Produce Your Online Programs In-house

April 2017 Issue

CAPDM Newsletter


CAPDM Opinion

Produce Your Online Programs In-house

Dear Reader,

A lot of university schools and departments around the World are struggling with going online – this time with whole programs. This is understandable. Its not a trivial thing to do. Quite apart from the technological aspects of producing, delivering and then managing effective online learning experiences, there are the substantial cultural ones of having staff adopt and engage with online distance learning methods and practices.Then there are the financial aspects of making such substantial investments, which are estimated by some to be between £2m – £3m for an institution.

Many are turning to the growing market of ‘enablers’ or ‘online programme managers (OPMs)’ for help. In the UK this includes organisations such as CAPDM, Pearson Embanet, Wiley Education Services, and Keypath Education Services. In the USA there are Academic Partnerships, Bisk, 2U and at least 36 other start-ups. The Education industry research organisation Eduventures estimated in a recent report that the market for OPMs could more than double by 2020, and that in 2015 it was already a $1.1 billion market in the US alone.

Some examples of the services OPM’s are offering to universities  include:

  • education business planning
  • financing
  • online marketing and recruitment
  • enrollment management
  • curriculum development
  • online course design and production
  • content licensing
  • student retention support
  • learning environment technology and cloud hosting
  • corporate partnerships and
  • faculty training.

So, what advice would we give UK universities considering such a strategic move?

Consider the outsource or insource argument first. This might sound like a clear decision to make, until you look again at that list of OPM services being offered, and realise just how many of them are core to your current and future business operations.

Focus on marketing

There is no ‘magic wand’ for obtaining online course revenues. Some early movers like Edinburgh Business School or the University of Phoenix have gained a large share of their respective markets, but attempting to repeat those successes today with an affordable product offering is much harder. Yes, the new MOOC channels to market have emerged, along with their promoters such as FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX, but by in large these are marketing operations that are still struggling to deliver substantive programs sustainably.

Instead, we’d suggest you look at your current channels to market, and invest to enhance your offerings to them. Making cost-effective investments into high-quality, flexible program offering isn’t a waste of resources but crucial. These programs can be used by your current agents, corporate partners and online delivery capabilities and promoted for their own benefit. If done well, they will become profitable within a few years, and lay solid foundations for further successful growth and diversification as the markets demand.

Focus on flexible course design and development

The UK Open University and the University of London International Programmes teams are using digital, single source publishing methods in-house. If you aren’t using these methods it’s likely that your institution is wasting money creating short-term content publications that are hard to reuse or migrate. Online course development engineered properly, will increase program profitability, flexibility and quality (fitness for purpose). It will also create new opportunities for better knowledge management and intellectual uniqueness. This is something the aircraft and automotive industries learned decades ago, and which the Web is now challenging all education providers to do.

Then consider the other services you might outsource to OPMs, and think about whether doing so will help develop your own people and in-house capabilities to achieve this permanently for you.

In short, why give away between 30-80% of your student fee revenue to develop someone else’s business in a deal that returns no substantive assets or capability improvements back to you for core use and the long term?

Why commit to ten-year support agreements when it is likely that they will become unfortunate within three years in this rapidly changing field, as the University of Florida concluded.

Why not use this opportunity to work with an online program enabler that offers to leave you with permanent in-house improvements in assets and capability, with no loss of student revenues. CAPDM is your ideal partner to start with.

We would be delighted to discuss any ideas and comments with you. Please do get in touch.

Email me now.

Martin Smith
Managing Director, CAPDM Ltd.


About the author
Martin Smith MSc is a core founder and managing director of CAPDM Ltd. A software engineer by trade, during the 1990’s he was product development manager for Office Workstations Limited and GUIDE 3 – the first commercial hypertext product. He worked for OWL International Inc in Seattle as an electronic publishing solutions consultant, responsible for the specification and implementation of electronic publishing solutions for Ford, GEAE and the US Navy. Through CAPDM, Martin has been applying open-standards based single-source publishing technologies to higher education for 20+ years, and has influenced the development of some of the most successful online distance learning programs operating today.


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This newsletter was originally sent by CAPDM Ltd. on the 28. April 2017.

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