Adult Learners, the Internet, and the Support Service Challenge

with NASPA

About This Course

The past 15 years have seen an incredible growth in adult enrollment, much of it fueled by the expansion of online learning and enhanced accessibility, so it has become essential for postsecondary institutions to develop and adopt creative adult learner strategies to stand out from the competition. These strategies, however, must be organic and flexible because of the unique lifestyles and experiences that adult students bring to the learning experience. In addition, adult learners tend to be more female and minority than the general student population (Eduventures, 2013). In a competitive world, the academic and student affairs practitioners charged with the implementation of these strategies must be knowledgeable about the tactics and tools that will facilitate the success of online adult learners.

In 2008, Eduventures predicted that the distance education market would be evolving from an “age of competition” to an “age of brands.” Convenience, flexibility, and price were the essential elements characterizing the competition among online education providers in the first years of the 21st century. By 2008, the basis for competition had changed. Today, the ingredients of reputational capital increasingly consist of a compelling learning experience, greater differentiation, stronger brand development, and an extensive menu of online support services.

The world of online education continues to move into an “age of brands” where the promise of a quality learning experience and an extensively supported academic  environment can position both the student and the institution for success. In other words, adult student support services enabled by technology will become more important than ever in transforming the student learning experience and building brand equity that can make one institution stand out from others in the clutter and clamor of the distance education marketplace.

According to Hanover Research (2012), high quality support services are becoming increasingly important differentiators in marketing and branding initiatives for higher education institutions. Supporting online, not just on-campus, students has been a growing responsibility for student and academic affairs staff for many years. Adding a branding responsibility, however, goes beyond the traditional support role and is a new but essential duty for today’s student affairs professional. Understanding how to design, develop, and apply technology-enabled support services to build reputational capital is central to this responsibility (Kolowich, 2013).

About the Short Course

This module is a part of the Increasing Adult Learner Completion and Persistence Rates short course. The complete course includes 9 total modules that are each available for purchase individually or as a course bundle.

This course is based on material from Increasing Adult Learner Persistence and Completion Rates: A Guide for Student Affairs Leaders and Practitioners, published and copyrighted by NASPA in 2014. The book was funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation. Developed by NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Supported by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System.

This module is based on the chapter authored by Lawrence V. Gould, Tisa Mason, and Kindra D. Degenhardt.

Although the nine modules available in this course bundle focus on different topics, they send five consistent messages:

  • Colleges and universities need to build on the knowledge and experiences that adult learners bring to their institutions;
  • no one can do it alone: collaboration, both internal and external, matters;
  • student affairs must partner with adult learners to determine what they know, what their goals are, and what they need to succeed;
  • support services must be intentionally designed, intelligently delivered, and thoughtfully assessed; and
  • the future of student affairs may well depend on its ability to understand and effectively leverage technology.

Embedded in each module is another powerful message: The time for incremental change is over.

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