The Evolution of Online Learning in Higher Ed 2017

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As 2017 has proven, online learning has been top-of-mind for many institutional leaders. Scaling offerings through online programs or courses has become an inherent part of growth for public, private, and non-traditional colleges and universities.

As an end of the year tribute to the evolution of online learning in 2017, here’s a recap of a few topics that resonated with us, our perspective on those topics, and a few topics that we hope to see discussed more broadly in 2018.

What 2017 has given us

The 2017 CHLOE Report

Eduventures and Quality Matters published the The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE), a study on how higher education sees the shifts in the online education market — the first of its kind (and another report is scheduled for 2018).

Our perspective — CHLOE research showed that while student enrollment continues to increase, the rate of that growth is slowing down. At the same time, the majority of institutions surveyed said they plan to “substantially expand” their number of online programs.

What does this mean? If these trends continue, it’s only a matter of time before the supply of online programs begins to exceed demand. We think there are too many cookie-cutter online courses, and universities need to invest in courses and programs that are engaging, modern, and differentiated. (You can read more about the CHLOE report here.)

The Century Foundation Report

A highly critical report from The Century Foundation suggested online program managers (OPMs), or profit-driven companies, “present potential risks to quality and value in the education.”

Our perspective is that problem solving is a core challenge in higher education. Like any industry, it’s evolving, and evolution presents new obstacles. With limited resources, the list of items in the “too hard pile” is growing, and, for many institutions, the biggest to-do on that list is making a strategic move online.

OPMs help solve that specific problem. They help universities move into the online space by minimizing upfront expenditures, driving process and decision-making, and increasing reach and enrollment through marketing. However, there are alternatives to the revenue sharing model of traditional OPMs — specifically, an emerging fee-for-service model. (Read  more about The Century Foundation report here.)

Building Online Programs Without Revenue-Sharing or OPMs

Encoura/Eduventures teamed up with Extension Engine to discuss Building Online Programs Without Revenue-Sharing or OPMs. Howard Lurie, Principal Analyst, Adult and Online Learning at Eduventures, talked with us about the pros and cons of revenue-sharing online program managers (OPMs) and an alternative model: professional services firms working on a fee-for-service basis.

During the webinar, we polled the audience, which consisted of deans, associate provost for online learning, CIO, faculty members, and more. The audience was likely biased based on their choosing to join a webinar on this topic, but the results were still insightful, and showed that many felt the fee-for-service model was a viable option.

Our perspective is that while an OPM with revenue share has been the “go-to” option for outsourcing in the past, professional services firms with a fee-for-service model works for many institutions. It offers the advantages of providing a university higher revenues and profits, greater control over quality and student experience, and complements internal teams, helping universities build internal competencies and expertise. You can read about the webinar and poll results here.

Encoura/Eduventures talk about using an alternative model for building online programs: professional services firms working on a fee-for-service basis. Watch the recorded webinar: Building Online Programs Without Revenue-Sharing or OPMs.

What we should focus on in 2018 

Faculty buy-in

Getting faculty buy-in to create movement towards online program and course development seems to be a challenge for many institutions. Recently, a case at Eastern Michigan University came to light in which the administration and faculty had very different relationships with online efforts.

Our perspective — Given our specialization in supporting schools in their online learning efforts, unfortunately, most situations that we encounter are more similar to Eastern Michigan University than they are different.

Faculty are often seen as barriers to change, the “opposition” of administration in leading a school to greatness. Changing their mindset is possible, but it starts with their vision, building a course for the faculty member, and recognizing the work required to create a course.

Learner experience first, technology second

This year, many higher ed conferences were focused on new and emerging online learning technologies. There are many edtech companies to watch — and plenty more to come in the next year — but new technologies present new industry challenges.

Our perspective is that there is a growing mismatch between the visions of what online learning could be and the reality that is currently offered to students. Designing a course around “what am I able to do with this technology?” produces an entirely different product than designing around the question “what learning experience would be best for the student?”

There’s a right and a wrong way to take advantage of modern technology, and we’ve written about it in our white paper How to Bring Your Online Learning Up to its Full Potential.

Designing a course around “what am I able to do with this technology?” produces a different outcome than designing “what learning experience would be best for the student?”  Read the white paper: How to Bring Your Online Learning Up to its Full Potential.

Finding or creating budget for great online learning

There is no denying that the online learning landscape is growing in competition, and thus, differentiated online programs are becoming a necessity — and so is finding or creating the budget to do it.

Our perspective — Moving away from mass-produced “cookie-cutter courses” to create authentic and visionary work is driving the future of higher education. So, it’s time to start thinking about how to allocate money for this extraordinarily important effort.

Here are resources our partners — private, public and non-traditional institutions — have taken advantage of.

The evolution continues — bon voyage 2017! We’re excited to see what 2018 has in store for online learning.

Keep learning

A Financial Model for Online Programs: Revenue Sharing vs. Fee-for-Services Engagements

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each engagement model, which one is best suited for your institution, and how you can receive a custom-tailored financial model for your institution.

[WHITE PAPER COVER] A Financial Model for Online Programs: Revenue Sharing vs. Fee-for-Service (Higher Ed)*


Brittany Whittemore

Brittany Whittemore is the former Director of Marketing at Extension Engine. While at Extension Engine, she oversaw the brand, marketing strategy, and operations. Prior to that, she worked at Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America and Berklee College of Music. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in higher education administration.

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