"Information has to be easily accessible and consumable to the public. I believe that technology and online is going to continue to grow in every sphere."-Ruth Paulsen.
The launch of The International Hotel School’s new website along with its digital presence is an illustration of why learning and educational institutions are moving at pace to keep up with the new media market along with current technology trends. We spoke with Ruth Paulsen, Marketing Manager of The International Hotel School about why education setups need to have such dynamic digital mediums.

The International Hotel School 

The International Hotel School
The International Hotel School’s website has evolved over the years, what have been the major changes from its first inception? Over the years we have moved the focus of the website from being an online brochure, to something which is more accessible, interactive and easier to use. We also wanted it to be a hub of sorts.

In our change 2 years ago, we incorporated links to our Social Media channels (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) and it worked very well for us.  We introduced online applications and then discovered that they were being used largely as a platform for the prospective student to leave their details so that we would make contact with them.
Last year, after taking into consideration the usage of the website, and our user base and their needs on our Social Media profiles, we decided to redo the website and bring it in line with what we felt would meet these needs. We wanted a website that would incorporate all our digital channels (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc) into the site (not just links) and give the user the ability to leave his or her details so that we would contact them should they wish.  Each page has a CRM element to it, which is tailored to the purpose of that particular page. The site is much easier to navigate, and information is in smaller, more manageable bits.  In terms of the overall approach, we have made the site more “friendly” and changed the tone of the information on the pages to be more conversational as opposed to a stiff “brochure” approach.
Therefore the function of the website is more than just an information pack? Absolutely. It is a communication channel as well as an information channel. The other platforms that we use are YouTube, Twitter and of course, Facebook.  The most popular of these being Facebook which ties in with the digital usage profile in South Africa at the moment.  In a world where our market live on their cellphones as a connection to their friends and their world, connecting with our Facebook page is like sending us an text message.  They can post a question and send it through and we will respond to them in a relatively short space of time.  We have had people ask questions from how to become a student, to telling us they are running late for an interview, and we have even had people asking us to help them with their homework questions. The Facebook channel is a form of communication between us and the student, where they are speaking to a person and not to a “company”.
Is true to say that the internet has grown so vast that an institution’s website is almost its first line of protocol/contact with an individual? The world is all about choice today, and ease of access. I wouldn't say our website is the only first line of protocol/contact with a current or prospective student, but I do think that it is a vital part of many front-line points of entry. Today everyone wants information and they want it fast, and they want it in their own way – and it is our responsibility to make sure that we provide the information on as many of the chosen channels as possible to accommodate those looking for the information. Having a streamlined and easier to navigate website is a vital part of this.
Past/present/future students, staff, interested public members engage with your website, what are the benefits of this and what is the future of online in the education sector? The youth, (Generation Y) are digital natives, Generation Z for want of a better term are already there – with 3 year olds using their parent’s iPads and even going so far as to be ordering stuff for themselves off the iStore. Information has to be easily accessible and consumable to the public. I believe that technology and online is going to continue to grow in every sphere. With the Youth as our primary target market, we have to ensure that in our own business, we are on the platforms where our market are – hence our digital, social media and mobile presence.
What are the possibilities of incorporating educational and study materials into The International Hotel School website, is it easy to activate these sort of ideas? The demand for Online learning and integrated learning is growing rapidly globally.  According to a report released in by The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States “between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of undergraduate students who took at least one web-based class increased from 8% to 20%. In this time, the number of students who were enrolled in 100% online degree programs rose from 2% to 4%.”
We ventured into Online Learning ourselves last year. The platform is used by our Distance Learning and Traineeship students and has developed into an interactive learning platform that combines online learning practices with a social aspect.
We know that learning is a social process and that definitions around being “social” are changing (for example Facebook, Twitter and mobile messaging services – BBM, Whatsapp and iMessenger). In its simplest form online learning allows students to review course materials, complete automated self-assessments, submit work and interact with lecturers and other students on an ongoing basis, (the front end of the platform has a social media look and feel to it). More recently we have integrated social media into the platform allowing for live Twitter feeds from the online tutor.
Online learning is especially beneficial for students who work full time and are therefore not able to attend lectures. One of the major goals here is to engage students with course material on an ongoing basis. The asynchronous nature of the class room means that students can log on at times that suit them.
Online learning opportunities exist to work with learners as individuals providing customised feedback, leading to increased personalisation of the learning experience. The learner is also immersed in an online community where knowledge is created through collaboration. Most certainly distance education online learning has a major benefit in overcoming geographical boundaries.
What are the next steps ahead for The International Hotel School’s digital presence? We are obviously looking to grow our online platform and it is anticipated that aspects of the technology will soon be extended to other programmes offered by IHS, including the full time programmes.  From a Marketing and Communications perspective, we have to keep in touch with what the market is looking for in terms of accessing information, also to look at what is happening in the digital space and then to decide on a course of implementation.  The wonderful thing about the digital arena is that it is constantly changing and innovating, so it is never boring!
You can find out more about The International Hotel School's new website on: http://www.hotelschool.co.za