March 7, 2022

Supporting Institutions to Drive Innovation and Expansion of Distance and Online Education

This school year marks a major inflection point for colleges and universities. This moment is likely to be remembered as a critical turning point between the “time before,” when analog, on-campus, degree-focused learning was the default, to the “time after,” when digital, online, outcome-focused learning became the driver of competition between institutions.

Pre-pandemic, there was already widespread acknowledgement that the traditional higher education business model was seriously challenged. Also, pre-pandemic, in-person enrollments were already falling while distance enrollments grew. Fall 2020 marked a clear shift, as students, educators, and government leaders, alike, scrutinized the price and value proposition of higher education through the new lens of traditional classroom versus multiple modes of digital delivery.

What’s more, machine learning, text messaging (and its brethren technologies), and AI are now having a growing impact in optimizing student services and support. These technological developments make it imperative for college leaders, and the policymakers who govern them, to make digital transformation and technology a much more central strategic priority, especially when it comes to their core businesses: learning and credentialing.

During this digital learning transformation, institutional, student, and employer behaviors are all simultaneously shifting, making this a critical time for evaluating outcomes and business cases, and revisiting strategies and policies through a fresh lens.

As institutions thoughtfully navigate this new environment, the Center for Advancing Learning at Anthology will provide insight and resources to inform decision makers and institutional leaders in the following core success drivers within online program management:

Broadening access to students

The use of online learning technologies was necessitated by the pandemic, but the approach most colleges are employing is simple “emergency remote learning” via live web-conference classes, a method little evolved from video conferencing from the late-1990s. Although sometimes conflated, it is critical to distinguish between the student and educational experience in remote learning versus a fully-planned online course and support environment.

In the multi-billion-dollar market for fully online courses and degrees, a variety of powerful new platforms and technologies have emerged, grounded in cloud computing, enormous datasets, and artificial intelligence. More and more distance education and online learning has the opportunity to serve a more diverse student audience remotely but also with quality programming that provides the education and credentialing experience needed to meet goals and objectives. Anthology will help to demonstrate the purpose and impact of distance and online education to the greater higher ed mission.

Institutional choice in operation and scale of online learning

Higher education has lagged behind other industries in moving to a more digitally driven, outcomes-focused business model. In fact, less than 5% of college budgets are dedicated to IT spending. Education is one of the least digitized and most people-intensive economic sectors — suggesting that the opportunity for (and risk of) technology-driven disruption is strong. Higher education’s overdue technological transformation has been rapidly accelerated by the events of the pandemic and centers, more than ever, on technology, as well as analytics-driven online learning experiences and business models.

For some non-profit institutions, this transformation may necessitate the involvement of for-profit or corporate partners — but what is the right balance of involvement and how does that change based on the needs of the institution? How do those institutions preserve their public and non-profit identities in serving students? When it comes to building a successful institutional foundation for providing and growing distance learning alternatives for students, the choice of how to get there can be complicated and overwhelming. In an effort to navigate the landscape, Anthology is committed to not only shedding light on the options that are available to institutions but also helping institutions understand what they can be doing in terms of selecting or managing online education partners.

Working with policy as the foundation for online education growth

The rise of technology-driven college alternatives and degree substitutes mean there will be many more options for both consumers and employers to sort through. Additionally, the accrual of valuable intellectual property and market share in a handful of key education technology companies makes developing sound partnership models with outside firms much more critical. Many top universities, for example, have committed to decade-long, multi-million-dollar contracts and joint ventures with education online program managers (OPMs) in core academic areas. This will require new digital learning standards and infrastructure, as well as regulation that is attentive to quality assurance and consumer protection, but that also encourages innovation. Through the Center for Advancing Learning, Anthology will work to prepare institutions for the policies that are coming and what they mean for institutional approach and offerings.

The road to digital transformation, specifically with respect to online and distance education, has sped up. With the Center for Advancing Learning, Anthology intends to be a resource for the many institutions who are working to determine the right path forward. With this initiative, we will provide opportunities for learning, shared best practices, experiences, and recommendations in this rapidly changing environment.