Online Student Orientation: Strategies for Development and Institutional Differentiation

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Brief Abstract

Orientation programs present an opportunity for institutions to highlight what makes them unique in the online market while contributing to student success. This session will synthesize findings from recent research to help attendees begin designing exceptional orientation programs for online students and position their orientation programs in the online market.

Extended Abstract

Remote and online learning has changed the types of questions prospective students ask before enrolling in online degree programs. Beyond technical requirements, students are wondering about their online classroom experience and how they will meaningfully connect with their faculty and peers. They are eager for more information about success in an online learning environment and are less willing to accept being an afterthought to the on-ground student experience when it comes to student services. This growth in market sophistication is driving a full-scale re-evaluation of orientation contents and strategies to address online student needs proactively. This moment is also an opportunity for institutions and programs to use their investment in student success to position themselves in an increasingly crowded online market.

Orientation programs play an essential role in ensuring online student readiness and persistence through graduation but are rarely highlighted in marketing messaging, particularly at the graduate level, and may be deprioritized compared to the planning, design, and execution that goes into full-fledged online courses. This session posits that a systematic needs assessment approach to developing online student orientation can serve the dual role of creating an orientation program aligned with students’ needs while supporting institutional and programmatic marketing efforts related to online student success.

This session will provide a brief overview of why orientation programs are essential for online learners, then present benchmarking data to illuminate the current state of online student orientation structures and marketing. After synthesizing the existing literature related to creating and implementing online student orientation programs, attendees will be provided with several factors to consider when designing and conducting an orientation needs analysis at their institution. This session aims to provide attendees with an understanding of how to approach developing online orientation programs to meet student needs while communicating their institutional value in an increasingly crowded market.

Attendees will be asked to share information about their own institutional and individual experiences related to developing and marketing orientation programs for online students. These responses will enrich the attendee experience by providing insight into current state orientation activities and frame the session’s benchmarking conversation. Attendees will leave the session with access to a document that will help them begin the online student orientation process at their own institution, informed by the empirical research discussed in this session. 

At the end of this session, attendees will be able to articulate the importance of online student orientation programs and describe the common strategies that leading institutions are using to market the existence of such orientation programs. They will be able to explain the common tactics used to conduct an online orientation needs assessment based on existing research. Using the needs assessment template provided by the presenter, they will be able to begin to plan a needs assessment analysis at their institution and identify opportunities to tie orientation programs to institutional and programmatic marketing efforts.