#24: Chart a Course to Everywhere

There are many reasons to create academic programs that can reach students who are unable to travel to campus. Maybe you’d like to expand the audience for an existing in-person degree, or create an entirely new online offering.  But before you begin this journey there’s something you need to know — when geography is no longer a barrier to access, it changes the map.

So how does an program director chart a course from in-person to online?  In this episode, Dan and Kieran discuss what needs to be on the to-do list before you set sail.  Mixing travel metaphors now, we kept the altitude of this conversation at about 10,000 feet, soaring over 5 broad topics — goals, audience, faculty, marketing, and institutional support. But if you’d like to hear an in-depth exploration of any of these topics, please let us know so we can plan future episodes!

Even better, if you have an online learning project you’d like to workshop with us on air, we would love to have you on Wired Ivy.  Leave a voice message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy or by sending an email to wiredivypodcast@gmail.com.

If you’re creating a new online program then the target audience informs the program design. If you’re modifying an existing program, looking to online for additional audiences, then program design informs the target audience. #HigherEd #OnlineLearning

TRANSCRIPT

INTRO

KIERAN 00:00

Hello, I’m Kieran Lindsey…

DAN  00:02

I’m Dan Marcucci, and this is Wired Ivy.  We have combined 20 years of experience in the virtual classroom.

KIERAN  00:10

Dan lives in Pennsylvania, I live in Missouri, and we work for a university in Virginia. As part of a geographically distributed team we know from personal experience that online faculty and staff benefit from having access to their peers.

DAN  00:21

You may have been teaching online for a long time now or relatively new… you may have been thinking about a move to online or suddenly find yourself doing it… regardless, you are welcome in this virtual salon.  

KIERAN  00:32

Our goal is to create a collegial community for real academics working in virtual classrooms… a safe, supportive space where we can learn from one another and share what we’ve figured out.

MUSIC

PREFACE

DAN  00:46

Ahoy!  Is it possible to have too many transportation metaphors about piloting a new vessel into the open ocean of online learning? See for yourself in this episode and let us know.

Suppose you find yourself captain of an online program. Maybe you have the resources and crew of an existing curriculum and want to steer it beyond the university’s walls, or maybe you are driven to fill a void in the academic landscape.

There are many reasons to create learning opportunities that are free from geographic constraints, but when geography is no longer a barrier, it changes the map. Where to begin to get where you want to go?  Whatever your goal  — moving a degree online, building out a certificate or creating a micro-credential, as the driver of an online learning vehicle you are bound to have questions about what direction to head. 

These questions have been delivered to Wired Ivy’s own Kieran Lindsey many times. Colleagues often tap her expertise about how to get from where they are to where they want to be online. I wanted to capture some of this wisdom for the Wired Ivy community so I sat down with Kieran and asked her just what advice she has for directors of online programs as they navigate their options. With Kieran as our GPS, join us in exploring how to Chart a Course for Everywhere.

SAILBOAT SOUNDS

GUEST BIO

DAN  02:08

Wired Ivy regulars already know Kieran, but for first time listeners I want to be sure to get her credentials in.  Dr. Kieran Lindsey is program director for the Online Master of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, a professional degree focusing on global sustainability. She shepherded the MNR from an evening graduate program based in the National Capital Region to a growing degree with a global reach, currently serving over 200 students.

Kieran also has extensive experience in the virtual classroom as an educator, having developed and taught several courses at Virginia Tech, and also as a learner for her PhD in urban wildlife management at Texas A&M. With the blessing of her graduate advisor, the late Clark Adams, she remotely enrolled in courses at other universities to access expertise from across the United States.

Kieran, can I really welcome you to our own podcast? I think I just did [laughing].

KIERAN 02:59

I’m so glad to be here [laughing]

ONLINE PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

DAN 03:02

Let’s start at the beginning here. I know that over the years people have come to you. sometimes offering beer or coffee, which is ironic since you don’t drink either one of those,  to sort of get your advice because they’re interested in either starting a program or expanding a new program, but really to get your expertise and experience about online learning. 

So my first two questions for you are: what is the first question that they ask you when this happens? And what’s the first question that you asked them when this happen?

