The Speed and Sequence of a College's Moves Online

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Questions: What will be the speed and sequence of moves? Which programs will be built, and in what order? Will non-degree certificate programs roll out after the degree programs? What will be the rate of these moves? Will the focus be on one school at a time or rotate among several?

Higher Education Strategy Series: This is entry #13 of this series. This page describes the whole series and provides links to all of the articles.

Details: The discussion of other programs provides a general structure for the additional programs an institution might consider creating. Once leadership has settled on a preliminary list, the work really has just begun. Now leadership has to decide the speed and sequence of the deployment of those programs. Every institution and situation is different, but an institution should start slowly if it has not created online programs before. It is not implausible to work on developing a single program for more than a year before the first learner even enters the program. This is one of those tasks that institutions always seem to underestimate. It takes focused effort from various professionals across the institution, and they all already have full-time jobs.

After the first online program in an institution is created, the burden on leadership will abate, but it will shift to department chairs and faculty. If a single school creates, runs, and launches multiple online programs to complement existing face-to-face programs, the faculty will face numerous new and different demands on their schedules. It will take some time for department chairs and deans to understand what the faculty have the capacity to handle and to then hire the appropriate number of faculty and/or assistants needed to run the programs. Running an institution with numerous and varied face-to-face and online programs is significantly more complicated than managing one with only face-to-face programs. For these reasons, an institution should launch no more than one degree program per year (within one school) at the outset. Even when the school is working on smaller certificate programs, it should not start more than one per year at the beginning.


For this series, I am posing activities for an educational leader to complete. The unifying project for these activities is to define a medium- and long-term plan for competing and winning online.

  1. For each separate school within your organization that wants to move online, come up with a concept map that shows the relationship among different degrees, certificates, core classes, signature academic experiences (e.g., capstone classes), and important extra-curricular student experiences. Get help from others on the leadership team to ensure that you don't miss important elements.
  2. Look for those items on the map that are shared by multiple degrees or certificates—these are the classes or services that you will want to focus your efforts on. If there are some elements on the map that do not seem important but that you believe are important, think about what you might have missed? Does something else need to be incorporated into the diagram? If so, continue adding to the diagram and, again, reflect on these changes with other leaders.
  3. As for the sequence, look for classes that are shared by multiple certificates. You might consider building out one of the certificates first so that you can get some money coming in as well as learn about the pedagogical approaches and community-building approaches that you are relying on. What data will you be collecting to determine effectiveness at the course and program level? After you build out the first certificate, build the second and even third certificates as they should be relatively quick given that they shared courses with the first certificate. Again, look at the data you have collected to refine the creation of additional courses and deployment of community-building efforts. You should now be ready to deploy a degree program that shares many courses with those first certificates.
  4. Repeat this process for other schools in your university. Look for shared services across the university that would benefit from investment levels that would not be justified at a single-school level.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments. 

Keep Learning

Define and Act on Your Institution’s Strategy

Dr. Scott Moore has written a 15-part series on defining and acting on a higher education strategy to guide leaders during these difficult times. It is targeted at educational leaders who are participating in shaping their school's actions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr. Scott Moore

Dr. Scott Moore is a former Principal Learning Strategist at Extension Engine. In this role, he led the global Custom Learning Experience practice. He worked with dozens of nonprofit, higher education, and learning business organizations as they considered using online learning to support their mission and margin, using his deep understanding of organizational dynamics, online learning, strategic differentiation, decision-making, and more. Prior to joining Extension Engine, he was a faculty member, administrator, and dean at Michigan Ross and Babson College for 20+ years. He holds an M.B.A. from Georgia Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

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