A recent Google search data report released by the BBC on September 23 lists the world’s 20 most searched-for universities. These rankings mark a huge shift in interest toward online universities and traditional schools with robust online options.
According to Google searches, the top university search worldwide is for the University of Phoenix, a for-profit, online-centric university (with a controversial, aggressive recruitment record). The second spot goes to MIT, which offers over 2,100 free courses online. Also ranking high is the UK’s Open University, another distance-learning school. And Coursera, a U.S. MOOC platform, gets more search than all of the United Kingdom’s traditional intuitions.
Why does this matter? The report demonstrates that the schools being searched for most often have online course offerings. It’s what folks want. Just three years ago, the most searched-for universities in the UK, other than the Open University, were Oxford and Cambridge (‘bout as traditional as you can get). They’ve now been overtaken by MOOC providers.
“The growth that they’ve experienced has been phenomenal,” says the Google analysis. “Higher education institutions must decide whether to embrace and adapt or risk getting left behind.”
Will the trend toward online education continue? Probably. I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift in higher education, with MOOCs emerging as the modern-day Athens. Granted, auditing MIT’s Epistemology course isn’t going to hang a new diploma on my wall—but talk about democratization.
Beyond the idea of opening up post-secondary learning to populations without the resources to attend traditional schools, these trends have immediate and practical consequences for the schools themselves. In order to stay (or become) competitive, universities must ensure their digital presence is robust, their message clear and their identity sound. Director of Cornell University’s Higher Education Research Institute, Ronald Ehreberg, says that the Internet is the “primary way” that universities market themselves to potential students and to alumni.
Harry Walker, education industry head at Google, agrees. “The internet is playing an ever increasing role in the decision making. Students are online searching and consuming content in all forms when they are deciding whether or not to go to university and deciding which universities to apply for.”
All the while, higher education marketers continue to struggle to use the tools required to play in the digital sandbox.
EVG offers higher education consultation and strategy, from content and messaging to design and video. If you need help navigating the digital landscape, we’re here to help.
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Sara Fraser – VP Content Strategy