KIERAN   03:31

Often the first question that someone asks when they sit down with me to pick my brain about starting an online program is: How many students do I have to have in the program or enroll in the courses in order for it to break even, or make money.  The answer to that varies depending on the institution and the department and so many different things. It’s really putting the cart before the horse. 

The first question I ask them is, is the program you’re proposing entirely new, or are you trying to build onto the existing structure of a current program?  Because there’s a pretty significant difference depending on how they answer that question.

DAN  04:14

I think it’s clear to anyone who’s worked in this arena, that there are many types of diverse programs and you’ve alluded to it just now. So people are coming to you and asking a lot of these pointed questions, whether they’re the most pertinent questions, we will ferret out. But what are some of the origin stories? How do programs get started in the first place?

KIERAN   04:32

You’ve heard me talk about the fact that there are two broad approaches that universities or units within universities take when they start to move into the online arena. One is that they take what I call the Big Box approach. They want to serve a large group of students, providing them with a diverse set of programs, and in many cases, they’re building out an entire new campus, pretty much.  Examples of this would be Penn State World Campus, Oregon State eCampus, or Arizona State University, Southern New Hampshire…  the ones that we think of immediately when we think of the powerhouses in online delivery.  In that case, they are taking a very strategic approach to doing this on a broad scale.

The other approach to doing online is what I call Boutique. Instead of trying to be all things to everybody, you are trying to find a specific niche that has not been addressed yet; an audience that needs something, can’t access it by going to campus, and therefore that provides an opportunity to develop something that will be hopefully advantageous to both the students and to the university that is offering that.

Where do you want me to go from there?

DAN  05:49

That’s good. This is sort of a softball question based on what you just said, but I’ll throw it to you anyway and let you swing. 

KIERAN   05:55

Alright. 

DAN  05:55

Are the strategic decisions different based on the situation or the approach the university is taking?

KIERAN 06:01

Yes. And I think a really broad strokes approach to this would be to say, if you’re starting from scratch to create something completely new for an online audience, then the target audience informs the program design.

However, if you are starting with an existing program and looking for additional audiences, potentially online, then the program design informs the target audience. That’s the simplest way I can explain that.

DAN  06:29

Yeah, that’s pretty profound, though. So in one case you’ve got, um, I won’t even say the skeleton of a program..

KIERAN 06:34

If it’s an existing program, it’s completely fleshed out.

DAN  06:36

Yeah, you’ve got some, some structure, you’re looking for an audience. And in another case, you have an idea of an audience you want to serve or a niche you want to fill, and you’re tailoring the program to meet that audience. 

KIERAN 06:50

Exactly.  From the standpoint of building onto an existing program, it’s been designed to serve a face-to-face audience, and the idea is you want to transition that into a hundred percent online.  That’s one.  

Another thing would be that you have an existing in-person program and you want to kind of mirror that with a separate online program, and often the idea is that’s a completely discreet audience, separate from the audience that is being served by the in-person. That’s the idea, anyway.

And then another approach to that would be, you have an existing program, you don’t really want to make very many changes to it. You just want to expand the audience to include students who are not on campus and can’t come to campus.

Does that make sense?

DAN  07:40

I think it does. 

KIERAN 07:41

From the standpoint of starting a completely new program for online, there are also choices about how you want to do that, which we can get into, but you’re not bound in the same way as you are when you have an existing program that you’re trying to make changes to.

DAN  07:56

I’m interested in, particularly in the situations where there’s a program director who’s really steering the process. What’s the program director going to be doing in these various situations?  Suppose you’re a program director in any of the scenarios you just described.

KIERAN 08:12

The first things I ask… I want them to start thinking about these things: What are the goals they have for the online program that they’re proposing? Who is the target audience or target audiences for the program as they envision it?  Who will teach the courses in the program? Who is the competition in this space? Maybe there’s none, which, good on you, but that presents its own challenges. And will there be institutional support or is this an entirely grassroots effort that you’re planning to try to build out and then get support for afterwards?

Those are sort of really high level kinds of issues that you need to think through.  It’s not usually where people have started intuitively but this will set them up in the best way to succeed… or to decide that this is not something that is going to work as they have envisioned it so far.

DAN  09:04

We’re talking about people navigating terrain that they haven’t been on in many cases, sometimes they have, of course, but in many cases, they’re people who’ve been working for some years in the classroom or on campus, and they’re literally trying to get someplace they’ve never been.

