Pushing the boundaries in business and education.

For companies, organisations and retailers one of the biggest challenges they face is establishing themselves in the online market place. This involves much thought and planning to implement a strategy that works and is going to be competitive. Being online is far more than having a website and putting some products in a database and hoping that you might sell some. Once you have your website you need a marketing plan and I would encourage any business that has a website to think about this before setting up the website. I would also strongly suggest that you look at Social Media Marketing but above all else I suggest you think about how you will engage your customers. What I mean is that you must use your website as a method to “talk” to your customers. You can answer questions and this builds trust – vitally important if you want to be a success in the online world.

My online travel business, Global Holidays, was set up in 1996 and I was one of the first travel agents to have a website. I added videos of holiday destinations way before anyone else did ! I wanted to be a pioneer of the online travel world and by 1998 I had a full blown e-commerce travel website.

In the last 12 months I have got involved in teaching travel and tourism students and have since then been gradually introducing new e-learning methods of teaching into my classroom. I am no expert yet in e-learning but I will try to be. I have written articles about online universities being the future, and I can see private companies trying to muscle in on the act and being a threat to universities and colleges.

I like it when organisations look to the future and make an attempt at doing things differently. The same applies to colleges and schools. I love it when they try something new to improve learning.It’s essential to do this to improve.

When I heard about South West college in Northern Ireland having a “Virtual Week” I was very impressed. For one week the majority of the students stayed at home and had their lessons online. The lessons were taught by teachers using multi media and connected together in an online classroom. The Virtual Week must have taken a lot of planning and organising but the results seem to be that the week was a success.

To make progress both in life and business you have to push the boundaries, go outside your comfort zone and try something new. Mistakes will be made but we all know that that’s one way we learn.

One of the reasons South West College say they had their virtual week was so they can teach when students can’t attend due to bad weather. There are though far more uses for this type of teaching.

So, what can education learn from the online business world? Well, e-learning needs to be user friendly, it needs to be reliable, it needs to offer the best learning experience with plenty of choice. There needs to be plenty of support available. Far too many e-commerce sites have no telephone number to call if you have a question. 

If anyone is interested in watching a short video of the Virtual Week you can watch the video below.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tywrB6MQKM?rel=0]

Online universities are just around the corner

Following on from my recent article about online education there was an interesting news article on the BBC website today which you can read here which is about the news that Edinburgh University is to be the first UK institution to join an influential US-based online university project. Many US universities are now providing online courses which have seen tens of thousands of people sign up for.

Whatever happens in the US happens over here in the UK so I think we can expect to see many other UK educational instituations offering online courses.

Only time will tell how engaging and successful these courses will be. In my opinion there does need to be some form of communication, mentoring and contact between student and teacher for there to be effective learning and how this will be done is going to be very interesting to see. It could be that the student has to go to the university from time to time or it could be that the student communicates by video link.

What is just as interesting is the business model that these online universities are using. They are offering free courses and intend to generate income in other ways from the huge number of students that they will have.

Because these online courses are free there seems to be a high number of students who fail to finish the course. Part of a teachers job is to offer encouragement, guidance and advice and this could be difficult if you don’t see your students.

In any event, educational establishments need to be gearing up to combat the threat of these online universities because in not too many years their “customers” might be tempted to go online rather than learn in the traditional way!

One of the universities pioneering online teaching is Stanford University. You can read about their online teaching and how they aim to retain personal contact here