Regardless of what fall brings, online course offerings are part of your program’s future plans. And that’s OK, because, although it’s not in person and the new challenge is seemingly intimidating, there’s substantial long-term opportunity in online course offerings for community education and enrichment programs nationwide.

In April, we discussed how programs quickly adapted to new remote environments by offering a variety of virtual and online learning options for youth and adults. With a few months of providing online learning under your belt, you’ve hopefully found a groove with scheduling and communication, while finding reliable tools to help provide digital courses to your community.

These investments will pay off. While the COVID-19 situation evolves, one thing is clear, aspects of online learning are here to stay. Because of this, it is time to transition your approach from temporary online courses to building an online course presence you can rely on for the long haul. As online learning becomes an element of curriculums in some states, we dive deeper into the importance of a virtual enrichment plan and the opportunity it can provide your program.

The Importance of an Online Plan

Nearly four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, communities have shifted, and are used to, an online world. Parents have guided their children through e-learning. Companies have integrated Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Slack. Your community’s online ability and expectations are at an all time high. In response, community education programs have the opportunity to meet their community needs with significant online course options. Community engagement is more important than ever and your programs can help pave the way. In our discussions with community education programmers and directors, we’re seeing as much as 85 percent of course catalogs moving online. Even programs that are planning in person enrichment courses are working with instructors to have an online process ready as back up.

The shift to hybrid or full-time online course models has been rapid for programs but with change comes opportunity.

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The Opportunity of an Online Plan

As with all challenges, opportunity follows.

Within online course models lie opportunities to grow, streamline and enhance the flexibility of your programs. This summer, as programs quickly adapted to digital courses, they’ve experienced some unexpected opportunities from the circumstances. The following are just a few of the new opportunities that online community education present:

Expanded audienceNot restricted to a physical location widely increases registration and attendance possibilities for online courses. This summer, programs have seen registrants from out of county and even out of state sign up for programs previously unavailable to them based purely on location. This also creates a ripe opportunity for marketing your programs to new, wider audiences and encouraging your community members to promote your offerings within their own networks, nationwide.

No time barriersAs discussed, moving courses online expands the flexibility of when those courses are offered. Night classes become a large tool in your toolbox as families might be more comfortable taking later courses from home or can do so without the barrier of having to find a babysitter. Maybe, you were previously prevented from offering courses at certain times due to scheduling conflicts with your facilities. Those, and additional barriers, are removed when courses are moved online.

New curriculumsThere are new factors to consider when brainstorming online course curriculum options and this new context can lead to brand new ideas. Creating an online curriculum is more than just shifting your current courses online, it also entails new offerings to extend your reach.

Reduced costsThere are fewer costs that come along with online courses, in most cases. This allows you to restructure rates and instructor contracts. As online courses aren’t limited to location, your program can draw from a wider range of instructors, allowing you to be more competitive with instructor rates. Additionally, online courses don’t come with the cost to run facilities (air conditioning, paying building monitors, etc.).

Controlling What You Can

In the coming weeks, many answers to your program’s current unknowns are out of your control. However, by taking steps to create or enhance a strong online course offering, you can position your programs to discover the opportunity within that offering. With digital enrichment courses, community education programs have the potential to expand their audiences and create more flexible programs for the families in their community even beyond when school returns to in person.