Meyer, K. and Wilson, J. (2010) ‘The “virtual face” of planning: how to use higher education web sites to assess competitive advantage’ Planning for Higher Education, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Note: as of 17 January, 2010, this edition is not yet available online. It will be posted by SCUP in the near future.)
This article offers a methodology to investigate your own or other institutions’ competitive advantage in offering online programs. It does this by going to institutional web sites and assessing how easy it is to find the following information (and the quality of the information, if found):
- how many enrollments in online programs?
- information on the quality of online programs
- which faculty teach online?
- library services focused on serving online learners
- is online learning mentioned in the institutional mission statement?
- how many online programs are offered?
- price of online programs (especially if there are extra charges compared with conventional programs))
- availability of special services aimed at online learners (e.g. a how to study online guide)
- ability to access services online (such as registration, fee payment).
This may look like an odd ordering of questions, but none of the 40 institutions surveyed in the study provided information on their web site about the number of enrollments, whereas 35 of the 40 provided online access to services (i.e. the list goes from least to most available information).
As someone who spends a great deal of time searching through institutions’ web sites trying to find information about their online teaching, I can confirm how difficult it is to find such information even for institutions that have extensive online programs. How students without much knowledge of institutions or online learning cope is beyond me. This is where business intelligence software could be really useful – helping to pull together reliable data about the kinds of teaching being offered within an institution, and making it readily available to potential students.
This is a good article to send to whoever is responsible for the institutional web site (and the best way to plan and design an institutional web site would be an even more fascinating study.)