KIERAN 09:18

Exactly. I’m their GPS.

DAN  09:19

You’re their GPS. Exactly! So as their GPS, let’s talk a little bit more about the program goals. 

PROGRAM GOALS

KIERAN 09:26 

For example, there may be a top-down directive to build out more online, or it might be from your department head, or it might be something that you see as an opportunity. And so some of the ways that you might think about online program goals:  Is the primary goal to expand the department’s reach and reputation and impact? Trying to have a presence beyond their region or wherever they’re known currently? Moving into an online format because you can reach a larger audience that way? 

DAN 10:00 

We would be remiss not to say that one of the major goals, often, is to increase enrollment and tuition income, and to do so in a way that doesn’t create additional pressure on limited physical infrastructure of the campus. 

DAN  10:13

Mmm-hmm. 

KIERAN 10:13

Addressing physical classroom space limitations can be a part of that, too. Maybe you’ve seen that there’s demand for more than you can accommodate. 

DAN 10:22

I could also see that there could be mission driven goals. That department and academic units, colleges, have mission statements, universities have mission statements. So it could be that an online program is seen as a way of furthering a mission.

KIERAN 10:38

Exactly. There are plenty of others as well, and one of them is that you’ve got faculty really curious and passionate about the potential for online delivery of higher education curriculum. And that’s valid too. 

It helps to know, as a program director, where you’re aiming. If increasing enrollment and tuition income is your primary directive, then you’re going to have to make some decisions about whether or not there is potential to reach that goal.  And that plays into the conversation about who is the target audience.

DAN 11:13

Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.  I want to go back to something you said earlier and… do some people think, “Oh, well here’s an opportunity!” but they don’t actually know what the goal is that they’re proposing yet?  

KIERAN 11:13

Yeah. I think that’s the more common thing that happens. They may be feeling like they’re being left behind. They see their colleagues at other institutions doing this and, if we’re going to use the analogies of transportation, they see the boat is leaving the harbor and they’re not on it, or the train is leaving the station or whatever we want to talk about.

DAN 11:44

I’m loving these metaphors. Just keep ‘em coming. It works for me.

KIERAN 11:46

In some cases, they have a very vague idea, which is just that, you know, this is happening in our discipline and we need to be doing it, too. Sometimes it, it very much is top-down and this particular person has been tagged. They might not even be thinking of themselves as a program director yet. 

The other thing that I would say about that is in some cases what is happening is that they actually do know what the goal is. They’re just not sure it’s feasible and so they’re a little bit shy about stating it.

DAN 12:16

Sure. I think it’s, I mean, you, you basically said it before though, that goals are requisite. You have to have goals if you have any hope of having a successful program, because again, with our spatial analogies… how does that saying go, if you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to know when you get there?

KIERAN 12:31

Exactly, exactly. My approach. When I talk to these folks and use the GPS analogy is to say, if you know where you want to go, I can probably help you chart a path to it. If you don’t know where you want to go, we’re just going to sit in your driveway for a long time.

TARGET AUDIENCE

DAN 12:45

What is the importance of articulating an audience? What are the varieties of audiences that might be out there, and, you know, how is it important to identify them?

KIERAN 12:55

Well, I will say that it delights me when I sit down to talk to somebody and they tell me that one of their program goals is to serve a specific audience that they feel is being left out of what they’re doing, because boy, now we have something juicy to work with. 

DAN 13:10

Yeah.

KIERAN 13:10

More often is the case is that I have to sort of tease that out of them.  Okay. You want to grow this, you want to do this… have you given any thought to who the target audience is? And in many cases that kind of comes as sort of a surprise. And I understand why that is for faculty and staff who are based on a physical campus. It’s not something that traditional faculty are used to thinking about. You build it and they come. 

But that’s not the case in online. It’s a little bit different situation there. It really helps to think about who you want to serve when you start trying to build out an online offering. This is the same whether or not you’re trying to build out something new or whether you’re trying to build onto something existing. Because if you don’t know who you’re trying to serve, you don’t know what you need to create to have it be accessible and valuable to them.

