Five critical aspects of differentiation in the online marketplace

In the ten years between 2002 and 2012, the number of institutions offering online degree programs almost doubled.[1] This adoption continues to expand across institutions, small and large, private and public, not-for and for-profit. Prospective online students have a seemingly endless list of options to consider as they decide their path to a credential. Those of us responsible for attracting these students understand well that this rate of adoption has transformed the online program marketplace. “Convenient” and “flexible” are no longer differentiating factors for an institution. Competition has driven education providers to optimize programs, policies and services to differentiate and gain the attention of post-traditional learners in what has become a very noisy marketplace.

So just how does an institution uniquely market their offerings in the commoditized market of online education? Here are the five factors that I think have the most differentiating power for an online program or provider:

1. Brand

Institutions adding online programs must view their offerings as an integral part of their strategy and brand identity. When online programs are added at arm’s length (i.e. significantly different brand identity) it appears to represent a lack of commitment to the schools online component—to the students, faculty and staff. Institutions should invest in the development of online programs that match the quality of their campus-based programs, and proudly present a new extension of their established brand.

2. Transfer

The online student, especially at the bachelor level, often arrives with a variety of previously earned credits, ACE approved trainings, and life experience that could significantly reduce their time to completion and the time it takes them to earn a credential. Institutions must recognize that honoring a post-traditional learner’s prior work and life experience is essential part of the value proposition…

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