Selling the virtual university : a multimodal discourse analysis of marketing for online learning
When marketing online degrees, institutions are simultaneously telling a story about what it means to be a student at that institution and about what it means to be an online learner. This study is an attempt to investigate and interrogate those stories, to analyze how we talk about online learning and to explore whether that linguistic framing is consistent with a broader socioeconomic critique of academic capitalism in the 21st Century. Using critical discourse and multimodal analysis, I examined the institutional websites devoted to the promotion and marketing of online programs at 18 public universities with high exclusively online enrollment (>4,000). This project describes the consistencies and contradictions embedded in the language and visual artifacts used to market and sell online learning to prospective students in the United States. I explored how these discourses reinforced and reconstituted broader social and lived realities of labor, time, and space. Placing online higher education as a phenomenon within the social context of neoliberalism, and academic capitalism, this study contributes a much-needed critical perspective to the intersection of two areas of inquiry in higher education research, online learning and institutional marketing.
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