An example of that would be adult learners.  If you’re used to working with on-campus students who are full time, you might not be thinking, “Oh, we need to allow adult learners to enroll half-time or part-time instead of full-time, because they’re not going to be able to handle that kind of course load while also working and doing other things that come along with being an adult.” 

You might have to think about the delivery mechanism you want to use. If the course is being taught on campus, synchronously — which, on campus courses are always taught synchronously — you might be thinking, well, we’ll put a camera in the room and that way people can access it from off-campus. Problem solved!  Except that the classes are taught in the middle of the workday, and the person who was wanting to take that class and be a part of your program can’t just stop what they’re doing in the middle of their work-life to login to this class.

STUDENT SERVICES

DAN 15:01

Mmm-hmm. Sure.  Well, this gets to an interesting question that I, I think, aspirational program directors are going to really want to think about. What is the importance of student services? I mean, I suspect that some people think, “Oh, student services go to almost zero in an online program.”  Tell me your experience about student services and how you would advise a program director to think about them.

KIERAN 15:23

So this is another area where I say something and the other person looks at me blankly because it never has occurred to them.  And that is when I ask, what kinds of student services do you have, available now or that you’ll have to build out, to help this new target audience succeed? And it’s pretty clear by looking at their face that they were thinking, “What do you mean? They’re not going to be on campus. They don’t need student services.”

It’s true they don’t need that climbing wall. But they do need support services, and some of them will be the same and some of them will be different. 

DAN 15:56

You’re making me loop back but we never said the navigation was going to be linear, we will admit to that. So what I’m hearing is that the audience for some online programs could even be students who were already on campus.

KIERAN 16:08

Yes.

DAN 16:08

So you could maybe had doing a certificate in this degree and you want to try to pick up people in the business school. 

KIERAN 16:13

We just I spoke, you and I, to a friend who was asking for some ideas about building out an additional audience for an existing program, and one of the things that you and I recommend it was, you know, an additional audience for this program might be current students on campus in other programs.

And, and while she was surprised that we brought that up, she immediately saw, “Oh, right!”

FACULTY

DAN 16:37

So I’m going to change directions here, go through the interchange and come off on a different highway. And the highway that we’re going to come off on is the faculty highway. 

I know that program directors are going to have to deal with this and think about this, and I think many of our faculty listeners are going to be interested in the hiring process and how those decisions are made.

So I’m very curious to get your advice on how… well, really, what the options are for building up faculty, and how they might choose among those options.

KIERAN 17:05

Okay. Well, the first question that I would ask is, are you going to be able to choose the faculty, or have you been told who the faculty will be? And in that particular case, it’s probably a standing faculty that a department head or dean want to see also used for this purpose.

DAN 17:25

Well, let’s hover there for one second. So I assume that if there is a standing faculty that’s going to be used to deliver a new online program that, that comes with its own host of issues, shall we say.  Is that a good situation to, for a program director to be in and you know, how, how would they want to try to navigate that?

KIERAN 17:45

It can be a good situation for the program director.

Questions that arise from my mind are: When whoever told the program director they were going to use this particular standing faculty made that decision, did they confer with the faculty first? In other words, are the faculty onboard and excited about this? Ready to go? Excited? Or is this news to them and they never had any interest or intention of ever teaching in an online program? If that’s what you’re faced with that is definitely a big problem. 

DAN 18:21

Mmm-hmm.

KIERAN 18:21

Let’s assume they all are onboard about online instruction. There’s still the question of, well, if I’m going to be teaching for this online program, do the courses I teach online count towards my course load, or not?  My guess would be if they don’t, the enthusiasm you might’ve seen to begin with might falter a little bit. Because it’s one thing to be excited about a new platform for teaching. It’s another thing to say that you’re going to take on some additional work. 

DAN 18:48

So we’ve hovered over this idea of using existing faculty at the university to deliver an online program, a new or augmented online program. What are some of the other ways that a program director might build out a faculty to deliver a new program.

KIERAN 19:05

Another option would be contract adjunct faculty, or maybe even lecturers that are under a different kind of situation…

DAN 19:11

Like a fixed term. Full-time for a year full-time for three years type thing.

KIERAN 19:16

Yeah. Right. Exactly. Or contract adjunct faculty who are brought on to teach specific classes, and maybe that class is offered every semester, and maybe that class is offered once per academic year. 

