Should TAFEs be creating zero-friction admissions experiences?
Everyone working in TAFE admissions has probably used a retail or travel website for online shopping or to book a trip. From browsing, perusing product information, through to checkout and payment, the customer journey can be seamless - and delightful when done well.
TAFE students are no different. With the ubiquity of online shopping and payment platforms, students of all generations are now familiar with the quality of experience they can get online. Covid-19 lockdowns have only increased the acceptance of online or hybrid channels.
What does this all mean for the future of TAFE admissions?
There’s a lot of reasons to think TAFE will move towards similar zero-friction admissions. While many argue buying education is different (there is often more money at stake than a retail or travel purchase), the reality is these trends are taking place in education.
Let’s take a look at four reasons why admissions will trend towards zero friction.
1. The great unbundling of education and training
We hear a lot about the breakdown of traditional learning courses into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Think micro-credentials, or industry-led courseware, which are growing in TAFEs. Likewise, we hear about lifelong learning extending beyond the end of a qualification.
This is all part of the great unbundling of education and training.
In this great unbundling (which includes online, blended, and in-person delivery across multiple course forms, from shorter credentials to traditional longer courses and full quals), the reality is that the number of admissions being processed by TAFE will be increasing greatly over time.
With everyone studying multiple times, admissions frequency could grow exponentially. The manual processes we’ve relied on, that require students to do the work of an admission or even submit in person, will not scale to the size of the need or pass as a future service experience.
TAFEs face losing out to others who have solved for this very problem.
2. The productisation of education and training
The great unbundling has other characteristics.
Education institutions have in the past allocated some amount of prestige to student investments in education. While education is different, over time it may not be enough to escape being compared with other things that people can buy and consume online.
This is the productisation of education. The way we market education in the future will need to account for the fact a course is being put into a highly competitive market against the other things people can do with money. Everything’s competing for someone’s purse or wallet.
The great unbundling will trend towards commoditised education in ways not seen before.
The corporate market is a good example. Would a person rather spend on discretionary PD or the trip they’ve wanted to take overseas this year? If education is a commodity competing with other things, it brings expectations the purchase experience is just as good - or even better.
3. The rise of anytime anywhere service expectations
Admissions will also need to account for when search and purchase activity is happening.
The reality is that, even now, learners are unlikely to be searching for learning opportunities during business hours. It’s when teams have gone home for the day, that people who want to consume products are online. That’s when they need questions answered.
What often occurs now is service lag. If a potential student is online after hours and has a question, they may need to lodge a request and pause their application. This could mean waiting 12 hours or more, and trusting a provider to respond in a reasonable time.
The provider here is actually making the admission process ‘someone else’s problem’.
There’s no simple answer to this for admissions teams. However, if we are considering a zero-friction admissions experience, we would need to consider the possibility of things like service bots, that can support service requests at the exact point they are required.
Students will also need to be able to source the information they need to make a strong, considered decision at the point of the transaction, and the ability to proceed to payment online, which would include through installments and buy now pay later options.
4. The need for expectation alignment to support outcomes
TAFEs exist to serve their communities by providing opportunity for individuals and skills for industry. They do not exist to deny students access to learning and education – on the contrary, they are there to facilitate equity of access, playing a critical social role in Australia.
For students though, as well as for the duty of care that education providers like TAFEs have, there is some case for ensuring an expectation and information alignment between the student and the TAFE, to ensure that students have the best chance at success in their course.
Admissions is part of the equation. TAFEs can help to ensure a strong fit between a course offering and what a person wants. Oftentimes, this is led by a strong, clear and current website that provides the information and answers the questions students have. It removes surprises.
If a student has everything they need upfront, they are able to proceed through to application and admission in way that is zero-friction. It empowers students to proceed through a series of steps towards enrolment, rather than having to pause and wait for information.
In all likelihood this will also support student success. The more a student is informed about their choice – whether through videos of past students and campuses, or what to expect from the course – the more likely they have strong values alignment and will end up completing.
Counting down to zero
As TAFEs and other educators seek to scale admissions – especially in a hybrid world that will involve people undertaking more and shorter learning components, in a more productiised education market - admissions may need to provide more of a retail and travel experience.
It seems that we have begun counting down to zero.
But this is only a 'zero' in terms of friction experienced in the process. For students it's a 'plus', because it delivers value - from being better engaged with an institution, to being better informed, or being able to move ahead faster, more confidently with modern technology.