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Yesterday, I pulled out 11 quotes from the 2020 CHLOE 5 special report.

Today, I want to focus on what the report has to say about OPMs (online program managers).

Does partnering with an OPM make a school more or less resilient?

CHLOE 5 does not answer this question. What we learn from the most recent Changing Landscape of Online Education survey is that OPMs have played a limited role in the pivot to remote learning.

While 16 percent of schools in the CHLOE survey reported working with an OPM pre-pandemic, less than 10 percent reported that OPMs played a significant role in the rapid shift from residential to remote instruction.

This finding is perhaps unsurprising. As the CHLOE 5 report notes, schools that work with OPMs tend to do so mostly for specific online programs (mainly master’s).

The pivot to remote learning looked nothing like the process of building an online degree. It would be surprising if the methodology that OPMs utilize to partner with schools to develop online programs could be applied to a rapid pivot to remote instruction.

I’ve heard anecdotally from colleagues at other schools that some institutions have contracted with OPMs to provide discrete services. OPMs were well positioned to rapidly scale instructor training in platforms such as Zoom and provide faculty support for building out courses in the learning management system.

What I’ve heard anecdotally from OPMs is that they mostly provided these services to build relationships and did not price these services to make money.

So were colleges and universities working with OPMs on online programs more or less prepared to pivot from residential to remote learning than those schools that have chosen to keep that work entirely in-house?

In a way, this is the wrong question. Working with an OPM versus doing the work alone is not an either-or choice. Most schools go forward with a combination of outsourcing some online program work to an outsider provider and keeping other work in-house.

A professional school or graduate program may keep instructional design and faculty support and outsource marketing and student support to an online program enabler. Even schools with full bundled OPM relationships for some online programs may also be running other programs that were mostly developed and run with internal resources.

I’ve observed firsthand that OPM relationships can be a catalyst to build internal capacity. An OPM can help a school get over the initial hump of building an online program, giving the institution the confidence to make a go on their own. Partnering with an OPM on a nondegree online program may be particularly effective in enabling even risk-averse institutions to invest in creating their own online programs.

Still, I would hypothesize that institutions that have long-run commitments to creating internal capacity around online education were at a considerable advantage when responding to COVID-19. Running online programs means hiring instructional designers.

The higher the critical mass of instructional designers (we call them learning designers on my campus), the higher the internal capacity a school will have to pivot from residential to remote learning.

The equation is simple:

Instructional designers mean institutional resilience

The more instructional designers a school has, the more resilient they will be.

So here is what I think. Never outsource a core capacity. Never outsource instructional design.

It is fine to work with an OPM on things that are not core capacities. Marketing, 24-7-365 student support, maybe other things. But do whatever you can to keep your instructional design work on campus.

There is lots more about schools and OPMs during COVID-19 in the CHLOE 5 report.

I hope that you check it out.

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