One really nice thing about using adjunct faculty for an online program is it’s not just the students who can be located anywhere.  The faculty can be, too.The potential pool of instructors from which you get to choose to teach your online program expands enormously in that situation. 

You not only see a broader group than might be available within a commuting distance of your campus, those folks that live in other parts of the world, or other parts of your country bring new perspectives.

So you can probably tell, I like that idea, right? I liked diverse voices. I like diverse perspectives and I think it also makes faculty a little bit more aware of some of the issues that can come up from a distributed student body. 

DAN 20:19

So if you’re working on a program that’s got a significant portion of the faculty, of the, of the instructors who are… they’re on contract, whether they’re fixed term or course by course. I’m wondering if there’s some downside to doing that. And I think particularly of, you know, a lot of times you’ll hear that there’ll be a turnover of the faculty because they’re not permanent. The other thing is you might have trouble marketing the program because it’s going to be perceived as full of adjuncts. Let’s start with that one first. 

KIERAN 20:47

Okay. I haven’t done any kind of even an informal survey of other program directors to see if this is a problem for them, so I’ll just speak to my own experience. That has never once come up. I have never once had a prospective student or current student even ask about that. And I think that’s because the whole issue of tenure, tenure- track, adjunct, lecturer… that’s so inside baseball for higher ed. It means a lot to us as academics, but from the outside…

What they care about is that the person who is teaching them has subject matter expertise, and is invested in their success as a student, and puts a lot of effort and creativity into the development of their course. That’s what I think leads to student satisfaction on that. It’s not really an issue, at all, that I have seen.

DAN 21:35

I mean, I think what you’re saying makes sense. And if we think more broadly, it’s probably true across the university.  I mean, there is this mystique of the star professor that may be an attraction at, at a university, but for the most part, people are choosing universities based on the programs, based on what they perceive the quality of the outcome educational outcomes are going to be, based on professional networks.  And it’s going to be the same in an online program. 

KIERAN 22:03

Mmm-hmm.  There is one thing though that I think they do care about a lot, especially for an online program.  And this might sound a little funny to us, but I hear this. They want to make sure that they’re being taught by a human. 

DAN 22:14

Okay!

So let’s look a little bit more about this idea that using contract faculty gives you a less stable or permanent faculty to deliver your program?  From the director’s point of view, is that a problem you’re building for yourself.

KIERAN 22:28

Okay. Nuances,as always. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are the, the factors that I think would set up a program to be more prone to that. 

One would be that you are not paying your contract faculty well enough that it’s feasible for them to continue working for you, that the time that’s involved and the compensation that they get represent a fair exchange.  

Another aspect of that would be the size of the classes — and this is especially critical for undergraduate courses, but some large graduate programs, this can be an issue, too. 

DAN 23:04

Suppose the program director has an opportunity to hire for their program. What would a person look for? How would they go about hiring a faculty to deliver this new program, this new curriculum.

KIERAN 23:17

This is really top of mind for me right now, because I am actually in the middle of a search for somebody to develop and teach a new course for us.  Remember, I have a very broad potential hiring pool, almost regardless of how niche the subject matter is. ‘Cause I’m not geographically bound. I can hire anybody who’s got the subject matter expertise and can teach. 

DAN 23:39

As you were saying, you’re not bound by geography when you’re looking for faculty, so how do you prioritize it? What do you look for?

KIERAN 23:46

It helps if they’ve looked at our curriculum. Have they ever taught before? Ideally in higher ed, but I’m open to… I have a really fabulous instructor whose initial experience, before she came into our program, was teaching in high school. She’s a fabulous educator!  I’m happy to have her on our faculty. 

DAN 24:03

She’s got a PhD in the field, very highly qualified, knows her subject matter…

KIERAN 24:08

Mmm-hmm! The reason that it’s important to me to know whether they’ve taught or not is because people who want to teach, but have never taught, sometimes… there’s some gap between what the reality of teaching on a day-to-day basis requires of you, and their idea of what teaching is. Having somebody who’s actually taught means that we’re already past that part. 

DAN 24:31

Well, and they know, they know the tools of the trade. They might not know the tools of the online trade, but education is education and certain things that, you know, we all have to understand to get into the business.

