How Will Universities Flip, Blend And Go Online?

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) was the breakout trend of 2012. Over the last two years, Coursera has emerged as the clear winner serving 6.7 million learners with 621 courses and 108 university partners.  The story behind the scenes is how the diverse web of nearly 5,000 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. are responding to cost pressure, calls for higher completion rates and better job preparation, and student demands for relevance.

There are a handful of innovators Powering the Real Revolution in Higher Education–the broader shift to online and blended learning. NovoEd heightens interactive and collaborative learning with peer to peer communication, collaborative projects, and an open line to instructors. Echo360 is an active learning platform that helps profs flip, blend, and engage.  2U has helped a dozen universities launch next-gen blended programs. And with much less fanfare, Pearson manages over 125 online higher education programs.

3 Approaches. I asked Todd Hitchcock how universities are creating or updating their online offerings. Todd was an exec with Florida Virtual before joining Pearson. We served together on the iNACOL finance committee. He’s the COO of Pearson Embanet, a solution provider for online HigherEd.

“While there are a large number of students enrolled in online programs in higher education in the U.S., a disproportion amount of students are enrolled in a relatively small number of institutions,” notes Hitchcock. He sees the rest of the sector scrambling to catch up and launch online offerings.  Todd sees three approaches institutions are using as their go-to-market strategies for their online learning programs:

1. Organic.  Internal efforts often start ground-up with an instructor putting their class online. Instructor leadership may spur a program or department initiative (e.g, School of Business) with capacity being developed in-house (i.e. hiring instructional designers, developers, technical expertise, etc).

2. Comprehensive.  Departments inside universities that are looking for ways to expand their program offerings quickly and to generate revenue but do not have the resources to invest and develop the operational and technological infrastructure to lead a growth-oriented program, identify a partner to consult with them and build everything out.  The school maintains control of admissions, operations, and academics.  For example, the 2U partnership with USC Rossier School gets a lot of attention while Pearson manages 9 online programs for USC.

Some universities, like ASU, resisted the rush to MOOCs and are taking an enterprise approach to develop a full online program.  They have some capacity but needed a partner like Pearson to take a program to scale.

3. Legislative. These schools have been given resources to solve a specific problem like access or affordability. Launched last month with support from Pearson, University of Florida Online is an example.

Western Governors University (see recent feature) is a bit of an anomaly as they started ground-up when there was not a great deal of competition in the space–now, there is tremendous competition so trying to start ground-up is nearly impossible,” said Hitchcock, noting, “That’s why a new program like UF chose to partner.”

Services.  What services should a university look for in a partner?  Todd said Pearson Embanet offers a learning management platform, content (CourseConnect, MyLabs, digital eBooks), tutoring Services, custom content development, PD, helpdesk, and consulting.  Bundled solutions include any/all of the above.

Pearson also offers market research, marketing, recruitment, student services, as well as compliance, technical and operations support.  They can offer up-front investment and a shared success model.  This approach aligns with Pearson’s efficacy agenda as the model revolves around getting more students (at all levels) into college and maximizing graduation rates.

As degrees decline in value and alternatives emerge, universities are blending core offerings and adding online options. They have an interesting array of innovative and high capacity partners to choose from.

Pearson and FLVS are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment


So many corporations and universities are developing identical capabilities...there will be a few major winners, some successful niche players, and, sadly, a great many institutions and corporations that will not be able to keep up. It is important for each institution to figure out what its unique strengths are.
With respect to the comparison between Pearson Embanet and 2U, 2U is pickier about which programs it partners with, because it makes an up-front investment of about $10 million for each partner. I think we can safely assume that Embanet did not invest $10 million in each of those nine USC programs. 2U chooses a single partner in each niche, while Embanet is willing to partner with multiple direct competitors in a single space. 2U's programs' net promoter scores are astonishing, right up there with Apple's. It would be interesting to see Embanet's.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Matt, yes, very different services/approaches. 2u is a high investment/high margin partnership. Embanet is the IBM equivalent, a consulting backoffice solution provider.

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