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Large-Scale Provision of Online Learning

Overview

September 29th 10:00 am – 10:50 am

Leader: Ken Udas, CEO, UMassOnline
Jim Fay, VP of Academic Affairs, Cerro Coso College
Alon Krashinsky, Vice President, Accretive LLC

From his unique vantage point as leader of three of the largest public online learning initiatives in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Zealand, Ken and his diverse panel will share their insights for successful online learning at scale. Discuss issues of transformation in organizational form, tendencies for alternative governance, relations with CIO's, academic decision making, and trends in services and infrastructure. With more than 90 programs and 1,500 courses, UMassOnline offers one of the largest accredited online programs available. Stacey is a member of the senior leadership of Western Governors University: a competency-based university. Over the past twelve years she has had the unique opportunity to guide the development of the student and academic support services at the University to support its current enrollment of over 20,000 students in 62 programs. Jim was the founding dean at Harcourt Higher Education which was the first licensed online college in the Northeast. He helped draft the accreditation standards for Universitas 21 which was one of the first transnational online graduate schools. He served academic vice president of Ellis College, an online university based in Chicago. Currently he is the academic vice president at Cerro Coso College in California where 2/3 of the students take online or televised courses.

Panel Logistics

Structure

Pre-Event Planning Meeting

We should get together for an hour or so to review our plans for the panel, discuss the toipics we are going to raise, and ensure that we are all on the same page.

When are we arriving in Colorado Springs?

  • Ken is arriving on Sunday evening, September 26th
  • Jim is arriving on Monday afternoon, September 27th
  • Alon is arriving on Tuesday evening, September 28th

We will meet at the Hotel after Alon arrives at about 6:30 on September 28th.  We can discuss the panel and see if we need to meet again.

We can tentatively plan the Panel Planning Meeting during the morning of September 29th at 7:30.

Perhaps we can also get together for a short introduction on the evening of the 28th if possible.

Panel Introduction: Ken (5 minutes)

Ken will make a brief introduction of the panel and the panel, how it is structured, and what are some of the themes to be discussed. I will not introduce the panelists. Jim and Alon, I will ask you to introduce yourselves.

Panelist Introductions: (10 minutes)

The panelists will introduce themselves. We each have between 2 and 3 minutes.

  • Jim
  • Alon
  • Ken

Discussion Topic (25 minutes)

What might or should a scaled-up college or university look like in 10-15 years?

Discussion Structure

In recognition of Chris' advice, as the moderator, I can hit a few bullet points about the larger sector in which we all exist, trends, phenomena, etc. and then each of us can talk a bit about institutional issues and examples, trying to keep it as practical as possible. This way we can spend just a few minutes on context, which should not be a problem if there are other panels that lay that out.

Sector Wide Perspective

Some potential considerations include:

  • The Ascendancy of the For-Profit: Growth, Legal Actions,
  • Competency and Outcome Based Assessment: Spellings Report ,
  • Accreditation & Licensure: 
  • Legislation: Higher Education Act,
  • Consortia: Geographic, State, President's Forum ,

What will you talk about/address? (Please provide a brief description of the topics that you would like to address)

Broad Introduction from Ken: It is becoming increasing obvious that the context in which Online Learning (eLearning) is now framed is changing. The growth not only of the numbers of learners seeking and engaging in online learning, but the number of institutions looking at Online learning strategically, has had many of us asking about the conditions under which online learning can scale.  Jim and Alon have helped me pull together a few important points about the larger context in which we operate across the sector. What are some of the major considerations we have identified include:

  1. Identifying "Best Practices": The education sector, unlike medicine, has made minimal progress in defining much less enforcing best practices. Most educational research is based on small samples and inadequate methodology and is marginally better than anecdotal.
  2. State and Regional Collaboration: For example, “Master Courses” could be designed by course designers working with faculty subject matter experts, and their effectiveness tested.  We see this notion manifesting itself in terms of Degree Tuning , in which the Lumina Foundation is investing and using European trends associated with the Bologna Process.
  3. Accreditation & Outcomes Based Performance Assessment: Regional and national accreditors could be required to base accreditation on measurable and durable learning outcomes rather than focus on process which is now the case. This theme is pervasive in a number of venues including the Presidents Forum , which was influenced by the Spellings Report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education .
  4. Competition & the Changing Marketplace: For-profit growth serves as an expression of market demand. This has implications for the nature of competition in the market (customer service, content, brand). this is early development of the market and the brands that more credible institutions like to look down upon could over time become rightfully known as leaders not only in scale but in innovation, quality, and learning outcomes (the window is not infinite).
Institutional Approaches and Considerations

