet the needs of today’s student. The Jack Welch Management Institute (JWMI) is in the enviable position of having served working adults online since 2010. Through our online MBA program we’ve seen over 1,300 students earn their degrees, and almost 2,000 are enrolled for the upcoming Winter term. These are working adults between 35 and 40 years old on average. They come from companies of every size and industry and are located in 47 states and 56 countries.

Our unique position gives us interesting insights into what goes into effectively providing an online education. Here are our thoughts on three key areas of focus.

Being in sync with a shorter recruitment lifecycle

Today’s online MBA student moves through a dramatically different lifecycle. Whereas the typical learning path used to be reasonably prescriptive – for example, with one start per year for full-time MBA programs – now students can return to school on a rolling 12-month basis, or at least quarterly. To accommodate this shift, schools need to build the infrastructure, support, and marketing to deliver always-on messaging and recruit year-round.

This always-on model is essential as today’s students pass through a much different – and shorter –consideration phase.

According to LinkedIn, an average of three schools end up on a prospect’s short list, and 72% of prospects develop that list before reaching out to a school representative. In the past, prospective students reached out directly to schools of interest or attended an MBA fair. Now, prospects conduct much of their research anonymously.

At JWMI, we increasingly see that the majority of interactions happen virtually, with minimal in-person conversation until the later stages of the enrollment cycle. Once they make their choice, many students enroll within just over six weeks of applying.

As a result, schools need to meet students where they are, and interact with them through their channel of choice. As an online MBA program that serves working professionals, JWMI finds LinkedIn a potent tool for branding, engaging prospects and connecting our students and alumni.

Satisfying student expectations

Working adults are demanding a measurable payback from their educational investment. They expect a lot for their time and money and want a quick return from their online program.

According to LinkedIn, higher salary and the need to up-skill are the most significant factors influencing prospects to pursue higher education. To that end, schools must deliver courses that apply directly to the job.

At JWMI, our commitment to real-world results is driven by Jack Welch’s vision that students must “Learn it on Monday. Apply it on Tuesday.” Our students bring actual problems facing their organization into class, and we deliver the proven business tools and practices to solve those issues. And our approach is working: 68% of students earn a raise or promotion while enrolled*.

Schools also need to deliver the courses in a way that makes sense for working adults. How you support a working adult with limited time has changed. Many students don’t want to – or can’t – show up for a lecture at night or during the weekend, even if it’s online. It’s the very reason JWMI is designed as an asynchronous program. This structure serves students well who need to balance families, careers, and personal lives. And in a time when consumers expect to do anything on their phones, schools must build mobile-first programs that students can access anywhere, anytime.

Underlying all of these measures is the need for schools to work even harder when students are remote.

Just because students are online doesn’t mean they don’t want to be a part of a community. At JWMI, we address this by hosting virtual webinars, on-the-ground networking events and company visits, such as at LinkedIn and The Wall Street Journal. Our faculty members are also available outside regular business hours and on weekends to meet with students.

Embracing a student-centric approach

At JWMI we believe that the best businesses focus on their customers, and our school is no different.

This belief translates into our use of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure student satisfaction, which aligns with our commitment to deliver a high return on investment for students. Each term, we survey our students on their experience with our services, curriculum, and faculty. Collecting student feedback and acting on it quickly is critical to creating trust and transparency, which can otherwise be a challenge online.

To ensure our students receive a high level of support in the classroom, we strive to maintain a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and prefer our faculty to teach one section. And, in addition to being academically qualified, all our faculty have at least ten years of professional experience within the industry or discipline in which they teach. It’s this real-world experience that brings the material to life. These parameters are essential because we expect a high level of interaction between our faculty and students.

Over the past year, our NPS score averaged above 80, which aligns with the best customer service organizations including Southwest and Apple. At last year’s Education Connect event, a joint LinkedIn and EMBA Council research study reported that student satisfaction represented an opportunity for educators, with a survey of 1,887 MBA graduates reporting an NPS of only 27 for their programs.

NPS measurement is directly connected to our practice of holding faculty accountable to student outcomes and student satisfaction. At JWMI, we practice differentiation, not tenure. We celebrate the top 20 percent of faculty and coach the middle 70 percent to improve their effectiveness. We might have to part ways with the bottom 10 percent, as teaching in an online environment might not be suited to their skill set.

Looking Forward to What Comes Next

JWMI has been committed from the start to keeping pace with both the needs of today’s adult students and changes in the education field. We’ve witnessed the industry make great strides over the past decade, but we never stop thinking about the future and how to pioneer learning techniques.

Right now, we are evaluating how to integrate new technologies such as virtual case studies and artificial intelligence into the classroom to improve student outcomes. We are also exploring new delivery methods such as experiential learning portfolios, on-ground intensives, and overseas partnerships to meet the schedule demands of our students.

JWMI was founded on the belief that by leveraging technology and great content, we can democratize education, and in today’s environment, we see a bright future for online learning.

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*SOURCE: Based on 476 survey respondents among 500 JWMI students surveyed during the final quarter of their program between March 2015 and March 2017.

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