Invest in your students more than your learning

Invest in your students more than your learningWhen I read this article – “Invest in Your Customers More Than Your Brand” – from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) I couldn’t help but make similarities between ‘brand’ and ‘learning’, between ‘customers’ and ‘students’. That is why this post is called “Invest in your ‘students’ more than your ‘learning’.”

I know we shouldn’t see students as customers but the simple truth is that many of them think of themselves that way and, since students are paying up to £9,000 per year for their University degrees now, Universities are competing for students numbers in similar ways to companies competing for High Street or online shoppers.

There are some incredibly recognisable brands in the world today, but why are they so big and so memorable? When someone mentions a big brand what do you think? If I mention Nike do you think about the ‘tick’ logo, the quality of product, or the sports personality wearing it? If I ask about Marks & Spencers do you again think green and gold logo or the ease of parking at their stores? There is a difference here between what the organisation wants their brand to be, and what their customers think their brand is. Brand is not necessarily what you want it to be, but what your customers thinks it is.So, think about your brand as your learning resources and assessment strategies, and your customers are your students. Do your students have the same idea about your ‘brand’ that you do, or are they thinking something completely different. Do you utilise the module or unit feedback from your students to help fix or tweak issues they found during your module/unit of study?

Take this section of the HBR article:

“The overwhelming majority of advertising/promotion/marketing/branding investments and expenditures most organizations make today are more about “selling things” than “helping customers.” What do you think customers find more appealing …customers aren’t idiots; they know when they’re being sold. They’re both smart and wired enough to seek out — and appreciate — quality assistance.”

and substitute learning and brand, students and customers, and see what we have:

“The overwhelming majority of learning investments and expenditures most [Schools/Universities] make today are more about “selling learning” than “helping students.” What do you think students find more appealing …students aren’t idiots; they know when they’re being sold. They’re both smart and wired enough to seek out — and appreciate — quality learning.”

We produce learning materials that we understand what they’re for and why the students need them, but do we tell the students this or just ask them to dive head-first in and get on with it? Do we signpost the learning outcomes and why particular activities are required and what the students should get from it or just leave them to figure it out? Do we expect great things from students without telling them what they are or why we expect it? Is this fair? Will the students thank us for the effort we put in on their behalf or go online and moan, and where will they say it (and will we hear)?

Big business is trying to get to grips with the onset of social media and the huge difference (e.g.) Facebook has made to the word-of-mouth gossip about their ‘brand’. No longer can big businesses (or small for that matter) ignore those few or quiet voices of dissent when they don’t deliver on their brand promise. The same goes for Universities and other learning providers – students are online and searching for anything and everything about their chosen or preferred learning provider or University. It’s not about what the learning provider says about itself any more (the brochure just doesn’t cut it in today’s always-on society), it’s what current and past students are saying that’s more important and more relevant.

Image Source: Fruit market stall in Cairo by Filip Maljković (CC BY-SA 2.0)