KIERAN 24:42

Right.  The next thing I ask is have they ever taught online and that’s kind of a mixed bag because…

DAN 24:48

Up to two years ago… 

KIERAN 24:49

Yeah, it used to be more of a differentiator. People did, or they didn’t. I haven’t had to deal with that, too much, yet since the pandemic, but that’s probably going to be a big part of what I’m going to be talking to candidates about.  You know, when they say yes, what does that mean to them?

If they say yes, my next question is always, “Tell me a little bit about what you do in an online environment.” Because I need to know, is this somebody who’s got some approaches to teaching online that I’m going to have to… re-educate them about?

And just, you know, in all seriousness, I, I don’t mean to be dismissive. I will ask things like, “Were you teaching synchronously or asynchronously? Were you teaching from somebody else’s course design or was it a course that you designed and taught yourself?  Do you have active learning components or project-based learning components? How many students were in the class? Do you use group work as opposed to individual work? How do you balance that? How do you handle discussion? 

DAN 25:47

There are some people out there who really have a passion for their field, particularly in a professional program, you know, you might want to get people who are very active professionally, who would be great adjunct teachers. Haven’t taught online before. Are there other ways for them to get online experience that you know is going to be valuable, you know, from your perspective?

KIERAN 26:06

Another question I almost always ask — and it’s not a deal breaker if the answer is no — but I really would like to know whether or not the person who wants to teach for my program has ever taken an online course themselves. I want to know if they have ever had the experience of being in the virtual classroom and being on the other side of the podium or whatever we want to call it.  

To be on the receiving end of it, I think, is really informative. A lot of what informs my approach to how this particular program has been built out were my experiences, good and horrible, as an online graduate student.

I would encourage anybody who is trying to find a gig teaching online, wants to, you know, help their chances at being able to get a position that they really want… even if the people hiring aren’t thinking about it this way, I would still encourage everybody who wants to teach online to take an online course themselves.

You can sign up for a MOOC, a massively open online course. It’s free…

DAN 27:04

There’s thousands of them out there…

KIERAN 27:05

… there’s thousands of them out there, and it will be very educational to take one of those courses.

MARKETING

DAN 27:12 

So we’ve taken our faculty highway and we’re at the airport. And now I would like to get in the airplane and fly over the issue of marketing. 

KIERAN 27:21

Haha!  That’s good!

DAN 27:22

Because I know, as a program director, you’re really going to want to be able to look from above and see how are you going to get the news out there about this wonderful program you’ve got and attract the learners into the program whom you are doing this all. What are your, what is your wisdom on marketing?

KIERAN 27:35

I’m going to preface this by saying this subject at minimum is an entire episode all of its own.  I think one of the critical things that comes up when I am talking to somebody about what they need to do next is how seldom they’ve ever thought about marketing at all, and really have sort of a confused and deer-in-the-headlights look when I bring it up.  And, quite frankly, a lot of times they also don’t have any budget for it, which is a real problem. 

DAN 27:59

I was, yeah, I was going to ask that. As you said, this is really an episode, plus.  ‘Cause already I’m seeing these nuances. 

So for example, if we’re talking about a niche program, an online degree or certificate that really is serving a niche then understanding the competition is important, but you’re trying to be so specialized that the competition isn’t necessarily the important thing. It’s getting the word out that you exist. You’re going to have to have some budget to let people know you exist. 

KIERAN 28:26

Right. 

DAN 28:26

There’s a whole different, other set of concerns if it’s a program, which is much more common say in business or in IT, and there are dozens of them out there. So how you’re going to compete is going to also inform how you’re going to market, I would think.

KIERAN 28:43

Yet again, this is going to tie back to something else that we’ve already spoken to and that’s who is your target audience and what are your goals for the program?

If your minimum viable audience can be attained in your, let’s say your metropolitan area or in your region, then you might take one particular strategy for doing marketing and recruitment.  And you have some benefits you can play off of, because within that limited geographic area your, your name recognition is probably pretty good. Not for this program but for the institution that you’re working with and then you can build on that.

DAN 29:18

Well, I can even see that happening at the state level, because you might be working in a professional program where it’s licensed at the state level.

KIERAN 29:25

If you can meet the needs of your program’s goals with that kind of potential student population, that target audience, then that’s going to impact your marketing strategy, your marketing and recruitment strategy, right?

