Vitaly is Chief Operating Officer at StudyInterActive, an online learning provider which works with institutions including University of Law, University of Wolverhampton and Geneva Business School, among many others.
What does a typical day at StudyInterActive look like?
A typical day would involve meeting with my three Executive Directors in academic & student affairs, marketing and careers advising. I’ll typically have calls with our existing university partners and other stakeholders to discuss student outcomes performance for the previous week as well as the week ahead.
There would also be calls with our development team about the new education technology or learning content we are building internally. And lots of external calls and meetings with potential new clients: those could be universities, colleges or awarding bodies.
A typical day is a mixture of stakeholder management and internal meetings to rally the troops!
What are the main challenges in your role?
The biggest internal challenge is ensuring communication across all departments, and locations, is aligned and streamlined. It’s a difficult thing to achieve when you’re spread across multiple locations [StudyInterActive has offices in London, Prague and Mauritius].
The biggest external challenge remains the perception of online education. We continuously work hard to convince prospective partners and students that studying online is as good as – if not better than – studying at a brick and mortar university, for a whole host of reasons.
What would you highlight as your main achievements at StudyInterActive?
I joined in 2010 and, since then, StudyInterActive has grown rapidly. We have expanded the team from 25 staff members to 120 in six years. Back then, we were powering online learning for one university: now our portfolio consists of six partners and over 28 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
We’ve been able to grow because of our laser-focused approach to quality student outcomes and by achieving the success factors our academic partners hold us accountable for.
We have lots of benchmarks of quality which we try to make sure we’re fulfilling. For students, we’re here to cherry-pick degrees from top schools and top universities and deliver a phenomenal online study experience. We hold ourselves accountable for the progression and completion rates of students, the jobs students get after they’ve studied with us and their rate of salary increase.
How do you develop and launch online courses with educational partners?
We have three core competencies. The first one is to do with technology and instructional design. We take analogue materials that the university’s faculty already use to teach face-to-face and go through an instructional design process where we map those learning outcomes to digital formats. We take that content and find the most intuitive way to deliver it to learners, whether that may be a video or an interactive app where a student applies their knowledge.
The second pillar is recruitment and career services. We speak to students on behalf of our partner universities to understand their career aspirations. We then advise them on the programme best suited to their requirements. We work with them from the moment they’re exploring possibilities, right through their entire programme, until graduation.
Our third pillar is actual academic delivery. Our partner universities sometimes struggle to provide enough academics to support the student numbers that we have on some programmes. In these cases, with a network of over 50 full-time and adjunct faculty, we’re able to allocate one of our academics who suits their precise needs and is able to teach on that specific course or module.
What’s the most common misconception about online learning?
People don’t expect online education to be as engaging or intuitive as other online media. They don’t think it’s as advanced as other digital industries like gaming, finance, software or the creative industries.
The perception is that education is very much stuck in the 20th century. People still think it is primarily online PDFs and presentations with poor voiceover. The challenge for us is to get prospective learners to experience the actual online learning environment, materials and technology available at their disposal.
Once students experience the online learning environment, more often than not they enjoy it and feel motivated to study the degree or qualification online. Our mission is to prove to people around the world that online learning is not just a viable mode of study, but actually has some amazing advantages you can’t get elsewhere.
How would you describe the benefits of online learning to a student who hasn’t tried it before?
When speaking to prospective students, we emphasise that you can study at your own pace, anytime and anywhere. We emphasise the quality of the learning content. We show them videos and demonstrate the level of engagement enrolled students have with tutors, their peers and external industry experts who often pitch in.
Tutors have contact hours, just as they do at brick and mortar universities. All social media tools are integrated into the online environment, so students can communicate with each other by sending messages, pictures and videos.
From the moment a prospective learner becomes a registered student, they meet with a teaching assistant who actually stays with the student until they graduate. So the student ends up building a relationship with this individual over the course of several years. They often talk every single day of the student’s degree.
You’ve been with StudyInterActive for six years now. How would you like to see the business develop in the next six years?
I’d like to see StudyInterActive increase its number of partnerships so it can help more universities and, ultimately, more students.
I’d also like to provide more niche programmes. At the moment we offer subjects like business, law and creative arts. I’d love to diversify to include other subjects like programming, education, design and psychology. There are certain challenges in translating those degrees to an online medium, of course, but I’m excited by the prospect of doing so.