Monday, August 31, 2009

4. To help your bottom line, offer distance learning (10 things I no longer believe)

I used to believe that buying into technology for distance learning would help higher budgets by expanding revenues while simultaneously cutting costs (staff costs per student and also facilities spending per student).

Revenue: use distance learning to bring in new students, each paying tuition and/or driving additional state funds.

Cutting costs: The more students per faculty, the lower the cost of faculty per student, so tuition revenue per student comes closer to covering costs. That's simple math. I didn't like the idea of giant distance learning classes. So I urged that distance learning programs focus on attracting more students to under-enrolled courses and degree programs, increasing class sizes from, say, 5-10 students up to 15-20, cutting staff costs/student in half.

Many of us pointed out that distance learning could cut capital costs as well. The institution could serve more students without building and maintaining more classroom buildings, for example.

Similar arguments are made for potential economic gains from hybrid courses and degree programs: ones that reduce but do not eliminate use of classrooms.

Spend on technology in order to save money - it's obvious.

If skeptics doubted the argument, I could point to an example such as the Open University in the United Kingdom, a gigantic institution devoted purely to distance learning. The way it organizes courses and supports learners is entirely different from traditional institutions. The UK does a careful job rating instructional quality, and the OU's programs were rated comparable to those of other bachelor's degree programs. But its cost per student was only about 60% that of campus based institutions in the UK.

Buy technology and develop distance learning in order to make your budget healthier. Evaluative measure: total revenue; operating and capital costs per student. (That's what I used to believe.)

What have you seen? What did you believe, and what do you believe now?
1. Have you seen any examples of technology use saving money on the teaching/learning side of the house? distance learning? on campus? hybrid?
2. Are there any kinds of technology investment in teaching/learning that can predictably save money?

Please click the comment button below (Click the word "Comments" a bit to the right of "Posted by Steve_Ehrmann," below) and tell us what you've seen and what you think.

Later this week I'll summarize what I now believe about technology and how to control costs.

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