Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, the higher education sector in Australia was already experiencing sure but subtle shifts. Increasingly, companies expect their new hires to come equipped with the latest skills and a lifelong learning attitude; in turn, learners expect more from their education providers—of which they have plenty to choose from. The pandemic hasn’t altered any of these trends. What it has done is accelerate them, compressing what would have been years of change into a mere matter of months.

This piqued our curiosity: how are the decision-making process and attitudes of Australian learners changing in this unusual environment?

To seek out the answers, we decided to conduct a research study in August 2020. We partnered with Kantar on an independent survey of over 350 individuals across Australia, focusing on LinkedIn members who are taking, have taken, or intend to take a course in the next six months.

Here’s what we discovered:

Finding 1: The current economic environment has increased interest in education in Australia. 

One-third of our survey respondents told us that the effects of COVID-19 make them more likely to take up further study. This is most prominent among Gen Z (50 per cent) and Millennials (34 per cent). Their main motivation? Career opportunities (72 per cent).

We expect this to be an enduring trend with two key drivers. The first, the indication parts of the labour market will remain soft as some industries struggle to or are unable to recover due to closed borders, reduced foot traffic and capacity restrictions. The second, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital and tech-led solutions increasing demand for sills in these areas which in turn is requiring re-skilling and up-skilling for a career opportunity.

What this means for education providers: Now’s the time to grow your marketing reach.

There’s a clear opportunity to capture this increased demand by growing Share of Voice (SOV). SOV measures the percentage of media spending by a brand compared to the total media expenditure in that market category. Considering that the economic impact of the pandemic is forcing some competition out of the market, education providers with the firepower to double down on marketing now will likely be able to grow their share of market (SOM) more efficiently than in a normal economic environment.

Taking a long-term approach to marketing by resisting the knee-jerk reaction of pulling back on media spend would also place education providers in a favourable position when the economy recovers—which it will.

Finding 2: Short courses are enabling the desire to upskill quickly and unlocking the lifelong learning opportunity. 

Australian learners, especially Gen Z and Millennials (both 35 per cent), are showing a preference for short courses as a way to upskill quickly. The lifelong learning mindset is also shining through among Australians, with 85 per cent of respondents saying they are likely to enrol in further study in the next three years. Additionally, 50 per cent claim that they would choose the same institute over a new one. That’s a significant and constant opportunity that education providers don’t want to miss out on.

What this means for education providers: Be proactive and engage for the long-term.

Our study found that 57 per cent of Australian learners are passive when it comes to considering education courses. Education providers can give them the nudge they need by adopting a full-funnel, always-on marketing strategy that balances long-term branding and short-term demand generation. To keep learners warm throughout the decision-making process, education providers can also reconsider their offerings:

Do learners want to be lectured to or would they rather be entertained and inspired?

Can in-person social networks, traditionally formed on campus, be replaced with online communities that encourage social learning?

Is the strictly timetabled learning experience still relevant or would a blend of on-demand and scheduled learning add to the flexibility factor that learners with busy lives, families and careers, so desire?

Education providers that take the time to realign their messaging, communications and offerings to the new world of learners would certainly earn themselves an advantage in this environment.

Finding 3: Brand reputation is king. However, new factors are influencing candidates.

Whether our respondents are thinking of a short course, certification course or a Masters degree, they agree that the reputation of the education provider still matters the most (ranging between 87-91 per cent). However, flexibility and accessibility are now given almost equally high importance with course duration coming in second (79-86 per cent) and online course availability (78-83 per cent) closing out the top three. While this is likely a direct result of the pandemic and its accompanying remote work imperative, chances are, this trend is here to stay.

What this means for education providers: Rethink your reputation and brand positioning.

Keep building your reputation but do it where it matters the most. Our survey found that 50 per cent of learners would connect with at least one alumni on LinkedIn before enrolling in a course. Most learners, particularly those after a Masters degree, also rely on professional social networks (54 per cent) as an information source. This offers a two-fold opportunity for education providers: engage learners on platforms that they already use and trust, and nurture a strong alumni community to help amplify your reputation.

It cannot be denied that the pandemic has created many challenges for education providers, but we also see a bright spot. With more Australian learners now able, willing and eager to pursue further study, education providers who invest in growing their Share of Voice at this critical juncture, who invest in nurturing learners through the full candidate journey, and who rethink their positioning to meet learners where they are, would be in a good position to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever before.

For full research insights and more advice on how to tap into the Australian learner’s mindset, check out our on-demand webinar and accompanying research report.

This article is published by Which-50’s Digital Intelligence Unit (DIU) on behalf of Linkedin. DIU Members pay to share their expertise and insights with Which-50’s audience of senior executives.

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