Some potential considerations include:

  • Faculty: Responsibilities (research, teaching load, mentoring, advising, grading, course development, curriculum development, etc.), ratios,
  • Student Support & Services: Self service,
  • Technology and Information Management: Costs at scale, Migrations, etc.
  • Business Processes & Work Flow: Outsourcing, effectiveness and efficiency,
  • Business/Education/Growth Model: Competency based, Career, Traditional Liberal Arts, Consortia (What is the potential? - articulation, shared catalog, research, OER, etc. What are some examples? - SUNY Learning Network, UMassOnline, Universitas 2, etc.), Revenue Models
  • Organizational Structure & Governance: Public, Private, for Profit, non Profit, Faculty Unions, Other Collective Bargaining Agreements, Student Governance, University System, Stand Alone Campus, Multi-Campus University, etc.

What will you talk about/address? (Please provide a brief description of the topics that you would like to address)

Question from Ken: Following from the same premise of larger sectoral change stimulated by shifting expectation by all of our critical stakeholders, I would like to start with exploring what Alon and Jim think of the institutional context in which we operate or observe. What are some of the major considerations do you have, what have you done, and what are you doing, or planning to do about them.

Alon: Ask - what is your institution good at? If you map a successful outcome and work backwards, which pieces is do your current capabilities and the capabilities that you are easily able to acquire well suited to do. For the other ones, consider options. We have seen a lot to be desired across the "marketing," back-office, and student support elements tied to online education. We think that openness to partnerships to accomplish the task at hand is one of a few ways to get to a good outcome. Structure of the organization is also important. 

Jim: The business end of higher education is also barely beyond the cottage-industry standard. Most colleges each do their own admission and registration, financial aid, grade processing, counseling, student health, and other functions in their own silos while loosely keeping up with national trends through conferences and specialized periodicals. Outsourcing has made selective inroads into this organizational model, bookstores, for example, but outsourcing is fiercely resisted by unions and employee groups.

I suspect that scaling efficiency is more likely to occur in the back-office end of the business especially if specialized outsourcing companies can show significant cost-saving benefits while maintaining service quality levels. Since there is wide spread dissatisfaction with college back-office software and procedures, there may be an opening for outsourcing here.

Is change from within possible? Or must change come from above by governors, legislative committees, think tanks, and grand juries?

Ken: I would probably mention that in my experience constraint comes in three general areas:

  1. Bringing New "Product" to Market: In traditional settings it can take many years to being an existing f2f program online. For example, it took 8 years for the World Campus to bring their BS in Business online.
  2. Staffing Programs: Assigning faculty to teach courses can be a major constraint. There can be all sorts of reasons. Depending on the roles, other staffing constraints can include learner/student support, advising, marking, etc.
  3. Work Flow & Support: Sometimes the pipes are not big enough or effective enough. We can point to odd work flow, poor information systems, bottle necks, etc.

Points 1 & 2 can be addressed within the traditional context by creating incentives. (can give examples from Penn State, etc.) But the traditional governance and delivery model has natural constraints. Let's look at some of the non-traditional models.

Point 3, has to do with all of the issues that come along with any large organization that was not designed to do what it is trying to do.

Some Questions for Consideration

  • Will some state fully link all of its community colleges with a standardized online curriculum, delivery system, and back office operation?
  • Will individual states or consortia of states collaborate?  If so on what?
    • on a set of "Master Courses" to standardize course development,
    • make articulation seamless,
    • and facilitate large scale comparative research on course outcomes?
  • Will there be any creative partnerships between the public and the private sector and between colleges in different nations?
  • Will Hollywood and the music and video gaming industries see new niche markets in higher education?
  • How will the Open Source Movement energize the evolution of college curriculum and college management?
  • What are the goals of scale? Will scaling up have significant cost, quality, or accountability benefits? 
  • Will incentives from the federal government or foundations drive innovation?
  • Is the standard model of college administration suited to scale?
  • Do we need new accrediting bodies better suited to new ways of college organization, student learning, and performance evaluation?
  • Will learner needs and demographics dictate demand and ability to scale?
  • How does institutional mission, goals, governance, and "category" (research mission, status, etc.) impact ability to scale?
  • How important is the ability to scale-down programming to meet individual needs and niche markets?

Open Questions (10 minutes)

We will open the floor for questions, comments, and general discussion. Can you think of any questions or comments we should anticipate, or ask ourselves if everybody is shy?

