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Why virtual school open days are here to stay

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Why Virtual School Open Days are Here to Stay

COVID-19 has turned all our worlds upside down over the last nine months, and like so many areas, education has had to adapt, fast. Notably, independent schools rose to the challenge posed by the virus, upping their game in digital delivery of classes, homework, and general support for their students. Open days were also quickly converted from a time-honoured in-person event, to virtual replicas, complete with Zoom calls, glossy videos, and even online 360 degree tours. 

With a slate of vaccines looking likely to be approved, there’s finally light at the end of the pandemic tunnel – but will virtual open days disappear as lockdowns lift and life slowly gets closer to normal?

There are three good reasons to think that virtual open days are here to stay, and moreover, that they’ll become an ever more vital tool for first class independent schools to demonstrate their credentials to increasingly judicious parents. 

Showcasing your School on your Parents’ Terms

Even before COVID-19, the digital world was disrupting traditional forms of choosing between different services. Like all of us, prospective parents looking at independent schools expect a wealth of information to be available to them – when, where, and in whatever format they prefer – on any and all devices that they wish to make use of. User-generated content is vital too, to provide the sense of authenticity and ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendation that often informs discussion in-person. Virtual school open days can be instantly accessible with a single click, available whenever a prospective parent is ready to do the detailed work of investigating their child’s future choice of school, long before they might be ready to attend a ‘fixed’ live event, whether in person or online. Your school can be showcasing its ethos and facilities in detail while a parent’s views on which school to choose are very much still forming, and not well after they have made a less informed choice based on partial information. Schools will certainly reopen in full as we emerge from the pandemic, but the way parents have engaged with schools has changed, and those that do nothing to meet these changed expectations will be at the back of the queue. 

“Virtual school open days are definitely the future, not just for right now. They’re a real game-changing moment for both student recruitment, and even for finding the right staff.” 

Haileybury Chairman, Ian Hunt

Staying International while Staying Home

Before COVID-19, some parents would be willing to fly halfway around the world to fully get to grips with the choices on offer for their child’s education. Now, far fewer will be willing to do so, and they’re likely to keep their visits to just those schools already at the top of their lists. International travel, for all sorts of reasons, has become that much more complicated, and that change brings with it a diminished reach for schools which do nothing to go to parents who are no longer as willing to come to them. Dialling in to a poor quality video call instead of an in-person tour is not something parents in different countries will welcome as the sole tool for understanding the values and capabilities of the school they intend to commit to. A full virtual school open day experience can also help to galvanize an independent school’s agent network, allowing them to work more effectively with the school to reach the right parents, and to motivate them to prioritize looking at that particular school over the others on their longlist. 

Not Just One Day, but Just for You

A static website, a fixed schedule of live webinars, and the same pre-recorded videos for all visitors, no matter how well produced, simply will not work to attract attention or differentiate a school when they’re the minimum standard already in place across all other independent schools. Instead, the content and tools required for truly effective virtual school open days need a thorough overhaul. A broader range of videos, interviews, audio clips, and interactive content like personalized parent tours – even QR codes or Augmented Reality tools – are required to stand out from the crowd. Parents expect a dynamic and immersive experience, personalized just for them, each and every time they visit your website. They want to engage with your school over an extended period of time, at their own pace, rather than cramming it in to meet your schedule or event budget. Personalization isn’t just important for the parents, either – the personalized information you can get from looking at how parents engage with your online assets as part of a virtual school open day can help you segment them into those genuinely engaged parents who might just need more information or communication from you, and those who are merely having a look with no real intention to progress further. Virtual school open days mean that you can engage with prospective parents not just for a single day, but over the course of a persistent, deeper, and personalized process – before, during, and after what would have been just a ‘traditional’ in-person open day. 

Many things have changed since COVID-19 hit, and many more will be sure to change in the months and years after it finally dwindles, as the health and economic ramifications work their ways through our interconnected world. Uncertainty is here to stay, and parents will necessarily become more cautious and circumspect as they decide on the best path for their children’s future education. While these things may change, the essential need to give your school’s future parents the best possible introduction to what they can expect for their children will not. Precisely because they help to bridge this timeless need with the changed world in which we now live, virtual school open days are sure to be here to stay. 

 

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