The OPM Industry and the Online Learning Evangelist

Campus challenges in communicating strengths and weaknesses of the OPM partnership model.

March 14, 2018

This week I’ll be attending the 2018 University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Annual Conference in Baltimore. Are you going?

On Thursday morning (3/15) I’m scheduled to participate in a breakfast briefing for UPCEA institutional representatives on Innovation and an Entrepreneurial Mind-Set, moderated by the incomparable Susan Aldridge of Drexel University.  

Assuming that the weather cooperates, and this week’s snowstorm du jour allows travel to Baltimore to occur, my topic of discussion is all about OPMs -- Online Program Management providers.

You know OPM’s. They include  2U, Pearson, Wiley, Bisk, Hotchalk, Colloquy, Everspring, Learning House, Synergis, Orbis, All Campus, Helix, Noodle, Keypath, and many others. (For the world’s best graphic of the OPM Market Landscape, one that I plan to show in my talk, see Phil Hill’s indispensable e-Literate post. How is Phil so good at making these graphics?).

The topic of my talk is all about the challenges that institutional online learning evangelists face in communicating the OPM model to campus stakeholders. I’m hoping to have a conversation at UPCEA with colleagues who work back at their colleges and universities on institutional low-residency and online learning strategy.

My goal is to learn how they communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the OPM model to their colleagues on campus.

To get at the challenges of communicating the OPM model with campus colleagues, let me ask you some questions:

  • What do you think of your school partnering with a for-profit provider to develop, launch and run a new online/low-residency program?
  • What do you think of your school agreeing to a long-term contract, measured in years (as many as 10) with an OPM partner?
  • How do you react to the idea of a revenue share with an OPM partner? And at what proportion of revenues going to the OPM would you start to feel uncomfortable?
  • What do you know about how OPM partnerships have worked at peer institutions? Do you know how well these partnerships have aligned with institutional priorities and strategic goals, and what these OPM partnerships have done to bring in new revenues?
  • Do you have concerns about outsourcing core competencies, such as instructional design and student advising, to an OPM partner?
  • How are the various OPM providers differentiated from one another? What would you say are the particular strengths of each player in the OPM industry?

My strong suspicion is that you will got lots of answers to all these questions. What I wonder about is how helpful all these answers will be for colleges and universities to make informed decisions about the option to partner in developing a new online and low-residency program.

I’m not arguing that the OPM route is the right way to go for every school, and for every program. There are real plusses and minuses when working with an OPM.

What I am saying is that the OPM option should be considered by every school and every program. What institutions should be doing is making informed choices about how they are going to choose which online/low-residency programs to create and run, and how they are going to fund and manage those programs.

More information about strategic online learning options is always better than less information. My worry is that the way that the current OPM industry is constructed tends to inhibit information flow.

It is very difficult for campus online learning evangelists to broker a full discussion on the OPM option. It is a challenge to share how the different players in the OPM market differentiate themselves from one another. And it is difficult to provide data on peer institutions, as contracts and financial outcomes are too often opaque to outside schools.

The responsibility that the OPM industry has to correct the current state of affairs is a question that we should discuss.

I’m also interested in talking with my fellow online/low-residency education campus enthusiasts about how to introduce the OPM option back at their schools.

The UPCEA 2018 Annual Conference should be a good place to have this conversation. But that conversation is bigger than any single gathering, and any single professional association.

This is a conversation that the online learning community and the OPM industry needs to have with each other.


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