If instead, what you want to do is have a more national audience… well, if you’re a big enough university you might have some name recognition out there that would help but it’s not going to help you as much as in your own region. Part of your marketing strategy has also got to be doing some subtle education of the target audience outside of your region who might see your program and some of the outreach that you’re trying to do, but not even pay attention to it.

Because, in their mind, even though it’s an online program it doesn’t seem feasible to them, either because they’re worried about having to pay out-of-state tuition or because they don’t really understand the power of online instruction to reach a very dispersed audience.  And so they might not pay attention when they see an ad for your program, because it doesn’t, it doesn’t register with them as an option.

DAN 30:22

So what I’m inferring from these different scenarios that you’ve been describing is: A) marketing is going to be somewhat dependent on both the audience, the goals of the program, and the strategy that you’re taking as far as how you’re going to build the program out.  That includes your competition, of course. 

KIERAN 30:39

I don’t have formal marketing education but I, I was in charge of our marketing and recruitment efforts for a period before we hired an actual professional, thank God. And I, I literally am thankful for her every day and also the person who is now in charge of our recruitment…

DAN 30:58

So, so the long view answer’s going to be: grown large enough so that your program can afford a professional marketing person so the program director doesn’t have to do that.

KIERAN 31:07

Exactly. Ok, it turns out this is a really simple answer, it’s not going to take a whole episode. Just grow your program large enough so that you can hire somebody to take care of that. Somebody who actually knows what they’re doing. That would be helpful.

DAN 30:19

Yeah. So, how do we market to get the program to that size? That’s my new question.

KIERAN 31:23

Ok. I think it still comes back to program goals and target audience. You can’t build out a marketing and recruitment strategy… you don’t have any place to start if you don’t know what your goals are for the program and who it is that you’re trying to attract. Without that you are just stumbling around.

DAN 31:44

I accept that because niche actually, the way we’ve been talking about it could easily mean very specialized topic, but you want to appeal to people around the world. So your audience is going to, is really going to determine how they can be reached. 

KIERAN 31:51

How can you decide the mechanism by which you will reach your art audience, if you don’t know who your audience is?

DAN 31:58 

Yeah. I mean, it really goes back to the very beginning where you have to know what the goal of this initiative is, and you have to know whom you’re trying to serve.

INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

DAN 32:06

One more area that I imagine a program director might be involved with is institutional support. It could be that a program is being initiated by a single faculty person, it could be that a department wants to do it. It could be that a college wants to do it. It could be that the university is pushing the initiative. So there’s lots of places that these get started, but in the end, some level of institutional support is going to be necessary. 

What’s the landscape that a program director might have to navigate when it comes to having institutional support, not having institutional support? 

KIERAN 32:39

So one way to think about institutional support, or lack thereof, is in terms of incentives and disincentives. My personal take would be, it’s nice to have incentives. It’s nice to have support, whether that’s financial support, training support, instructional designers… but I think it’s possible to build out a successful program in the absence of that.  

You might not have a nice tailwind in which to draft so the peddling might be harder, but to use another transportation analogy, but at least nobody at your institution is throwing nails down on the ground in front of your vehicle. Way harder to build out a successful program if there are disincentives. 

DAN 33:18

Right.

KIERAN 33:19

As far as instructional design, my experience has been primarily at the course development level. I haven’t had a lot of experience with instructional designers who get involved in the program development area.

DAN 33:33

And yet we know that, particularly, the institutions that have large undergraduate online presences will have professional instructional designers looking at programs from soup to nuts.

KIERAN 33:47

Yes. And that’s another way the big box structure is different than a boutique structure. Those programs are being built out as part of a larger strategy for the institute. 

DAN 33:55

Right.

KIERAN 33:55

So, yeah, even though that hasn’t been my personal experience I know that that does exist.

DAN 34:00

Sure.

KIERAN 34:00

Just because your institution doesn’t have instructional designers, or you don’t have the budget to pay for access to those instructional designers, doesn’t mean that you can’t proceed with the development of an online program.  A lot of online programs that are up and running now were built out before it was common for universities to hire instructional designers.

FINAL THOUGHTS

DAN 34:23

Once you’ve had an aspiring or a midstream program director who’s been getting your advice and experience for say, two hours, what is it that they say in response?

