Many UK universities have now embraced distance learning as an essential option for teaching postgraduate students. Some have taken a tentative step into this, but CAPDM can help to address the issues of scalability and commercialisation.
We believe that high quality, high volume education is possible but it needs a formal footing, including the development of
- a highly advanced knowledge management infrastructure,
- high quality learning materials, and
- innovative and flexible approaches to student administration.
With the right model, a good product, and attractive market characteristics, substantial additional income streams can be generated.
For success, there must be a mix of ambition, motivation and capability. Most universities have the raw capability to take this path, but need the coherence and capability to manage and deliver. The overall benefits are not necessarily just financial. There is the potential of building a strong research base – in education, knowledge management and e-commerce – as well as an improvement to the quality of the student learning experience.
Where is distance learning going?
Demand for distance learning is increasing worldwide. In the US, overall online enrolment rose from 2m in 2003 to 245m in 2011 – 78% of the US population. The number of internet users surpassed 1bn in 2005, and reached 3.2bn (44% of the World population) by the year 2015, with much of the growth in use coming from China, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia.
Demand for a diversifying and broadening base of CPD is similarly increasing. In 2007, the OECD highlighted that only 10% of UK firms currently interact with universities, and that the majority of these links focus on big business and a few hi-tech fields. With services now accounting for 70% of the OECD workforce, there is a widening demand for service-oriented CPD. Cultural industries are becoming a major driver globally, accounting for 7% of GDP and growing at 10% annually.
The delivery of distance learning has been of variable quality in the past, due to inadequate use of technologies and low levels of investment and commitment. Today’s technologies allow us to deliver quality distance learning that is highly effective and meets the demand and expectations of students.
The key to success in distance learning today is content quality and effectiveness of the overall learning and teaching processes. Whether used in a ‘mixed learning’ environment or on its own, online distance learning is an important option now.
The strategic significance of distance learning
Distance learning is the only way for many students across the world to access education, and the number that want this access is increasing rapidly.
There is also a growing requirement for supplementary education via distance learning, either as part of a learning programme or for extended learning (e.g. for professional development).
The UK and, in particular its universities, are in a strong position to deliver the distance learning programmes that people require, if only because of language. The universities have the subject knowledge, the expertise in teaching and learning and the computing/communications technologies and skills to deliver online distance learning programmes of the highest quality.
Some commercial enterprises have spotted this opportunity, but it is the universities themselves that are in the best position to take the broader initiative for themselves, and for the UK. Today, it is the USA leading the world to massively open online course developments, with the UK now playing “catchup”.
Implementing high quality distance learning programmes brings many potential benefits to a university:
- It can enhance the university’s reputation;
- It can generate substantial additional funding that can be used to support a wide range of university activities including research, department development and new teaching programmes;
- It builds on-going relationships with individual students and student groups for both on-campus and off-campus programme participation in the future;
- It builds an ‘asset base’ of teaching materials that helps the university maintain educational standards and deliver both on-campus and off- campus programmes on an on-going basis, without interruption;
- It helps university staff to develop the advanced teaching skills and disciplines that are becoming an essential requirement in today’s digital world.
Why develop a ‘global business’ in education based on distance learning?
Students will sign up for programmes that they can trust, programmes with good credentials and a solid reputation for delivery. They will therefore be more inclined to commit to a programme with a provider that is an ‘established name’, with a well organised distance learning programme.
The programme management and delivery processes must be reliable and flawless. When a system is in place that works well, it works well for everyone, and you can run as many programmes for as many students as you want.
The incremental cost of taking additional students onto a distance learning programme is low compared to the development cost. So the more students you have registered, the more programmes you will be able to fund and the more effective you will be at delivering education to the world.
A global business in education is built gradually over a period and relies on having an effective market strategy.