Resources

Original Text

Icon

I have moved some of the full text from above and pasted it below in this section.  I have done this because I pulled poins from the "Sector-wide" section, but do not want to lose what we have written.

Jim: College instruction is a highly decentralized and highly inefficient service industry that loosely resembles the cottage-based British textile industry prior to industrialization. Faculty members, like 18th century weavers, typically control all aspects of the teaching process from course standards, course content, course design, instruction, course updating, test making, testing, grading, customer interaction, quality control, trouble-shooting, and interface with management. Such a system cries out for modern process management, standardization, and quality control. Since faculty are rarely trained in graduate school in anything but academic content, their skill level in all of the other aspects of instruction is typically at a very low level. They learn what they can on the job.

The education sector, unlike medicine, has made minimal progress in defining much less enforcing best practices. Most educational research is based on small samples and inadequate methodology and is marginally better than anecdotal.

For course scaling to have some impact, it should be based on statewide or regional “Master Courses” designed by course designers working with faculty subject matter experts. An ongoing series of experiments with these “Master Courses” should be run by behavioral economists, learning specialists, and think tanks so that evidence-based best practices and measurable and durable learning outcomes can be developed and disseminated to faculty across the country.

At this point regional and national accreditors could be required to base accreditation on measurable and durable learning outcomes rather than focus on process which is now the case. In the alternative, new accreditation groups could be authorized to rapidly bring these new accreditation standards into the mainstream.

Alon: I can discuss for-profit growth as an expression of market demand as an opener. Also what this implies for the nature of competition in the market (customer service, content, brand). Could be worth mentioning talking about being deliberate about what an organization wants to scale - much of the online delivery today is reasonably "flat" (threaded discussions etc.) and does not have a teaching methodology that really takes advantage of what the internet enables. As such it may make sense for institutions to focus on getting their pedagogy and teaching methodology right before scaling. Could close with the idea that this is early development of the market and the brands that more credible institutions like to look down upon could over time become rightfully known as leaders not only in scale but in innovation, quality, and learning outcomes (the window is not infinite). Thoughts welcome. 

Ken: I like this, so what's to be done to enable the developments that Alon points to, with the traditional stagnation and lack of practice that Jim asserts/observes?


11 Comments

  1. I just rolled the discussion comments into the Panel Planning Document.  You can find the comments saved in the Comments Archive .

  2. I have updated the structure of the page and the Panel a little.  Please read through the document.  You will note that I have asked each of us to fill in areas that you would like to address.  In addition, please feel free to help build on the points of potential discussion topics.  You can make recommendations and share your thoughts as comments and I can roll them up into the Panel Planning document above.

  3. Anonymous

    I hope you can focus on some of the practical "how to do it" aspects of scale. We've been looking at ways to increase enrollment in some programs by 3-5 times current levels. This has led to much discussion about "business as usual" for the functions you list here, versus outsourcing services or increasing our internal service investment. Understanding the degree to which current practice needs to change is our current challenge for us - and I imagine this is also true for others.

    - Chris Geith

    1. Chris, thanks for the suggestion.  We can keep the Institutional part of this very practical.  It is my feeling that the Sector-Wide perspective is important because it help illustrate that although we are caught-up in something, we can do things on the institutional level to meet the challenge.

    2. Chris, could you expand on what you mean about:

      This has led to much discussion about "business as usual" for the functions you list here, versus outsourcing services or increasing our internal service investment.

      I am assuming that Faculty Responsibility, Work Flow, and Revenue models, for example are still considerations for scaling (up and down) online programming.  All of these can be discussed relative to accruing variable rather than fixed costs and the internal organizational shifts needed to move from managing employees to managing vendors or extended sourcing relationships. 

      Am I missing your point badly?

      1. Let me make one suggestion in reply to Chris's "how to do" it scaling. Colleges with robust online programs (College B) might partner with colleges lacking such programs (College A).

        For example, College A which had no online program in business or IT (College A) might permit its students to take courses at UMassOnline (College B). UMassOnline would rebate some of the student tuition to College A so that a win-win situation would occur. Perhaps the student might receive a joint degree from both institutions.

        College B might also negotiate preferred provider contracts with companies or government agencies to provide online instruction in business or IT to company or agency employees at a discount below its normal tuition. 

        Jim

  4. I just updated the Planning Document above to include the specific questions that I will be asking the panel.  They are pretty general.  Jim and Alon, I would ask you to jot down how you might respond (very generally, not a "quote") so we can make sure that we are covering off important topics, and not just repeating each other.  I will fill in gaps and ask follow-up questions (maybe try to stir some trouble), after each of you respond.  If you would prefer to include your input ere in a comment, then I can move it up to the wiki, but you should feel free to edit directly. Let's keep Chris' comments in mind about trying to keep it practical and talk about what we see and what we have done, but also point to the future...

