E-learning education providers should learn from the best practice of e-commerce, but also learn from past mistakes.
According to the Financial Times, the United Kingdom "leads the world" in e-commerce. The digital economy is growing at a rate of more than ten per cent a year and there are no signs of it slowing down. Brits find shopping online easy, intuitive and almost instinctual. It is now easier than ever to find what you need, and more importantly, read other buyers’ thoughts and experiences on both the retailer and the product itself. So, it is no surprise that the UK is forecasting sales of more than £10bn in December – with internet sales accounting for the majority of that figure.
“But is it fair to assume that the undoubtable growth in e-commerce will help boost e-learning student numbers in the UK?”
The e-commerce and e-learning industries are built on contradicting drivers. The former relies on world-class marketing, super-brands and aggressive price strategies. The latter relies on the quality of academic content, study experience and recognition of the qualification one has decided to study. Yet behind these fundamentals – there are three key rules that will help the UK ‘lead the world’ in e-learning too.
Eternal customer engagement vs. lifelong learning
When you buy a CD from Amazon, it is customary to then receive e-mail recommendations on what other music you should look at. Although the concept seems pretty obvious to the average person, e-learning providers have been slow to learn. The time has come for the big players to create one-stop shops for lifelong learning where one can study anything they like or need across the academic spectrum to achieve their academic goals.
Customer service vs. student support
The expectations for high-quality customer service when you are shopping online are now higher than ever. I can receive what I bought within a matter of hours and can return goods for free without the need to explain myself. Trends worldwide show that companies can deal with more and more customers whilst employing fewer and fewer staff.
E-learning service providers have long faced serious issues when trying to leverage the same technology and head in the same direction. Business leaders in the industry must remember that studying online is a journey and so customer service and student support departments should be aligned to make that sometimes lengthy journey the best it can possibly be.
At StudyInterActive, the official online learning partner of the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), student support staff are career experts who build a personal rapport with our students to understand, a) where we are today and, b) what success looks like. This way students may be guided through the right study path, advised on other courses they should be taking and more importantly introduce them to potential employers when the time is right.
Customer reviews vs. alumni
By a country mile, the one thing that single-handedly catapulted the e-commerce industry forward is peer reviews. The ability for one to be able to read about other people’s experiences is irreplaceable. Statistically, if there are no reviews for a product you are about to buy online, you are 65 per cent less likely to purchase. Yet, if we try to look for similarities in the e-learning industry, these reviews are generally limited to a couple of short statements from previous students which were clearly amended to use as a marketing tool.
Students seeking degrees are resulting to using 3rd party forum websites to find out ‘real’ opinions and e-learning service providers are reacting by hiring staff to monitor forums instead of proactively engaging with alumni to become brand ambassadors. This is not a viable tool and when identified as un-authentic can work to distance students from the more valuable and genuine feedback.
Vitaly Klopot is Managing Director of StudyInterActive