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Can a virtual open day be better than the real thing?

28th April 2020

Technology is now at the forefront of learning and as we navigate our way through online education delivery and ensuring students have the tools available to complete their studies, we start to look ahead and turn our attention to student recruitment and what our ‘new normal’ can offer.
Virtual open days have always been part of international student recruitment campaigns and delivery formats vary widely from standard landing pages or lengthy YouTube videos right through to clever content management systems and purpose-built apps. Although prospective students have increasingly looked for online content, never before has it been all that is available. What is to be expected now? And what can your institution offer?

What is the purpose of a virtual open day?

Virtual open days allow your university or college to showcase what you have to offer. They allow an institution to connect with applicants at scale before a physical visit is possible. Whether it’s a university open day or a college experience day, creating an online presence removes cost implications, time allocation, and distance barriers thus enabling prospective students from all over the world to attend at the click of a button.
It is possible for virtual open days to achieve the same goals as a physical event but in a much more convenient and engaging way for all. Students can be just as active on virtual open days, asking questions and wanting to connect with both students and staff whether that be by keyboard, phone, or tablet. They may be intimidated, disorientated, overwhelmed, or time-pressured within the physical environment but not so much in the virtual world where they have complete control.
Considering the student’s journey through your recruitment experience will help you to identify what content you need to create and what type of environment you should provide. It will also help you understand what an enquirer would want to see at what particular stage of his or her selection process.

What are the benefits of hosting virtual open days?

There are many benefits for both students and institutions. Universities and colleges can save a significant amount of time and money when compared to arranging and hosting traditional open days.
Virtual events allow a much wider reach than a physical open day. Potential students who find it too expensive or time-consuming to physically visit several institutions can ‘visit’ the campus at any time and from any location. This can be extremely useful for institutions trying to attract international students or large numbers of prospects as a virtual event can also allow for a significantly higher number of prospective students to attend than would be possible if they all visited in person.

What are the limitations of an online open day?

Despite the overwhelming number of benefits, there are some drawbacks. Virtual reality technology is not advanced enough to fully recreate the feeling of physically being somewhere. Exploring a campus in person provides a prospect with a much more reliable sense of a university’s atmosphere and the idea of what it would be like to study there. Attending a physical open day allows a student to meet many more people rather than just those who have joined an online chat session. Although digital maps are rapidly improving, it’s still difficult to explore areas around campus as easily as in person. In larger cities like London, the surrounding environment is a contributing factor in the consideration of a university or college.

Can more be achieved with a virtual open day?

Virtual open days are capable of providing high-quality valuable experiences. They should give students access to all relevant and applicable content that considers where the individual is at in their decision-making process. The most successful virtual environments have included a variety of different types of content that enrich the application experience including video, audio, downloadable and interactive content. As digital natives, prospective students find online platforms and environments that power virtual open days intuitive and enjoyable to use.
Traditionally marketing budgets have had to be stretched to execute physical open days with virtual open days seen as supplementary. Having to rapidly re-address plans and create new recruitment methods, more and more education institutions are starting to realise the benefits of providing a full virtual open day presence. Creating an always-on welcoming committee ensuring prospective students receive a personalised experience that signposts the information they need when they need ensures a pleasant yet fully informative experience.
As we make bold steps towards embracing and creating more ‘phygital’ environments, now is the time to re-purpose budgets and focus attention to your institution’s online offering. Should you build an online environment and put events on hold or save your budgets for next year’s physical events? Don’t choose – Plan for all eventualities and be confident in providing an inclusive and available experience. Guide a student through their selection process and application stages whether that be online or on campus.

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