Online program management (OPM) refers to the practice of contracting with external, third-party organizations that help higher education institutions develop and deliver online degrees or certificate programs. Beyond an online course portal, OPM providers offer other services including market research, student recruitment and enrollment, instructional design and technology platforms, student support and retention, and student information systems.
OPM's will work with higher education institutions to take their academic programs online, including providing the institutions with the up-front capital necessary to bring the programs and growth them, while also offering to absorb the risk of developing an online program.
These services are offered in either a tuition revenue share model or a fee-for-service model and often provided as a way for higher education institutions to develop an online presence where one may not exist or be lacking and the capacity for developing one does not exist in-house. The decision most higher education institutions make is either to develop or expand their online programs with a third-party OPM organization or build one in-house.
Online program management companies offer enrollment management and recruitment services, which can include marketing for the institution to specific student segments, and handling online enrollment services, and have been developed to help institutions extend their reach into international markets.
Many online program management companies offer education institutions market research. This can be research and analysis on existing programs, and some offer research into the broader education and employment markets to help institutions find new opportunities for courses and programs. These services can be included in the overall product an OPM offers, or can be value-added services. Often market research is done in tandem with recruitment, enrollment and student marketing efforts to increase results.
Considered one of the core product offerings of online product management companies, instructional design, also known as course or program design, and course support services are a key offering of online product management companies. Through these services, they help instructors design the way courses are presented online, the tools necessary to help students succeed, and the design of the overall course and material. Often these are different than course outlines seen in on-campus learning because of the loss of face-to-face interaction and the classroom settings. In place, OPM's will help course instructors build around goals and modular learning objectives and offer the tools to build assessments to support those learning goals and objectives.
As well as their course offerings, many OPM's use artificial intelligence and analytics driven student support, including SMS messaging and machine learning to help optimize student services and support. These have extended to help student service personnel through access to relevant student data, and help students navigate key admissions, enrollments, and course deadlines. These systems have extended into digitized campus services, including the use of artificial intelligence systems in place of teaching assistants in online degree programs. Georgia Tech has begun the use of AI-based teaching assistants.
IBM is developing AI-powered assistants for an immersive classroom environment to help students learn. Their first experiment has been to help students learn Mandarin, including making the student feel as if they are in a restaurant in China where they can practice speaking Mandarin with an AI chatbot.
As part of what some call online program management's student relationship management infrastructure, and in the demands of certain institutions, OPM companies are developing student information systems to offload administrative tasks from institutions onto their systems, and to increase their overall integrations. This helps OPM companies manage the full cycle of student information from interest to engagement to graduation. And they can offer instructors necessary data to help both instructors and students to succeed.
While they are not traditionally online program management companies, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have begun to work with higher education institutions to run single courses or full online programs. Most MOOCs provide course content and instructor, take a larger portion of tuition revenue than a traditional OPM does, they behave similar to OPM's and some institutions are contracting them to act like OPMs.
Online program management companies, offer in their most basic, services for universities to interact with students to all-inclusive distance-learning programs rebranded for the institution.
Online program management
Online program management companies emerged in the early part of the millennium, with the emergence of product offerings being often dated to 2002. Until 2010, there were a few companies leading the market segment, until new companies began to emerge since 2014.
The main companies, owning close to 60 percent of the overall OPM market include The Learning House, Academic Partnerships, EdX, Pearson, and 2U. Of these companies, The Learning House was acquired by Wiley Education Services in 2018, 2U announced a partnership with Keypath in 2019, and Noodle bought assets of HotChalk in 2020, further shrinking the top of the market.
The market for OPM companies had been growing at a steady overall rate since 2012, with on-campus enrollment for most institutions flat, and at some declining, while online institutions saw enrollment growth. And, with faculty attitudes towards online education programs improving according to a 2017 survey of faculty attitudes on technology, and under 30 percent of students on campus taking online courses, the integration of online services, online course material and online program management tools into higher education programs was growing steadily.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and many areas either under lockdown rules or with students concerned about attending classes during a pandemic, saw more institutions turn to online courses with OPM companies to deliver these courses in an accelerated fashion. Universities such as Princeton University, Williams College, Spelman College, and American University, which each had limited online presence before the pandemic, began offering a fully online experience.
In 2019 the online program management market accounted for 3.9 billion and, after the increased adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, the OPM market is expected to continue to grow at an average rate of 15 percent.
The increasing adoption of online program management vendors have helped learners traditionally unable to access education and have allowed institutions to develop and present new offerings and have placed them in new student markets.
With that, some have worried that the adoption of OPM's could lead to the commercialization of higher education. There are concerns working with OPM's can blur lines for institutions and faculties around academic freedom, program direction, and ownership of intellectual property. As well, some of the standardization and delivery methods of OPM platforms might conflict with faculty teaching goals and methodology. There are further concerns around the integration of for-profit entities in higher education institutions can create further financial risk for the institutions, can jeopardize program quality, and can place students at risk of financial exploitation.
Dear Colleges: Take Control of Your Online Courses
Stephanie Hall, Taela Dudley
September 12, 2019
Insights into the Worldwide Online Program Management Industry to 2027 - Featuring Academic Partnerships, Apollidon & Bisk Education Among Others - ResearchAndMarkets.com
April 17, 2020
Online Program Management Market to 2027 - Global Analysis and Forecasts by Business Model ; Education Level
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Online Program Management Systems: Still an Emerging Market -- LISTedTECH
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Online Program Management: An updated view of the market landscape for 2019
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Successful AI Examples in Higher Education That Can Inspire Our Future
January 2, 2020
The Evolution of the OPM: It's Time for a Change - Blackboard Blog
October 29, 2020
The Instructional Designer and the OPM Conversation | Inside Higher Ed
February 3, 2019
The Need for a Values-Based Case for OPMs | Inside Higher Ed
January 16, 2019
The Pandemic Pushed Universities Online. The Change Was Long Overdue.
Sean Gallagher, Jason Palmer
September 29, 2020
The Private Side of Public Higher Education
August 7, 2017
Documentaries, videos and podcasts
Pearson Embanet helping students succeed
June 3, 2016
Program Management - Management | Coursera
WCET Webcast: Navigating the OPM Marketplace: Picking the Right Partners While Avoiding Market Chaos
September 26, 2019