I’ve argued previously that there are two key perspectives to consider when looking at the learner journey - both the efficiency and the effectiveness. Getting it right on both fronts is not easy, but I’ve seen as many examples of good practice as I’ve seen colleges with scope for improvement; here are just a few things to think about if you believe your college’s learner journey could be improved.
Taking a lean approach, start by identifying the non-value added activities (from the learner’s perspective) carried out at each stage in the journey. For example in the application process, how much time spent is spent correcting incomplete information, learners waiting excessive amounts of time for the next stage in the process (think: keep warm activity!), overly onerous applications for a full cost course, etc - the list goes on…
Measuring the effectiveness of the learner journey can be as complicated as you want it to be, and that can itself be part of the problem. A good, well thought out, simple set of KPIs underpinning each stage of the journey can help focus managers on the right things, but remember some of those KPIs (read: service levels) affect the learner too, for example how quickly a potential applicant is contacted following their initial enquiry - a college I worked with recently showed me a report showing they’d had over 5,000 enquiries via their website, way in excess of their recruitment target, which was great except they didn’t know at what stage they all were, how many had applied, how many were successful, how many they had lost, and so on.
Try ‘making it visual’, another principle stolen from the world of lean service design, through highly visual KPIs at each relevant point along the journey and, most importantly, with clear accountability for achieving them. This also means having feedback mechanisms, internal service levels, and problem solving techniques in place to ensure actions are taken as needed to address any deviation from desired performance. For example, root cause analysis may identify that more information & guidance up front might have an impact on retention rates further down the line - it’s this holistic review of the factors affecting the learner journey that will lead to the most effective outcomes.
Look at efficiency by mapping out the various interconnections between the people and departments involved in supporting the learner journey. How many people are involved, how many exchanges of information take place, who is responsible for what? And, quantify the improvement opportunity in terms of removing wasteful, non-value added activity. Sounds complicated, but there are tools available to do this. Scope for improvement can be anything from reducing the processing steps for applications, to eliminating the time to correct errors on forms or moving learners from the wrong to the right course, all of which consumes resource but adds no value to the learner..
Here’s 4 things a colleges should consider if undertaking a review of their learner journey:
- Aim for simplicity, from both learner and college perspectives
- Think about learner expectations, make sure they feel a sense of belonging, and make it personal
- Select the right KPIs upon which informed decisions can be made, and regularly review them
- Establish clear linkages supported by internal service levels between teams
Given the number of internal functions that usually need to work together, sometimes a ‘bottom up’ approach works best - formulate working groups that can assess the most efficient way of working together and guide the development process so that everyone’s needs, especially the learner’s, are satisfied, rather than designing a process in isolation and making people work to it.
In my experience, the learner journey, however it’s defined and no matter how good it is thought to be, almost always has scope for improvement. Sometimes that means a complete overhaul, other times it's about incremental improvements - one College Principal with a highly effective process commented to me recently ‘we’re not afraid of small changes’, and this continuous improvement mindset is embedded in a culture where managers are empowered to make decisions based on good quality, timely information. As another said, ‘don’t stand still - always evolve the journey!
Craig Bentley is Managing Director of Bentley Management & Consulting
About Bentley Management & Consulting: A firm offering project management, consulting, and Area Review support services to the FE sector. Craig has helped a number of colleges develop and implement strategies to improve income, reduce costs, and improve services. Bentley Management & Consulting also specialise in college mergers and collaborations.