The Forethought research behind our new range of online short courses
Melbourne Business School is reimagining the way it delivers short courses to keep up with learners, write Nora Koslowski and Ellen Sullivan.
There can no longer be doubt that the global pandemic has changed how, when and where people work and learn.
While a market shift towards online learning had already been happening in the last decade, COVID-19 greatly accelerated a change in learning methods and preferences, requiring education providers to re-think how they deliver programs and how they engage with their learners.
Short courses offer learners the opportunity to acquire a specific new skill, advance their careers, and grow their networks – with a relatively low investment of time required.
Recent developments, such as Google starting to offer certificates in the areas of project management, UX design and data analysis, as well as the Australian Government's plan to provide Commonwealth-supported places for higher education short courses, have signalled the attractiveness of engaging in shorter bursts of learning to learn new skills.
That shift has significant implications for learning providers like Melbourne Business School who have traditionally focused on creating a premium face-to-face experience.
"Short courses have always been part of our DNA," says Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, Dean, Internal.
"However, so has a focus on immersive, residential learning with short courses having been largely conducted face-to-face, complemented by informal networking. That means we are very curious about how to retain the best of our immersive experience with new technologies and new ways of delivering learning."
Market research partnership with Forethought
To map the changes occurring in business education and how the shift to online learning had impacted the short course domain, we partnered with Forethought, a marketing, advisory, strategy and analytics company with extensive experience in the education sector.
In particular, we wanted to find out whether online learning for short courses was considered an ongoing learning preference, and if so, how the behaviours of professional learners undertaking online short courses were evolving.
We bundled our burning questions into a market research survey with Forethought, who accessed over 2000 Australians who were open to undertaking online short courses in a range of business, commerce and science-related disciplines.
Here's what matters to these learners and what the research tells us about the Australian online short course market.
Short courses are an attractive study option
Our research collaboration with Forethought shows that the short course market in Australia is quite large – extrapolating from our sample, 4.2 million Australians would be open to undertaking a short course, with the overwhelming majority of this market interested in online study.
The specific career goals professional learners hoped to achieve included increasing their income, developing new knowledge or skills in a specific field and opening more doors to explore their passions.
And compared to other types of study, online short courses were seen to be a more accessible pathway for learners to achieve these career goals.
Just under half of the market had already tried an online short course – many of them via a platform such as LinkedIn Learning or Coursera.
While cost was an important influence on provider choice, learners were also looking for an education provider they could trust, the ability to obtain a recognised credential and the availability of flexible learning options to suit their lifestyle.
How learners behave online and what their preferences are
Professional learners expect the best of both worlds – the flexibility to access content when and how they want to, facilitated via new technologies and online platforms, as well as the level of engagement and support that traditional face-to-face learning has accustomed them to.
Incorporating a range of the below course features will go some way towards addressing this emerging challenge for providers:
While self-paced content is a must, ideally it should be complemented by live engagements with an instructor who can help the learner to apply the new knowledge to real world scenarios.
"While learners will continue to fit their ongoing education around their other life commitments, this doesn't mean they are willing to forgo interactivity, live discussion and real-time collaboration," says Darren Stein, Forethought Global CEO.
"Online learning may have begun as a static platform, but the future direction is full of interactivity and engagement. As a result, providers should consider both synchronous and asynchronous options for students."
Learners are also decisive in their preferences for course length, with 5-6 weeks seen as an ideal duration for an online short course.
Reimagining how we deliver short courses
In analysing the insights, Forethought observed an evolution of market requirements and expectations, indicating that providers need to adapt to succeed in online delivery.
Investing in digital infrastructure or partnerships will be vital to ensure online content can be delivered in a seamless and engaging way. Equally important is equipping facilitators with the skills to maintain a high standard of teaching and support in a digital world.
"Balancing learner needs will have challenges, but will support in fostering a bright future for online learning, and importantly, improved experiences and outcomes for learners," says Rebekah Antonucci, Forethought Associate Director Education.
At Melbourne Business School, we're observing the shift in this sector with curiosity and an appetite for transforming what we do best.
In response to the shift, we're releasing a growing range of online short courses, including online versions of existing courses as well as entirely new courses designed purely for online learning, such as:
- New Leader Development Program (online)
- Finance for Non-Financial Managers (online)
- Driving Performance in a Changing World (online)
- Thriving Through Change (online)
We're also partnering with clients to design bespoke digital learning academies and investing heavily in our digital capability, infrastructure and product design to meet the changing needs of learners.
Underpinning all of these changes are a belief in the importance of learner-centricity and the need to understand changing preferences, behaviours, and learner needs through industry partnerships like our collaboration with Forethought.
To keep an eye on our portfolio as it evolves, visit our Short Courses page.
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Nora Koslowski is the Executive Director of our Organisational Learning Group. She holds a PhD in Management from University College Cork and is passionate about driving transformation in the higher education sector to generate value for learners and clients.
Ellen Sullivan is our Associate Director of Digital Learning. She leads a team of digital learning advisors, strategists, designers, technologists and multimedia producers, and has co-designed and delivered online learning solutions for clients including BHP Billiton, ANZ and the Department of Defence.
The findings in this article were based a 15-minute online survey of 2008 prospective learners across Australia in May and June 2021. Respondents were aged 25 and over; were considering further study in the next five years; and were a non-rejector of online short courses. All respondents indicated they were open to studying a discipline within business, commerce, science or engineering.
Questions shown in this article were posed as multiple-response questions, meaning that total responses may not sum to 100%. The top responses for each question were shown, rather than all responses. Market sizing figures were extrapolated to the Australian population based on ABS data from 2021 and rounded to the nearest 100,000. They should be taken as an estimate only.