The report I’m inspired by and most excited to share this summer is the recent CHLOE 7: Tracking Online Learning from Broad Acceptance to Universal Adoption.
In a previous article, I highlighted reported data on current and future instructional design capacity.
In this article, I would like to amplify the report’s findings on centralization versus distribution of online student services (Figure 5) and offer some thoughts.
1 – Figure 5 gives a good list of essential services that a university must provide for online programs.
The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online education as a strategic priority across the post-secondary ecosystem. One of the challenges for colleges and universities with a distributed or small online learning footprint is mastering all the pieces that need to come together to develop and run a new online program.
This complexity is one of the reasons many schools have turned to Online Program Management (OPM) partners, as OPMs have expertise in things that may not be the core competencies of many schools. .
The list of services in Figure 5 includes faculty recruitment, course/curriculum design and development, tutoring/coaching/mentoring, consulting, program marketing, student monitoring and authentication, studies Marketplace, Student Recruitment, Accessibility and ADA Compliance, Student Help Desk, and Tech Support. support and financial aid for students.
The big things missing from this list are start-up capital, financial projections and modeling, accreditation, foreign student visa management, system integrations, data security, and perhaps others. things. These are not all “student” services, but they are all essential parts of developing and running an online program.
2 – The question for universities and schools offering online programs is not “if” these services should be offered but rather “how” they will be provided.
I like Figure 5 from the CHLOE 7 report because it does two things. It lists student services for online programs and indicates where these services can be provided. None of the services can be ignored. They must come from somewhere.
When it comes to online learning, the challenge for most colleges and universities is one of scale. The larger the footprint of online learning – the more programs offered and students enrolled – the lower the marginal cost of online services for each new student. Conversely, smaller programs still need to invest in developing and providing a range of online student services.
Schools that have siled online programs duplicate the people and resources needed for each online service, driving up costs. Establishing centralized services for online programs may be more cost effective as online education expands across the institution. However, centralization is always difficult as individual schools have specific needs and requirements for their online programs.
3 – I think (make the assumption) that we are seeing an ecosystem-wide shift towards institutional centralization of online services.
When it comes to e-learning, we tend to think of the big players in gaming, such as SNHU, WGU, and ASU. The other big story in online education is the reach and diversity of colleges and universities with small but growing online portfolios.
Everyone is getting into online gaming, at least at the master’s level, because that’s where the students are. There will always be a handful of master’s programs where it makes sense to quit your job, move to where a school is, and devote two years of your life to getting that degree. For most graduates and most students, the opportunity costs of leaving work to earn a degree are too high.
As this realignment from residential to online occurs in higher education, I believe we are seeing an ecosystem-wide shift towards centralization of online services. Online education is moving from the periphery to the center, from entrepreneurial and opportunistic deans to central institutional strategies. As this change happens, we will see more centralized online services.
4 – The story of non-profit/for-profit partnerships and Online Program Management (OPM) companies is a story of providing services to students online.
Looking at the list of student services online, it should come as no surprise that many schools are turning to OPMs and other types of partners (OPX – fee for service) for help.
The extent to which a college or university depends on for-profit partners in the online learning space is directly proportional to the extent to which an institution has developed internal capabilities to create and support online programs.
There are certain tasks that all but the largest university that offers online programs can never do in-house. A school must have a massive online program footprint to consider bringing all digital marketing services to campus.
As colleges and universities build their internal capacity for online programs, we will see traditional OPMs unbundle and diversify their services to meet the varied and changing needs of universities.
5 – Building institutional capacity to provide centralized online services is a long-term project; one requires leadership buy-in and resilience to leadership turnover.
No college or university can instantly create the infrastructure needed to support online programs across the institution. It takes time to build capacity, expertise and experience.
Building robust centralized e-learning services requires leadership vision, alignment with the institution’s strategic plan, faculty buy-in, the right e-learning leadership, and patience.
Setting up central university services for online programs doesn’t come cheap either. It is likely that the revenue that will ultimately support these activities will only come when a school reaches a critical mass of programs and students.
The challenge is to find a way to articulate how online learning aligns with and supports institutional mission. Online learning should be understood as a central institutional strategic priority that enhances and supports the broader university mission.
The time frames required to develop centralized internal capabilities for online learning, as depicted in Figure 5 of the CHLOE 7 report, can last longer than the tenure of university leadership.
Campus e-learning leaders who do not prioritize aligning their operations with the larger institutional mission will have little chance of long-term success.