The virtual classroom became the new normal at the beginning of last year when institutions had to make a rapid transition to remote learning in the wake of the pandemic. These uncertain times brought many challenges but also opportunities. With universities wanting to scale their online programme provision, this has changed the way institutions bring online education to the market.
What is an OPM?
Universities contract with Online Programme Managers (OPMs) for help to support the development and launch of online programmes. They provide a suite of products, technology, and skillsets that may be outside the core mission, experience, and expertise of a given university. Such services include marketing & recruitment, enrolment management, online course development and design, technology hosting, and student and faculty support.
The benefits of partnering up
OPMs have become more relevant than ever before, providing a partnership opportunity for universities wanting to take their courses and programmes to a wider audience. They can be a catalyst for developing institutional capacities and if the joint venture with an OPM provider is structured around a university’s long-term mission rather than short-term revenues, it can create longstanding opportunities, if implemented well.
But perceptions are changing
There is an argument to suggest that online education should be less expensive and that universities should be developing and investing in their own internal capacities to support their core educational objectives. They don’t have to commit to a long-term revenue-sharing contract and courses developed on-the-ground will more closely align with the mission and values of the university. Once these core educational capabilities are developed in-house, they can be deployed to run online programmes as well as hybrid and face-to-face programmes.
The biggest concern is the missed opportunity to use online revenue to reduce costs for students. Universities charge online students the same prices they levy for the on-campus experience. Tuition fees are being instead converted to corporate profits for OPMs. OPM providers need to collaborate to create shared value for their university partners and students, helping them innovate and lower costs.
In a data-driven world, there is also a massive gap for universities because enquiry and applicant data are held by the OPM. Therefore, there is a lack of control and ownership of data as well as market insight, and a missed opportunity for the university in terms of cross-selling and upselling their programmes.
Looking to the future
Institutional interest and student demand for online programmes is strong. Given that online learning serves the needs of both institutions and students, online programmes will continue to expand. The market size itself has continued to boom with a remarkable growth rate projected in the future.
However, most analysts and observers see a shakeout in the near future because the number of providers and the lack of differentiation among them is growing.
The future of OPMs isn’t a thing of the past but the business model and the way that they engage with universities has to change; there needs to be an element of transparency and ownership to maximise the opportunity of online programmes. There’s still great potential for growth if OPMs can remain fluid and flexible in their approach.
The future of online CPD and online education
Jason Baker, Hunterlodge Strategy Director, on the panel of “The Future of online CPD and Executive Education” Webinar, hosted by Curio.
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Sources: Inside Higher Ed, UPCEA Unbound, Keystone Education Group