Animal House 2.0: How Online Learning Could Redefine the College Experience

When you think about America’s top colleges, Ivy League schools like Harvard  and Princeton readily come to mind. When it comes to football, BCS schools like Alabama and Ohio State stand out. As far as online learning goes, what names  come to mind? According to U.S. News, the top online undergraduate programs include Pace University, Daytona State College and Graceland University. Not exactly household names.

Yet, with an undergraduate degree providing an 84% increase in lifetime income relative to a high school diploma, more and more students are looking at online options, especially with the sky-rocketing costs of attending a traditional university.

According to a recent survey by the Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.5 million college students enrolled in at least one online course. In addition, over the last 10 years, the number of schools offering a full online degree has nearly doubled from 32.5% to 62.4%.

At the same time, support amongst college faculty for online programs has dropped to 30%. In addition to concerns about the value and legitimacy of online learning, poor student retention and self discipline were also concerns cited in the report.

In that regard, schools like University of Southern California are only offering online programs at the graduate level. According to school president, C. L. Max Nikias, during undergraduate years, “face-to-face intellectual and creative encounters, inside and outside the classroom, create the greatest impact … Technology will enhance, but not replace, the traditional campus experience.”

Another approach adopted by many schools is for some of their top faculty to participate in massive open online courses (MOOC) which allow large numbers of students to take courses online and often at no cost.

Distance learning and the issues associated with it are not actually new disruptions. Going back to the 1920’s, more than 4 million students were involved in correspondence courses with a completion rate of only 3%. In addition, many universities including NYU and Purdue were using campus radio stations to broadcast course lectures.

These advancements certainly did not adversely impact college education long term and many are currently wondering what the ultimate impact from online education will be.

According to author and professor Warren Bennis, “Human beings instinctively and habitually crave proximity to whatever they value or venerate. They crave closeness to the source. And they value congregating with others during such deep experiences of closeness.” In fact, it’s the same reason that people travel to Paris to see the Mona Lisa rather than looking at a version online.

Continuing to Innovate

At the same time, highly regarded universities are not standing idly by waiting to see what comes of online learning. For example, Northwestern University has just hired former advertising executive Mary Baglivo as its first ever VP-global marketing and chief marketing officer. Baglivo. who also is an alumnae of the school, believes, “There is a growing interest and belief in the importance of defining and articulating your university brand, because it’s important to be differentiating and compelling.”

When it comes to radio, how are you defining and differentiating your brand? Today, anyone with a computer can host a podcast and create a playlist. While this doesn’t make them a Marconi winning talk show host or a CMA winning program director, we should not prematurely dismiss or ignore them.

In many corners of our industry, there are questions about where future talent is going to come from, especially with so many small markets carrying syndicated content. In this regard, instead of being a punch line to a joke, these internet stations could serve as our minor league. Someone who has built a following of their own and has created hundreds of online shows, might just be your future on-air talent.

Along the way, they could also provide desperately needed online content in exchange for exposure and future consideration, while providing your audience with brand extensions without utilizing valuable air time.

In regards to marketing and promotions, are you actively engaging your most passionate fans and empowering them to promote your brand or is that simply being left up to chance?

Find out how DMR/Interactive’s audience engagement strategy can provide an easy to follow road map for you and your team. Simply contact Andrew Curran, President  and COO at DMR/Interactive for more information.

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