In previous posts I discussed the early phases of online development from traditional through online courses (Part 1) to the creation of hybrid/online programs and degrees (Part 2). In this post, I will address the critical juncture in the institutional process toward online, namely, strategic partnerships and collaborations.
The collaboration and strategic partnership phase is the culmination of an online institutional process spanning many years. During this process, there is buy-in from college leadership, faculty and governing boards that such direction is consistent with the mission, values and goals of that institution. In other words, that online learning is an integral part of the teaching and learning repertoire, if not integral to that institution’s strategic plan. This realization of the strategic importance of online learning to a college is happening with increasing frequency at public and private colleges throughout the U.S. A recent Babson study indicated that nearly 77% of academic leaders at large public institutions considered online learning as a strategic component of their academic mission.
As the headwinds at a specific public university point to more online courses and programs, they reach a critical inflection point. The roll-out of potential programs and courses is expensive, slow, and inefficient, despite the potential of such programs to expand the market, bring in additional revenues and meet the need for greater scheduling flexibility — on the part of students, faculty, and university scheduling offices. At this point, university leadership looks to strategic partnerships and collaborations to assist in the institution’s process toward online. In essence, the university realizes that it’s in its own interest to collaborate with other entities for their mutual benefit.
The diagram above indicates the variety of partnerships and collaborations that are possible. What it shows is that institutions need continued and ongoing support in every aspect of expanding online programs including other educational institutions, publishers and content providers, technology vendors, sources of students, turnkey systems providers, and global relationships. Each of these would require its own post to fully develop, but each is summarized below.
Other Educational Institutions: Partnerships with other colleges that serve a similar student population can be tremendously advantageous. For example, School A may have an online program that complements School B and working together, they can more quickly establish a fully online degree program in a particularly promising program niche. In this manner, smaller schools can work together to create online partnerships that add academic value to their current offerings. Many combinations and permutations of this theme can play out.
Publishers and Content Providers: Traditional publishers see their print textbook monopoly threatened by the onslaught of both open source materials and digital books. Pearson and others have taken the initiative to provide libraries of digital content and actual digital courses for campuses to select from. Many of these publishers have content that are compatible with the major course management systems currently in use. Institutions may cut the development time for online courses, improve the quality of courses with engaging digital content, and even offer customization of courses. Increasingly, these types of partnerships will become prevalent for many online programs.
Technology Vendors: Besides CMS providers are armies of companies selling technologies that can enhance online delivery. These range from lecture capture and webinar tools, to social networking and Web 2.0 tools, to ePortfolios and collaborative learning spaces. Such tools can add depth and engagement to existing products being used at a particular institution while enhancing the capabilities of course designers to produce improved courses.
Sources of Students: The returning veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts are entitled to G.I. benefits that include education. Recently, I got a call from a recruiter inquiring whether my college had any online programs that veterans could enroll in. We (CUNY) didn’t and that opportunity was lost. However, many other higher education institutions are developing such opportunities and actively partnering with U.S. governmental agencies, private companies, and even online high schools to corral students into their online programs. For example, on November 6, 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the University of Maryland conducts online classes for troops serving in Afghanistan. This trend will only increase.
Turnkey Systems Providers: There are new companies whose business model is to partner with colleges having limited online experience and presence. They provide the expertise, training, course management system, marketing, and other essential systems up front for a percentage of the revenue when students enroll. Colleges that sign up get up and running quickly with planning, training and other services included as needed for their online programs. This arrangement affords colleges the opportunity to attract new students. A company like Academic Partnerships provides these services to colleges throughout the U.S.
Global Relationships: It’s become evident to experienced online administrators that there is a potential source of students overseas. Although most of the marketing for current online programs first addresses local, then regional, then national needs, we are clearly becoming a global village. At this stage, an institution might make some initial forays into partnerships with foreign colleges. I’ll leave it to a subsequent blog post to describe a later stage of online development which I term “global reach.”
In summary, there are various strategic partnerships and collaborations that can be explored to advance an institution’s online position in the marketplace. In my estimation, CUNY is not yet at this stage of online development and, in fact, may be several years away. What is needed is a clear and compelling vision for online at this institution, supported by CUNY management and by faculty governance bodies. With those initiatives in place, a central office for online learning can be part of the team researching, negotiating and implementing strategic partnerships for online. For this partnership stage to start being actualized, online learning needs to be an integral part of CUNY’s upcoming strategic plan, with sufficient resources allocated to ensure success.
Credits: “Types of Online Collaborations” graphic designed by Fulya Olgac.
Allen, I.E. & Seaman, J. (2011). Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States 2011, Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved 11/15/11 from, http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/going_distance_2011
Hartman, J., Dziuban, C., Moskal, P., (2007). Strategic Initiatives in the Online Environment: Opportunities and Challenges, On the Horizon, Vol. 15, pp157-168.
Heeger, Gerald, “State Universities Meet Online Needs Through Academic Partnerships,” Retrieved from, http://www.academicpartnerships.com/News/Education%20Needs/Article.html
Pearson Online Learning website: http://www.pearsonlearningsolutions.com/online-learning/
Peter, Tom, (2011) “For U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan, Online Courses Fill a Valued Niche,” Retrieved from, http://chronicle.com/article/For-US-Soldiers-in/129603/