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MTOPs: Micro-Targeted Online Programs - (The Anti-MOOC?)
March 24, 2013 - 9:00pm

Why should MOOCs get all the ink?

Let's coin a term, a phrase, a meme. Will the MTOP - the Micro-Targeted Online Program - go viral? (Calling Thomas Friedman).

An MTOP shares the following 7 characteristics:  

1. An online (or blended) program with 50 or fewer students per year.

2. Narrowly focused, with a specialized curriculum and student demand profile.

3. A program that leads to an accredited degree.

4. Built on the expertise and specialization of a department, rather than individual faculty members.

5. Designed to build strong relationships between students and faculty.

6. Has a revenue model that is self-sustaining.

7. Is not limited to elite institutions, but is dependent on great academic departments.
    
The most important criteria for considering an MTOP is the presence of an academic department (or combination of departments) in which the faculty have some recognized expertise.  

What department on your campus is at the forefront in some discipline?

Remember that we are talking about "micro-targeted" - so your comparative departmental expertise does not range across an entire discipline. I'm not talking about the best economics department, but how about a department that is known for attracting faculty that studies the economics of fish farming, video games, or the coffee industry.

All a micro-targeted online program needs to succeed is 50 people in the world each year that could greatly benefit from working with the leaders (your faculty) in their field of work. These 50 (or less) students will either be working or trying to work in a job where being part of your program will help them with their career goals. 

Benefits for the students may accrue from the exposure to the curriculum (specialized knowledge), the building of professional networks with the other participants in the degree program, the opportunities that may arise from working closely with faculty (who are also networked in the industry), and the credential that will come with the degree.

Do the economics of an MTOP work? After all, point #6 is that the MTOP has a self-sustaining revenue model.

The good news is that we are in 2013, not 2003 or even 2010.  

I'm betting that your campus already has a learning management system (LMS). Maybe even a synchronous learning platform.  That you have some learning design and educational technology expertise on campus.   

Your faculty may or may not have taught online before, but they may be comfortable teaching in a blended manner. Years of integrated technology into their face-to-face teaching will make the transition to online much easier.

The combination of existing learning platforms, experienced faculty, and some capabilities in learning design lower the costs of starting a new MTOP. Lower fixed costs means less need to scale. You can do an MTOP with 20 students per year and still make the numbers work.

One MTOP will not bring much additional revenue to your institution, but a portfolio of MTOPs? How many departments do you have with a recognized expertise? The 2nd MTOP is easier to build than at the first, and so on and so on.  

The team that puts on the first MTOP will go up an amazing number of learning curves (course design to marketing to admissions to technology - and everything  in between). These lessons can then be applied to the next MTOP.

MOOCs and MTOPs are not mutually exclusive. Learning, technology, and investments could transfer across both domains.

Can you point to some examples of MTOPs that are currently running?

Is your institution offering and MTOP?  

What would be the incentives or barriers in doing an MTOP on your campus?

 

 

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