Dedicated vs. Centralized Teams

Different models for online and blended programs.

July 28, 2014

Tomorrow I'll spend an hour with my former colleagues at Dartmouth’s Master of Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS) program.

We will talk about where the College is going with online and blended learning, and brainstorm opportunities to extend what has been learned in the MHCDS program.

The question that I am puzzling with has to do with the trade-offs inherent in dedicated vs. centralized teams.

I’m hoping to learn from your experience on campus with your online / blended programs.  What is the ideal balance between focus and scale, specialization and flexibility?

The MHCDS program is a low-residency 18-month graduate degree program, with six weeks spent studying on campus (spread over 4 sessions), with the balance of the coursework completed online.  

There is a dedicated MHCDS team that works with faculty to design and run the online (and residential) courses.  

This is the same team that provides learning and technical support for the students during the online portion of the program .

The team works on one program, with one group of students, and one group of faculty.

This specialized approach, with a dedicated team, results in a very high quality program.  

The learning designers and curriculum specialists develop deep subject matter expertise and strong relationships with the faculty.  

The technical support team gets to know each student in the program, and is able to provide personalized technical support.

The question is whether or not to retain a dedicated team model for other low-residency degree programs?

A dedicated team model is, I think, the best model to ensure a high quality program.  This is especially true when online learning is new to the institution, and when the online degree programs are small and mission driven. 

This dedicated team model, however, does not scale very well.  

Should a dedicated team be created for each small low-residency degree program?

Or would it make more sense to centralize some functions in an office (or department) of online / blended learning?  

A central online group can specialize in learning design, technical support, and platform innovation. 

Building a central online / blended team would enable small low-residency degree (and non-degree) programs to spin up quickly, carrying with them lower costs and lower levels of risks.

I like the quality of the dedicated team model, but I recognize the limitations in efficiency and scale for this arrangement.   

Are the quality gains in building dedicated teams for small online / blended programs worth the trade-offs in scale?

Are the ways to create a centralized online / blended learning team that will allow for a preservation of focus on the students, the faculty, and the learning goals of each program?

What is the critical mass of programs, or students, in online / blended programs that would justify a centralized team?

Does it even make sense to create a separate central team for online / blended learning when all courses are moving towards some degree of digitally enabled (i.e. blended) teaching?

How are the online program teams organized on your campus?


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