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The major OPM companies (2U, Pearson, Wiley, Noodle, Academic Partnerships, Emeritus, Bisk, Everspring, etc.) have been reaching out to colleges and universities with offers to help schools move rapidly from residential to online instruction. In some cases, the OPM providers are offering discounted rates and other favorable terms to assist their partner (and nonpartner) institutions in quickly building online courses.

Has an OPM contacted your school with offers to help?

For the most part, I think that the offers of assistance from online program providers to assist in using online learning for academic continuity are sincere. The truth that most of higher ed misses about OPMs is that the people who work at these companies are -- for the most part, and by and large -- believers in higher education. OPMs are mostly led and staffed by colleagues who are committed to the health of colleges and universities and the well-being of students and faculty.

It is also true that OPM companies have a responsibility to investors and shareholders and therefore operate on different incentives than nonprofit colleges and universities.

Still, I like the people who work at OPM companies -- and we should be grateful that they are offering to help our schools in responding to COVID-19.

Does that mean we should take the OPMs up on their offers to help?

My answer is that it depends.

The big thing to guard against is letting any outside company -- OPM or any vendor -- drive institutional strategy.

Every college and university needs to develop a strategy for academic continuity in the face of COVID-19. Part of that strategy will be remote and online learning. Once that strategy is in place, every college and university should look at the range of resources they have to operationalize the plan. In some cases, it may make sense to bring in resources from outside providers, such as an OPM.

Schools may not have enough instructional design and educational technology capacity at the institution. In that case, it might make sense to bring in some temporary help from an OPM. I could also foresee an external partner assisting in faculty training and the creation of how-to guides, etc. In every case, the costs and benefits of using an external provider to help rapidly transition to remote or online learning should be balanced against the benefits of keeping that work in-house.

Whenever possible, it is better to build internal learning design capabilities than outsource them. Learning design is now a core competency for every college and university. Learning design is an essential capability to have for online and blended courses, as well as to ensure academic continuity and institutional resilience.

It is OK to consider working with an OPM in this time of COVID-19. It may be OK to work with an OPM. But do so very carefully.

How do you think about the relationship between online program management companies and COVID-19?

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