Your institution will need to consider the costs of different models of online learning when it develops a business case.
This is where the benefits of the various models are balanced against costs.
If online learning models align with institutional strategies, your institution should be able to identify and measure the value of interventions, based on the impact on business outcomes.
Measuring the impact of specific interventions on learning can be a challenge, as so many variables can also have an effect.
We recommend that your institution considers long-term qualitative and quantitative measures following initial benchmarking or baselining. Short-term measures may not be helpful, as it may take years to see the benefits for the institution and the students.
Learning analytics provide one way to gather data that may help your institution identify benefits.
Sometimes there can be significant indicators, such as the large increase in student enrolments to Coventry University’s undergraduate course in photography,1 which went from nine students a year to being the most over-subscribed course in the institution.
Short-term measures, such as the level of student interactions online such as blog posts, or contributions to discussion boards, show the extent of interactions – but it’s much harder to prove that this benefits learning.
Tools, case studies and guidance
Our costing technologies and services guide offers approaches to costing and you can use it to quantify efficiency savings and tangible benefits arising from process change.
Our case study shows how Lewisham College applied this tool to calculate the return on implementing its student portal. This short video describes how University College Falmouth uses the tool to ensure that projects deliver the benefits they promised.
Case study - estimating teaching costs
The Course Resource Appraisal Model (CRAM) tool, developed by the London Knowledge Lab at the Institute of Education, includes a video tutorial on how to estimate the teaching costs for a course and the teaching related income for each student.
The tool is a useful resource for any institution planning a new course, whether face-to-face, blended or fully online.
In this video, Eileen Kennedy provides an overview of the CRAM tool:
Benchmarking IT costs
There may be extra costs when first implementing online learning such as:
- Capital costs for IT infrastructure
- Extra time to adapt curricula
- Costs of developing new learning content
- Costs of training for staff.
Our financial X-ray service helps IT departments to benchmark, understand and easily compare overall costs, and help build a business case for infrastructure changes.
Costs for online students
Online students may bear some costs that a campus-based student would not have. They will need to pay for internet access, their own devices, and possibly software, in addition to textbooks.
Online learning can reduce some of the costs for institutions, depending on the scale of provision or the number of students enrolled. Online students don't need access to physical resources such as buildings, heating, lighting and equipment.
Some models of online learning, such as MOOCs are designed to reach thousands of students, and adopt methods that require minimal human interaction.
Although it can be costly to set up a MOOC, in the longer term these can offer cost-effective marketing opportunities that advertise the institution's brand in a global marketplace.
They also present opportunities to generate income by charging students who want to purchase certification of attendance.
Our blog post identifies the difference between models of open courses.
Online learning is likely to have a significant impact on how your institution allocates staff to various functions. In addition to existing staff roles, new ones may develop in an online learning context.
These might include developing new kinds of content to support changing curriculum approaches and assessment strategies or identifying a need to moderate, support and facilitate online discussions.
Out of hours support
Providing out-of-hours or 24/7 online learning opportunities can have a significant impact on workforce planning. This may change which staff provide different kinds of support, and might need to be provided outside traditional working hours.
The initial implementation of online learning may require additional staffing, particularly if time is given to evaluate and reflect on new methods and approaches.
Staff levels and capabilities
As staff roles change your institution will need to consider existing staffing levels and capabilities, and may need to approach staff support in a new way. Staff appraisal and performance review mechanisms should include online learning and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.
This not only provides a signal to staff that innovation is encouraged, but also offers an opportunity to recognise and reward staff who are working in this area.
Some staff in your institution may already lead the way in online learning and can act as champions to engage and support other staff. Many staff may feel threatened by online learning and may worry that their jobs are threatened, or that they do not have the necessary skills to use the technologies for learning.
Your institution can engage staff with activities to highlight the pedagogical benefits of online learning where technologies aim to support, not replace, teacher-led approaches.
Teaching staff may need more technical support for themselves and their students when they first implement online learning, as they build their confidence and skills.
Staff from central services such as IT and the library will need to adapt their provision for online students, which also may impact on their staffing levels, time-planning and skills requirements.
Online learning provides an excellent opportunity for central service teams to work closely with course development and teaching teams to ensure that online students receive the most appropriate services.
Our curriculum design and support for online learning guide considers changing staff roles, skills and support in more detail.
|Barriers||What you can do|
|Managers have unrealistic expectations that online learning is cheaper than traditional approaches||Use the business case to clearly highlight costs of different models|
|Identify set-up costs and running costs as these will be different|
|Articulate the pedagogic benefits of new ways of teaching, rather than using online learning to deliver the same content to more students|
|Highlight the benefits of using new and disruptive technologies, and cloud services and systems|
|Teaching staff fear that they will lose their jobs due to technology||Reassure staff that technology will enhance teaching, not replace it|
|Work with staff to consider how their roles will change|
|Ensure that staff are trained and supported appropriately|
|Reward online learning in staff appraisal|
|Encourage innovation and engagement with finding new ways to teach online|
|Staff wrongly believe that online learning goes against institutional policy||Include online learning in strategies and policies|
|Identify and dispel 'institutional myths' through appropriate staff engagement and training|
- 1 McGill, Lou & Gray, Tim (2015), Open media classes at Coventry University - http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/6069/1/JR0041_OPEN_EDUCATION_REPORT_V3.pdf