Elearning in times of crisis

One of the most impressive public university systems in the world, the University of California, is under extreme financial pressure in the light of major funding cuts imposed by the state. There are major fears that the university, whose constituent institutions include such global leaders as UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara, will have to implement further very drastic cuts and job losses.

One initiative currently being contemplated as a possible contribution to alleviating the crisis is a plan to put a number of programmes online and charge students for taking them – including students not registered with the university. However, in order to do this the university needs to invest to cover the start-up and development costs, and these are estimated to come to up to $7 million. Initially the university declared that this would be raised from private donations, but so far it has only been able to raise $750,000 – and so it has now decided to fund the rest by way of a bank loan. But if it does this, then the overall financial and business plan for the initiative will change fundamentally, and the university also will have to work out how to avoid the significant losses that other universities have suffered with similar initiatives.

How all this will play out remains to be seen. But it might be a good idea for every university president across the world to have a poster in their office reminding them that while online learning is a good idea and can make a very substantial pedagogical contribution, it is never an easy source of profits, and should never be planned with that end in view. Setting up a high quality elearning programme costs a lot of money, and needs to. Running something that is not high quality should not be contemplated at all.

This is not to say that the University ofd California should not be planning an elearning initiative. But it should not do this in order to cover a financial shortfall. To do so is very risky indeed.

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6 Comments on “Elearning in times of crisis”

  1. Fred Says:

    I believe that there are 2 main groups of potential students that may want to do a online program.
    1) Those who are really determined and able but have no time or cannot for any reason attend on campus programes
    2) Those who see online programes as “easy” way

    In any case it is basicaly up to the university admission policy to determine who to accept but if you are targeting the first group then you have to make significant investments. Most importantly you should train yor staff to treat online students as normal students and not as something inferior. This is a trap.

  2. Tim Conner Says:

    If HE or any education institution ignores google apps, applications and the chrome store – they need to clearly understand the implications – did this short blog for primary schools this year.
    http://timconner.posterous.com/


  3. “Setting up a high quality elearning programme costs a lot of money, and needs to.”

    Is there evidence somewhere that this statement is based on? I presume that all one needs is a single counter-example to disprove this. University of Illinois is worth checking out. This particular myth probably stems from the people who have been involved in online learning development to date, who mostly have backgrounds in distance learning, multi-media, instructional design and computing, and who tend to see this in terms of large deterministic projects with significant planning and design and content development. There are many examples of low-investment online courses out there where the students are very satisfied and learning outcomes equal or exceed campus versions. However, it may be difficult to prove that these are high-quality because of the vagueness of the term “high-quality”.

    “Running something that is not high quality should not be contemplated at all.” If this were true we would close down a lot of the face-to-face courses in our universities. Why would you require higher standards of online than you do of campus based courses? I remember in the middle of the controversy of Hibernia College a graduate of St. Patrick’s Drumcondra ringing in to a radio show. Imagine my surprise to hear him say that the quality to the teaching he received at university was poor.

    The history of innovation is littered with people being told what can’t be done. For the innovator in a competitive environment, this may be a good thing, as it will hold back their competitors, usually larger sluggish organisations, for long enough so that they can get a good lead.

  4. Mary B Says:

    They could, of course, try not charging at all for the programme and rely on advertising sponsorship – like Facebook, or Twitter. I suppose I always feel slighly queasy about HEIs ‘launching new products’ in a solely commercial fashion. I think there is a hypothesis to be tested there that more commercial practice doesn’t necessarily lead to more academic jobs…


  5. E-learning is fast becoming a panacea for all problems in the university sector. The reality is that innovative e-learning models can be profitable and don’t need to cost the earth (people like Matt Frew (http://bit.ly/fNQq83)and Jennifer Jones (http://bit.ly/eXYgiQ) are great examples of people who have developed models which are free and high quality for example). However, for me (as discussed elsewhere http://bit.ly/ghF3hS) if we look at e-learning simply from an economic perspective first and foremost then we’re never going to ‘do it’ properly. We should focus on how these technologies allow us to become better educators as a priority and then how to turn this into ‘product’ we can sell. Going the other way round simply leads to poorly delivered courses which are not going to work.


  6. […] be a lot closer to the truth thatn I would have hoped.  I just read a blog by von Prondynski (e-learning in times of crisis) who suggests that elearning will be a way that universities can cut costs in a world where […]


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