Designing flexible, accessible corporate training with tailored market research (Athabasca)

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The Situation

Today’s fast-changing business environment has created a rising demand for education that offers just-in-time skill development so professionals can grow and make an immediate impact in their careers. In 2018, Athabasca University (AU) considered this shift and saw an opportunity to launch innovative, digital micro-learning department founded on three guiding principles: just-in-time, just-enough, and just-for-me.

Facing the tight budget and timelines familiar to anyone who has attempted to launch a new initiative at a Canadian institution, a team within AU saw the potential to reach a different group of learners. They had the vision to turn the opportunity into a tangible offering, but the execution would need to be right the first time.

So halfway between Edmonton and Banff, Jessica Scott – now the director of AU’s PowerED™ —made a phone call to Academica Group.

The Solution

Researchers from Academica Group and the AU team narrowed down the questions that would need to be answered by market research before the university could safely and confidently launch its new programming. Those questions were:

  • What other schools are we up against?
  • Who would be our best audience and what are their needs?
  • What courses both match AU’s strengths and meet professionals’ needs?

Academica first embarked on an environmental scan to provide a better understanding of the landscape of non-credit education and corporate training in Canada and the United States. Academica and AU then collaborated to survey AU’s enthusiastic alumni to identify topics of interest or need, the barriers that alumni faced when trying to pursue further education, and the incentives and marketing that could help alumni overcome these barriers. Finally, Academica and AU reached to trainers and human resources managers from across Canada to better understand corporate needs, preferences, and barriers when it came to professional development.

This research gave AU a clear sense of what they would need to do to make the program a success. Equipped with a data-driven understanding of its competitive position, audiences’ barriers and needs, and programming priorities, AU did what it does best – it launched into uncharted territory to create new, accessible training for professionals around the world.

Today, you can see the impact of this research in PowerED™ by Athabasca University, an entrepreneurial unit at AU that boosts individuals’ skills and assists organizations in the development of their people and deployment of their digital learning strategies. Just recently, PowerED™ won the Peer Choice Award for the best online program at the international Conference on Management and Executive Development for its Digital Transformation Leadership Certificate in Cloud program. Backed by strong market research, PowerED™’s online certificates and corporate services have helped strengthen AU’s position as an international leader in the provision of flexible, stackable, life-long learning opportunities.

We are so proud of the product lines we’ve built for online, on-demand enriched programming and the brand we’ve created. It all started with our collaborative market research study with Academica, which has really helped to inform our programming development and business decisions. We really feel that we are filling a place in the market for individuals and organizations who want to lift up their people and their results!
Jessica Scott, MBA
PowerED™ at Athabasca University

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