The Open University is the largest provider of distance learning courses in the UK. But what you might not be aware of is its presence further afield. As well as its primary UK audience, the OU delivers quality courses around the world – and its Business School is the only distance learning organisation to achieve triple international accreditation (AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA).
It contacted Proctors to streamline and rationalise its sites into a single hub for students right across Europe: historically, the OU used separate business and general education sites to target potential students. It also communicated through 15 EU country-specific business sites.
However, this new site would face some specific challenges. The OU wanted it to counteract – yet complement – the Anglo-centric feel of the main EU site. Other objectives included promoting interaction, generating leads and driving traffic to the main (UK site) for registration.
The Proctors response
During the briefing process it became apparent that the OU wanted to move away from the traditional ‘brochureware’ feel and create a more interactive site. We recommended a hardworking modular approach with a content management system to allow lots of flexibility for updating and integration of social media and more.
After consideration and discussion, design and build went ahead, and we delivered a rationalised, flexible site, complete with user-friendly content management system.
The new OU site contains much more than the average HE portal: potential students can sign up for RSS feeds; learn more in their own language; be informed about upcoming events; watch rich media content; and learn more about current affairs. There’s opportunity to access learning resources – students can see for themselves if courses might suit their needs, by downloading free taster courses.
Interaction and integration with social media are big priorities – the site encourages user-generated content, and synchronises with the OU’s popular YouTube channel, boosting SEO. Testimonial videos have been incorporated to give a sense of peer recommendation, and students can even join the OU’s student community on Facebook.
Accessible and user-friendly, it meets the OU’s stringent accessibility guidelines. All content is fully bookmarkable – so students can share information using Digg and Stumbleupon.
Finally, the site is futureproof. It allows access to endless new applications and information. The OU’s options are open in the future to add and develop new areas of the site, adapting to meet the changing digital landscape. So, whether the next big thing is student recruitment by Twitter or Facebook app, the OU is prepared for tomorrow.
The team at OU is very pleased with the site, and there are other new digital projects in the pipeline for 2010.
We’ll be measuring the site’s performance over the coming months, but for now John Wilkinson from OU is happy to summarise the experience:
“Every website is complex. When it has to take the place of seventeen existing sites, make brand-unaware prospects across Europe understand what we’re about and still fit within organisational guidelines that reflect an entirely different brand position in the UK, it’s very complex.
We’d worked successfully with Proctors before so we had no hesitation in turning to them to help us sort out our convoluted online messages. They were involved from initial briefing through strategic planning, right on to eventual design, build, debugging, translations and updates.
There were some hiccups, largely because the in-house technical teams were changing their guidelines and requirements during our design and build. These hurdles were overcome with patience and responsiveness and the resulting website is all that we hoped for. We can keep up-to-date in the future more easily because of the content management system, and it’s great to see integration between our YouTube channel, main site and iTunes download function.”