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What can online education learn from e-commerce

One of the most amazing things about the evolution of the online retail industry is that it has understood humans at the most primal level possible. There is no expectation of rational behaviour, no attempt to sell logic and no prolonged decision making process (instant gratification). If we want people to learn continuously then we have to make education as easy to approach and consume as online shopping. Below are some lessons online higher education can learn from e-commerce:

1. Make it easy to make mistakes: By offering short courses that are easy and inexpensive to consume, educational institutions can reduce the buying cycle, allow people to experiment more easily and avoid demotivating them from learning if they make one or two wrong purchases (My bright orange flannel pants are still waiting to be worn six years later but they were by no means my last purchase). Part of the reason to start @connect2teachstemmed from here, to help online providers create credible, quickly consumable and relevant content fast. 

2. Transition easily across all channels: With a family that needs my regular attention, a child that wants to follow me to the loo and a hectic work schedule- I consume content while brushing my teeth, in elevators and if I am lucky, on flights. If I have to buy something on amazon, I can start my search on the desktop, finish my purchase on my phone and try it on in-person. Online education needs to become that seamless to consume not just in terms of delivery of content but also for preparation, group work and assessments. Blended learning is taking care of this requirement to a certain extent but mobile and social media can play a bigger role in this. 

3. Personalise the journey: Retail has invested a lot of money in using data to personalise the shopping experience (sometimes in creepy ways). Online education needs to do the same, but instead of just personalising the learning in higher education we need to go a step further and personalise the process of selecting a course and services offered after finishing a course also.

4. Increase lifetime value of each customer: The online retail industry doesn’t shy away from selling you a $1 toothbrush with the same dignity as a $2500 coffee machine. For online education it means moving away from attracting students for a single degree program and providing both, a range of formats that courses can be consumed in (this transition is already happening with formats such as capstones and micro-masters) and strong student support services that can help standardise student experiences. This can help create continuous repeat demand from the same customer.

5. Let them use social media to shop: The use of social media played a crucial role in the e-commerce journey. From a space to show off your purchases, it became a place to make purchases. This is already happening for content too. My Facebook mini feed offers a constant stream of book, TED Talk and Huffington Post recommendations but online course providers can take advantage of this in a more structured way to influence purchasing decisions.

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Priyanka Agarwal

Priyanka Agarwal is the Founder & CEO at Connect2Teach.com

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