Old Dominion University Distance Learning

A Warp-Speed Design That Tipped Our Process Toward Agile


Old Dominion University's Distance Learning needed a full-force project in only one quarter of the time it normally takes for production. By bending our process and working with the client as a member of our own team, we pulled together some results that had a serious impact on enrollment.

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ODU Distance Learning wanted to create a new experience for users, one that was engaging, informative, interactive, easy-to-navigate, and that would resonate with the distance learning audience (primarily middle-aged, married, and working full-time).

Our research showed people had trouble visualizing what classes would be like, so the site needed to paint a vivid picture and help people to see themselves in it. It also had to restructure most of the current content and make it easier for users to find tuition costs, specific programs, and satellite locations.

Oh yeah — and with the upcoming enrollment deadline, the whole thing had to be completed in three months.

Rethinking the Timeline

The tight timeline called for serious collaboration. Rather than using a typical waterfall approach for the stages of planning, design, production, and testing, we saved time by trying a more agile design process. We involved every discipline from the start and mixed up the typical order of operations, doing things like beginning CMS implementation while we were still finalizing designs.

The timeline made ODU Distance Learning more like a member of the NewCity team. We talked and worked together daily as we raced toward the deadline.

A Campaign on All Fronts

Early in our research, we found that a site redesign alone was not going to be enough. During the discovery sessions, we outlined a comprehensive strategy with SEO and search marketing, pay-per-click campaigns, social media, desktop and mobile content optimization, email and direct mail, and print and outdoor advertising.

The coordinated effort payed off, as we were able to draw insight from one piece and adjust the strategy for another in a quick, efficient manner, making many messages work together as one.


A year after launch the site showed some great signs:

  • 6-time increase in monthly visits, from 7,000 in March 2011 to 42,000 in March 2012
  • 34-time increase in monthly inquiries, from about 25 to over 800 per month
  • 26% year-over-year increase in fall enrollment as of May 2012

With ongoing tweaks informed by analytics and coordinated pay-per-click campaigns, the numbers are still improving. These year-over-year stats are from November 2012 to November 2013:

  • 53% increase in total inquiries
  • 37% increase in time spent on program/degree pages, which we identified as a key conversion target
  • 19% decrease in bounce rate on the program pages

And, as a result of this multi-platform, multi-stage campaign, ODU’s senior leadership is praising the work of the distance learning program as a model for how the rest of the university should be promoted.