I was fortunate enough to enjoy reading and literature from a very young age, and, as a child, my father introduced me to Isaac Asimov. I promptly inhaled all his fiction, and, in particular, I remember reading a short story which has always stuck in my mind, called “The Fun They Had”. In that story, two children are reading with wistful enjoyment (and utter disbelief that any human could possibly know enough to be able to teach) about something called “school”, where children learnt and played together.
In Asimov’s future, every child has a mechanical “teacher” in their own home – programmed to the child’s own ability, which teaches and assesses its pupil on all subjects. The story was written in the 1950s and some 60 years later, Asimov’s vision of the future of teaching seems to be moving ever closer – and it’s certainly not taking hundreds of years.
Today we have extensive online education tools through all stages of education – from primary school vles (virtual learning environments) such as Espresso and Education City to all the way up to the scale to university and beyond. We have Fronter from Pearson – now widely adopted in London … there’s Noodle … Moodle … online revision tools … CEM (introduced into universities as early as the 1990s and since adjusted for use earlier in the educational process) … Open University has invested heavily in digital tools … support apprentice programmes like Blackboard; and many adult e-learning courses both for businesses and individuals.
However, there are still schools and universities, many of which are embracing technology in ways that other business sectors may find enviable.
Multiple marketing channels in education
Modern technology not only allows the provision of e-education, it also enables schools, colleges and universities to promote themselves, their brand, their goals, their community and their achievements to meet their own business goals and fulfil their ambitions.
Schools have unique challenges, which they address through the combined use of digital and traditional channels. State and private schools have subtly different goals, but today schools from both sectors are embracing technology to support their core priorities:
- improved levels of achievement for their pupils (and better rankings in league tables)
- a strong desire (particularly in the private sector) to raise awareness and persuade potential parents to choose that particular school for their children – just the same as any other business, but servicing a very specific market sector
The differences in technological philosophy between private schools (who have to find their pupils) and state schools (where pupils are admitted based on geographic location) are interesting. In general terms, state schools have been driving e-learning based on the curriculum; while private schools have been embracing technology to drive marketing.
But those differences are gradually becoming blurred, particularly with the advent of Academies and Free Schools. Schools use a variety of marketing channels to promote themselves and their community – from websites, SEO, print, direct mail, email, social media, e-learning, mobile technology, and TV and radio.
Websites are essentially an interactive prospectus for schools, and provide a channel for self-promotion, dissemination of rules and policies and, importantly, to:
- Engage parents – through inclusion of information, fixtures, exam statistics, OFSTED reports, news, pupils’ work and homework, blogs, school reports
- Engage pupils – provide the facility for pupils to engage with each other and their teachers through private areas of the website, offer e-learning including “games”; internal debates; encourage contribution to school news reports and blogs
- Engage the local community – publicise and involve the local community in school events, support local events, and form links with local industries
- Raise money – publicise fundraising events; school charities; alumni engagement
- Sell merchandise online – uniforms, equipment, sportswear – even souvenirs –directly from the website
There are some fantastic websites both from private and, more recently, state schools, who are now starting to see and reap the benefits of a good website as they begin to identify themselves as a business.
Social Media, digital and traditional PR
Use of digital PR is increasing in schools, combined with traditional PR through press and media, in a cohesive and integrated strategy to keep branding awareness, engagement and enjoyment of the school firmly in the public eye. A great OFSTED report should be shouted from the rooftops – as well as within a schools reception area; a visit from a famous author or celebrity makes an involving story; excellent exam results; a particular pupil or group of pupil’s remarkable achievement; school charity fundraising; particular sporting success; availability of school facilities to the community – all these provide opportunities to communicate and publicise the school both locally and farther afield.
But social media in schools has obvious challenges, and often has its own section in a communications / ICT policy. A problem with bullying or inappropriate posting is very serious. So it can be a tricky balance for a school to use Facebook or Twitter to promote themselves while adopting a proscriptive approach about whether or how their pupils may use them.
However, blogs, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest can be an effective part of a school’s overall multi-channel strategy, and can set an example to involve pupils in how to use social media wisely and understand their benefits.
A good example is set by Kelly College, who uses Facebook to promote the school, disseminate information, generate interest, good press and involvement for parents, staff, pupils, and the local and wider community – working almost as a microsite of the school website.
Of course the traditional PR channels are also used – press, community magazines, a printed prospectus with stunning photography, broadcast media, posters and print. Broadcast has an added advantage of the ability to load videos onto the website and Facebook and You Tube … to enhance involvement and drive improved Google rankings.
Keeping up with Technology
It’s noteworthy that much of the technological innovation in education comes from the children first – they know and use the new technology; they have an instinctive understanding of social media, the internet, tablets, smartphones and the internet – all of which are a fundamental, living and breathing part of their lives. There are “rate your teacher” or “rate your food” sites; children already use social media to keep in touch with their friends … and to achieve objectives – whether it’s a Twitter campaign to prevent the appointment of a new head teacher, or a fund-raising exercise from a blog about school meals. So how much of a school’s social marketing activity could – and should – be developed and produced with pupil involvement ‘in-school’?
The increasing availability of notebooks and ipads is also impacting schools – it’s not that long ago that having an ICT suite was considered very forward thinking. Now schools are developing and implementing strategies for a time when all pupils have notebooks or ipads – in which case ICT will become a thing of the past!
My thanks to Jessica Avery and Peter Provins for sparing the time to talk to me.
by Victoria Tuffill, August 2012
© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.