June 1997 // Online Learning
Reaching the Economies of Scale with Online Learning
by Toby Richards
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Toby Richards "Reaching the Economies of Scale with Online Learning" The Technology Source, June 1997. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

A wealth of research has demonstrated many benefits of online learning, specifically the use of collaborative technologies by students and faculty. For the student, the new medium helps address issues of time and place dependency, and more importantly, it provides a very engaging learning experience. For the faculty, the technology is creating an exciting collaborative learning environment that is capturing great thinking and discussions between faculty members and students. But for the business decision maker in an institution, the person managing the budgets and staff, little research has fully documented the economies of scale possible with collaborative and online technology.

There are many ways your institution can reap the benefits of economies of scale. In order to accomplish that, however, your department, school or campus must make some critical planning decisions prior to implementation. Otherwise, the ad hoc nature in which online learning has evolved will undermine the many benefits of scale in the future.

If you are making department-wide or campus-wide decisions about online learning, here are a few ideas to consider when planning a large-scale program:

For the Information Technology staff of administrators and developers:

  • Deploy on a scalable operating system and hardware. If you haven't read the latest results of our work in this area, check out the latest scalability information for the Microsoft® BackOffice® product line.
  • Reduce support costs by utilizing standard technologies that integrate with each other. There's nothing more challenging than juggling and integrating multiple systems and tools. When using standard solutions that integrate with each other, and with legacy systems, you will reduce the training and resources required to service and support your online program.
  • Focus on Internet technologies vs. client/server applications. Developing Active Server Pages, Java™ applets and Active X™ controls allows you to concentrate on cross-platform server-based development, instead of on multi-platform application development associated with a traditional client/server environment. This not only helps reduce your development time, but it also saves deployment resources since a user simply requires a familiar Internet browser to access your online learning platform. An Internet strategy saves time and money in the long run.

For the Chief Academic Officer or Faculty Chair

  • Train your faculty. A consistent faculty training program that focuses on the use of technology in the instructional process is critical to the success and scale of your online learning program. You can see many ideas shared by faculty on our website.
  • Create a learning environment using standard processes. Certainly, you shouldn't discourage the creative process by mandating too many content and practice standards amongst your faculty. You will, however, address many efficiency issues by creating standard class templates and collaborative environments. Not only does your faculty benefit by time saved, but the student also benefits by the consistency in learning experiences.
  • Create reusable content. Nothing is worse than each faculty member reinventing the wheel. Challenge your departments to create reusable content, and a logical organization system, so that content can be shared.
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