    What might or should a scaled-up college or university look like in 10-15 years?

    1. I would like to start with exploring what Jim and Alon think of the larger context in which we operate across the sector. What are some of the major considerations they have? What have they done? And what are they doing, or planning to do about them?

       

      College instruction is a highly decentralized and highly inefficient service industry that loosely resembles the cottage-based British textile industry prior to industrialization. Faculty members, like 18th century weavers, typically control all aspects of the teaching process from course standards, course content, course design, instruction, course updating, test making, testing, grading, customer interaction, quality control, trouble-shooting, and interface with management. Such a system cries out for modern process management, standardization, and quality control. Since faculty are rarely trained in graduate school in anything but academic content, their skill level in all of the other aspects of instruction is typically at a very low level. They learn what they can on the job.

      The education sector, unlike medicine, has made minimal progress in defining much less enforcing best practices. Most educational research is based on small samples and inadequate methodology and is marginally better than anecdotal.

      For course scaling to have some impact, it should be based on statewide or regional “Master Courses” designed by course designers working with faculty subject matter experts. An ongoing series of experiments with these “Master Courses” should be run by behavioral economists, learning specialists, and think tanks so that evidence-based best practices and measurable and durable learning outcomes can be developed and disseminated to faculty across the country.

      At this point regional and national accreditors could be required to base accreditation on measurable and durable learning outcomes rather than focus on process which is now the case. In the alternative, new accreditation groups could be authorized to rapidly bring these new accreditation standards into the mainstream.

      The business end of higher education is also barely beyond the cottage-industry standard. Most colleges each do their own admission and registration, financial aid, grade processing, counseling, student health, and other functions in their own silos while loosely keeping up with national trends through conferences and specialized periodicals. Outsourcing has made selective inroads into this organizational model, bookstores, for example, but outsourcing is fiercely resisted by unions and employee groups.

      I suspect that scaling efficiency is more likely to occur in the back-office end of the business especially if specialized outsourcing companies can show significant cost-saving benefits while maintaining service quality levels. Since there is wide spread dissatisfaction with college back-office software and procedures, there may be an opening for outsourcing here.

      Is change from within possible? Or must change come from above by governors, legislative committees, think tanks, and grand juries?

      1. Jim, thanks!  I broke your comment out into sector and institutional resourmence and pasted them in the document.  Do you have an examples of how you addressed the issues or how you have seen them addressed?

  5. Anonymous

    This is shaping up nicely, and I want to go back to my earlier suggestion to focus on making this practical for attendees. There will be others at the meeting also talking about the sector, and new models - such as John Sener's panel. This is good - IMHO you can't talk too much about this. But, you all have experience in the DOING it, or planning to do it across multiple institutions (Alon).  Most attendees have not had this experience and would be helped greatly by a couple of illustrations. For example, some successful scalable models. What are the functions and roles, how any people in these roles, what's the annual expense of these functions? You could really help people by illustrating your points with a couple of very detailed examples - like "cases." It's hard for people in the "cottage industry" as Jim describes, to understand what would be different at a larger scale. Showing a live, successful example or two will really make a difference to attendees understanding and applying what they learn from your session.

    Let me know if you think this makes sense.

    - Chris

    1. Chris,  thanks - this is good advice and helps keep a focus.  We could take a slightly different approach and perhaps as the moderator, I can hit a few bullet points about the larger sector in which we all exist, trends, phenomena, etc. and then reach of us can talk a bit about institutional issues and examples.  This way we can spend just a few minutes on context, which should not be a problem if there are other panels that lay that out. 

      My feeling is that if we go in that direction we ought to:

      1. talk about and give examples of what works to scale to a particular mature size and rate in a traditional non-profit University/College/Polytechnic/Community College, and then
      2. talk about what we see changing in he traditional model (program development, resourcing classes and services, and work flow)

      For topic area #1 we can easily point to a number of examples, costs, how-to sorts of stuff (we do not have much time).  Jim and I have spent a significant part of or careers working in a variety of institutions doing online learning.  For topic area #2 we could talk a little about what we have observed or experienced and surely Alon can speak to some of the issues associated with a) resourcing classes and services and b) work flow. That is, as new entrants consider scaling, what should they take from the current models and what should they significantly rethink, if they want to out perform their current peer leaders?

      What do you guys think?

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