Business models should reflect the requirements identified by market intelligence. Our business intelligence guide helps organisations to plan and implement their chosen business intelligence strategy smoothly and productively.
A business case might include several business models and will highlight the benefits, costings and operational aspects of various approaches. Senior management should consider and agree on formal business models and incorporate these into institutional strategy and policy.
This is more likely to put the right operational systems and procedures in place to provide appropriate support for staff and students.
There is no single model for online learning. Your institution should consider what approach is best for its needs, following an audit of existing online provision.
An audit provides an opportunity to identify models that are working well, and can also identify strengths of the institution, staff champions and any barriers.
Within your institution, campus-based courses may already have elements of online learning to support flexible delivery, or to widen access. Some classes may have pedagogic approaches that are best supported by online learning elements.
Support teams may use online technologies to support 'point-of-need' or 24-hour demand (such as information searching).
Recognised business models
Fully online courses go through validation mechanisms and will have been formally approved, but may not be recognised as an institutional business model. Online learning models could also incorporate other business models such as open learning or open content.
The type of models that you could adopt or may already exist include:
- A blended approach, which adds online classes or modules to existing campus-based courses
- Initial small-scale pilots, which will be evaluated and feed into future developments
- Online taster courses, to support marketing and building a brand in the global marketplace
- Open online courses, where classes or whole courses are offered to open students
- Fully online courses, adapting existing courses or creating new courses.
Central institutional services might find it difficult to support online learning that has developed in a piecemeal way. It's important that your institution reviews support mechanisms when it carries out an audit.
This is likely to highlight where teachers and facilitators provide the kind of support to online students that central services offer for campus-based students.
New online learning models require support at a managerial level or, at the very least, tacit agreement or acknowledgement that there may be some risk of failure. Departmental managers can help teaching staff navigate some of the difficulties presented by institutional barriers, such as those presented by using different technologies, or by issues of content ownership.
Managers may be able to secure an exception to existing policy, particularly if adopting a pilot approach. Incremental change is a low-risk approach that allows different models to be tested.
This approach can highlight the benefits and operational challenges presented at each stage of change, and provide evidence of the impact you expect each change or pilot to have on stakeholders.
Evidence and testing
Gathering qualitative evidence is important to support the effective evaluation of any pilots you trial – we recommend you gather this evidence as part of any changes you pilot to support future scaling up.
Staff involved in testing out new models can feel vulnerable if there is no formal support and can become frustrated at any lack of appropriate institutional systems and services. Short-term project funding or an injection of extra funds can provide a protected space to innovate, time to try new methods, employ additional staff and time to reflect and evaluate.
When scaling up online learning, you need to carry out an institution-wide consultation with all appropriate parties to ensure that strategy, policy, operational systems and procedures are considered and adjusted appropriately. This includes:
- Past, present and future students
- Course teams
- Validation and quality
- Support services such as IT, library, student support
- Administration teams
- Senior management teams
- Marketing and branding
- Learning technologists
- Educational developers
- External partners (from industry and professions).
Focussing on equity of provision for both campus-based and online students is important, for both the academic experience and any additional support that students demand or need.
Online learning examples
The University of Derby Online Learning is the university’s distance learning division. Their website illustrates one way of providing online learning on a larger scale.
By contrast, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) doesn't have many online courses but ensures the ones they do have are successful. MMU has implemented a useful checklist1 to help staff decide if online/distance learning is appropriate.
|Barriers||What you can do|
Identifying the most appropriate online learning models can be difficult
Test different models as pilots to find out what works for different subject areas
Assess models against current central services and systems to find out how much adaptation is needed
|Talk to the wider community to find out which models are successful|
|Consider which models align with your institution's strategies and policies|
|Senior managers may be difficult to engage||Involve senior managers in developing a business case for online learning|
|Provide staff engagement activities, training and support|
|Gather evidence of success from other institutions/competitors|
|Highlight the implications of not adopting online learning in comparison to competitors’ activity|
|Existing systems and services are not equipped to deal with large-scale online learning||Develop a procedure to assess how ready central services and individual departments are for online learning|
|Support institution-wide communication to make sure online learning models are fully supported|
|Provide central support mechanisms to help people build capacity for online learning provision - training, resources, tools|
- 1 Ringan, Neil (2014) Developing and Validating Distance Learning Awards Guidance Document (MMU) - http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/6232/