KIERAN 34:37

Well, sometimes this happens before the two hour mark, I should say, but often what happens is they kind of run out of steam. They usually start out with lots and lots of questions, and then by the time we get to some satiation point, they sort of sit there and go, “Wow. Wow. Okay. I have a lot to think about. This is a lot to digest. This is going to be way more complicated than I thought it was.” And that’s usually where I will point out that it might not be more complicated, but it’s differently complicated than they thought. They were starting from one set of assumptions and expectations, primarily informed by their experience in face-to-face classes as a student, now in their professional career. 

The takeaway from this is how fundamentally different the competitive landscape is, the students that you’re serving, what you need to do in order to be able to serve them, how fundamentally different that is from the experience on campus. 

But I will also point out to them, it’s doable. You know it is because I’m sitting here in front of you  and you know, we did it. We’re continuing to do it. And we’re not an anomaly.

SUMMARY

DAN  35:44   

That is an uplifting note to end on, and plenty of cargo for one episode so I think we will leave it right there. 

We hope you found this 10,000 foot introduction valuable. We kept this conversation at that altitude to hear Kieran’s advice about a broad range of topics, namely goals, audience, faculty, marketing, and competition, and institutional support. 

You might notice that we didn’t talk about the specifics of a curriculum.  The broad objectives of your curriculum, which you are the expert on, won’t change because of the medium of education and the specific details of curricular design would be too complex to discuss out of context.

But if you want to hear an in-depth conversation of any of these topics, please let us know! and we will plan future episodes for you. Even better, if you have an online learning project you would like to workshop with us on air, we would love to have you on Wired Ivy. You will hear all of our contact information in about 30 seconds.

We also want to give a shout out and thanks to Dr. Elizabeth Hammond infield, who helped us develop ideas for this episode.  Elizabeth was Wired Ivy’s guest way back in Episode 6, From Campus to Cloud.  She has served as the Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department Chair at UMass Amherst, where she is currently Professor and the Program Coordinator for the Graduate Certificate on Climate Change Hazards and Green Infrastructure Planning.

So do I have time for one more transportation metaphor?  Navigating your online program to a safe harbor does not have to be like sailing in a fog bank. With explicit goal setting and thoughtful planning it can be like the skies have cleared and the stars are out to lead way.

Okay, I confess.  That’s actually a simile. 

OUTRO

MUSIC

KIERAN   38:14

Let’s learn from each other! You can record a voice message, send an email, or leave a comment on our website, wiredivy.org. You can record a voice message, send an email, or leave a comment on our website, wiredivy.org. And help Wired Ivy grow by sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast app.

DAN   38:25

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Dan Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content. Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.

KIERAN   38:40

Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

DAN   38:47

Until next time, this is Dan Marcucci…

KIERAN   38:49

And I’m Kieran Lindsey. 

KIERAN and DAN   38:51

Let’s stay connected!

Think of approaches to online programming as either Big Box, where you’re trying to serve the largest possible audience with diverse offerings, or Boutique, where you’re serving a niche audience. #HigherEd #OnlineLearning

GUEST BIO

lindsey headshotWired Ivy co-host Kieran Lindsey is a former online graduate student, occasional online educator, and current Program Director for Virginia Tech’s Online Master of Natural Resources. The Online MNR has  has evolved from in-person instruction to online, and under her guidance has grown to be the university’s 2nd largest virtually delivered graduate degree.  Kieran serves as a special consultant to VT’s Graduate School Dean on virtual programming for non-traditional student audiences, and has provided ad hoc advising on the development and delivery of online programming to colleagues at various institutions.  Kieran is also an urban wildlife biologist (Texas A&M – BS, MS, PhD), writer, blogger, regional Emmy Award recipient (documentary feature), and now a podcaster, too, as well as personal assistant to a ferociously cute wire fox terrier named Dashiell Riprock (aka Dash).

We welcome your questions, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes. Join our Wired Ivy LinkedIn Group, tweet us @wiredivy,  or look for the bright blue Talk to Wired Ivy tab on the right side of this screen to leave us a voice message!

Without institutional support you won’t have a nice tailwind in which to draft, so the peddling might be harder and it will take longer to get there, but you can still build a successful online program. #HigherEd #OnlineLearning

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

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