How Much Should We Be Spending on Learning R&D?

Looking outside of higher ed.

March 1, 2017

Does your school invest in learning R&D (research and development)?

Perhaps a better question is - why should a college or university invest in learning R&D?  

Do we think that putting precious dollars to instructional innovation will advance the core mission?  

Are resources spent advancing the practice in teaching and learning good investments in terms of institutional differentiation?

Do we have any evidence that taking scarce dollars away from one purpose - such as providing more financial aid or raising faculty compensation - and putting those dollars towards learning R&D makes sense from an institutional perspective?

I can’t find any data on postsecondary learning R&D.  Worse than that - I’m having trouble defining what R&D for learning within higher ed might even look like.

Are investments in open online learning - in MOOCs - another method of investing in learning R&D?

What about more traditional online or low-residency programs?  Can we say that the development of non-residential degree programs - programs that often require the hiring of instructional designers and media educators - has been a catalyst for postsecondary learning innovation?

One way to think about all this is to do some level setting.  How much do non-higher ed entities spend on R&D?

There are two ways that R&D spending by company is reported: as a total number, and as a percentage of revenues.  

Data from 2015 shows that Intel spent $11.5 billion on R&D, equal to 20 percent of revenues.  Facebook also invested one-fifth of revenues in R&D, equal to $2.7 billion.  Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) both spend about $10 billion annually on R&D, with Alphabet investing 15 percent of revenues.

Apple spends about $8 billion a year on R&D, a lower portion of revenues as Apple earns so much money.  Amazon invest about $10 billion a year - which puts this investment at about 10 percent of revenues.  

What do all these numbers tell us?

A reasonable benchmark for R&D companies for tech companies seems to be about 10 percent of revenues.

Does anywhere in higher ed come anywhere close to this level of investment in the future?

Perhaps my focus on learning is misplaced.  Colleges and universities could invest R&D money on everything else in the bundle.  There is plenty of room for innovation around marketing, recruitment, admissions, student affairs, outreach, fundraising - you name it.  Should learning R&D be prioritized over anything and everything else?

How can we have a more informed conversation about postsecondary learning R&D?


Back to Top