How Colleges Can Lower the Cost of Online Learning

How Colleges Can Lower the Cost of Online Learning

Online learning in higher education has no shortage of benefits for students. Online courses are more accessible, easier to fit into a work schedule, and tend to be more cost-effective.

These benefits aren’t just for students, though. A study on online learning from ASU discovered that online courses can save institutions 3%-50% in operating costs.

Granted, that’s a big range, from “a small but noticeable benefit” to “it cut our expenses in half.” And, of course, some of these savings are pure economics of scale: You can have more students in an online class, and they can be taught by adjunct rather than tenured faculty.

Even with these caveats, however, there is plenty of potential for institutions to lower costs while preserving the benefits for students.

Here are seven ways your institution can maximize the cost savings of online learning..

Seven Strategies for More Cost-Effective Online Learning

The ASU report found that the most cost-effective institutions had several characteristics in common. The following strategies can help your institution develop a more efficient and effective digital learning environment.

1. Develop a Digital Learning Strategy

Some institutions take a piecemeal approach to developing their online campus. Each department chooses whether or not to offer online courses and how each one will be implemented.

This kind of ad hoc development makes online learning less efficient for the institution as a whole. The most effective institutions approach digital learning as strategically as they do any other academic endeavor. A successful digital learning strategy should:

  • Take into account the institution’s unique student body and their learning processes
  • Plan to maximize resources while working well within budget and capacity constraints
  • Specify where content comes from – created, curated, or purchased from a vendor
  • Detail how students and faculty will interact online, set expectations of availability & response times

This article has more tips on developing your institution’s digital learning strategy.

2. Invest in the Right Tools and Training

Building out an online campus can be challenging for faculty that is used to traditional learning models. The most successful institutions were shown to have spent wisely in training teachers, studying learning science, and acquiring online learning tools.

3. Provide Student Support

Students face unique challenges with online learning. To make sure your courses promote student success, it’s important to make sure students have an online support structure in addition to their course materials. That includes both instructional support–timely responses from faculty–and technical support.

4. Build Infrastructure

Strategic planning for an online campus includes planning for the long-term. The most effective institutions built a platform of people and processes that can support the program well into the future. If you have the resources, a dedicated central online learning team is well worth the investment. Such a team can set standards and processes that unify the institution’s efforts across departments.

5. Involve Faculty in the Planning Process

Faculty are on the front line of implementing your digital learning strategy. As such, it’s crucial they be not just informed, but enthusiastic about the plan. The best way to ensure they take ownership is to actively solicit their input as early as possible. Faculty should be part of early strategy sessions, helping to inform and create the policies that govern your online campus.

6. Use Vendors when Needed

While it makes sense to use in-house resources as much as possible, at times it’s more cost-effective to outsource. For example, your IT team may be able to create an online learning hub… with many person-hours dedicated to training, development, implementation, bugfixing and ongoing support. By contrast, a vendor could do it in less time and create a more stable system.

The same is true with course materials. Your faculty may need extra training and development to create online course materials that truly take advantage of the instructional possibilities, including assessment and administration, where a vendor could provide ready-made, easily-adaptable solutions.

7. Analyze and Optimize

The final stage of any strategy should be evaluation and improvement, and your digital learning strategy is no different. Make sure to include metrics in your planning stages, such as:

  • Number of enrolled students
  • Number of teacher-hours per course
  • Student performance
  • Faculty evaluations

The most effective institutions have identified these key metrics, can measure them, and regularly take action to improve them.

Strategic Online Learning Benefits Students and Institutions

As the ASU report shows, it’s possible to offer high-quality online learning while also reducing costs compared to traditional classroom settings. The most successful institutions make online learning a strategic effort: They devote time and resources to planning and implementation at the highest levels, rather than relying on departments to cobble together their own solutions.

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