Notes for the June 4 - 5, 1997
NLII-ITP Symposium on Creating and Delivering Collegiate Learning Materials
in a Distributed (Networked) Learning Environment:
A Business Model for University-Corporate Collaboration

by Carol A. Twigg

Acknowledgements: These notes draw heavily from the 1996 Educom monograph, Academic Productivity: The Case for Instructional Software; the 1997 Educom-IBM monograph, The Virtual University by Carol A. Twigg and Diana G. Oblinger, a product of a joint NLII-IBM symposium; and from an unpublished article, Time for Nationally Authorized Universities by Robert W. Tucker and John Sperling. In addition, Carolyn Jarmon of Educom and Bob Carlton of ITP have made substantial contributions to the development of these notes.

Part I. Assumptions Regarding The Current Model

What follows are a number of facts and assumptions about the four phases of the current process of creating of collegiate learning materials and using them in credit-bearing courses: 1) content assembly--the creation and maintenance of learning materials (e.g., textbooks, instructional software, and so on); 2) the marketing and distribution of those materials; 3) course delivery--the use of those materials in credit-bearing instruction; and, 4) the certification of the learning that results (e.g., award of academic credit, accreditation of the instructional provider, and so on.)

As you read these notes in preparation for our discussion in Boston, please be ready to add your own assumptions or to challenge any that we have listed here. Our goal is to develop an explicit understanding of the current business model, including the workflow and financials underpinning it and a clear picture of what each potential partner brings to the table.


Who's in control?

Higher education is a diverse market, in both its institutions and its student populations.

Revenue sources

The higher education market is in flux; it is not a stable market.

The current relationship between publishers and higher education is primarily a supplier/consumer relationship; it is not a partnership.

Content Assembly

Content demand

Faculty role

The textbook


Marketing and Distribution

Characteristics of the market

Sales and marketing

Course Delivery


Faculty control

It is not clear that institutions are committed to student academic success.

Course offerings: who does it? how are they compensated?

Publisher involvement

Certification of the Learning

Higher education is a highly regulated industry.

These arrangements perpetuate the status quo.

Only accredited colleges and universities grant credit.

Publisher involvement

Part II. Assumptions Related To The Digital Future

What follows in Part II is a set of assumptions about the digital future which will affect the current model and create the opportunity for developing new models. We have included only those things which we believe to be true--i.e., these statements are intended to be statements of fact rather than speculation. Again, this list is not complete. As you read, please think about additions to it--or clarifications--and make note of any you believe may not be factual.

Technology Penetration

Social Impact

Networks and networked information lead to disintermediation, disaggregation, diffusion and differentiation.

Desirable Characteristics of Instructional Software

Impact on Higher Education

The wired campus

The Net expands opportunities

The Net challenges regulation

Providers and Consumers

Part III. Questions About The Digital Future

Part III is intended to be speculative. What are some of the implications of the characteristics of the digital future described in Part II? What is it that we do not know about how this future will affect the development of new models? Please think about your own questions as you read. During our discussion in Boston, we intend to try to answer as many of these questions as possible.


Buying Decisions

Market Opportunity

Assessment and Certification

Part IV. Is The Present Textbook Model Transferable?

This chart is intended to help us take a look at what transfers from the current business model and what does not. As you read, please think of other categories that need to be added.

Current Market Textbooks New Market Learningware
Content assembly Content/graphics Content/graphics/instructional design/programming/testing
Pedagogical flexibility Low High
Pedagogy options Linear Interactive
Field-testing Simple/limited Complex/extensive
Product announcement Direct selling, direct mail Net-based
Preview Examination copies Browsing/demos
Decision-maker Faculty Faculty/learners?
Purchaser Student Student/institution?
>Timing of buying 2x per year Continuous
Distribution Sold through intermediaries (bookstores) Sold directly to the user via the Internet
User support Limited (for faculty); None (for learners) Extensive/automated?

Part V. Developing A Collaborative Model To Create Network-Delivered, Interactive Instructional Software, Including A Variety Of Possible Scenarios For Such A Model.

Increasingly, as they think about how to live and work in a networked world, colleges and universities are talking about getting involved in developing and marketing intellectual content in the form of interactive software. Some companies are thinking about extending their role in the learning environment to instructional delivery and certification. Scenarios A and B lay out these two "go-it-alone" strategies and cite a number of issues connected with each. Again, these notes are not intended to be exhaustive but rather they are designed to stimulate your thinking and your comments.

Scenario C is based on the assumption that both the publishing and higher education communities bring something of value to partnerships and that both stand to gain from them. It does not present an explicit model for establishing partnerships but rather lays out some questions and issues related to them. Our intention is to help both sides understand the requirements--and the complexity--of a new collaborative model to create network-delivered, interactive instructional software; to clarify our respective roles, including our strengths and weaknesses; to understand the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing strategic partnerships; and to identify critical decision points. The intended outcome of this discussion is a workflow description and business model for future university-publisher collaboration.

Scenario A: Universities Go It Alone

In this scenario, universities move into the content development and marketing/distribution space. They raise the necessary capital (through state investment, venture capital, consortial activity, grants, etc.) to develop and market products, and they acquire the necessary operational and knowledge competencies (high quality design expertise, software development expertise, marketing expertise, timely customer service structures, etc.). The goals of such a venture are twofold: 1) to develop needed instructional software to improve the quality of educational services, and 2) to generate additional revenue streams to supplement current funding. To be successful, this model requires commitment on the part of the developing institution(s) to use the software it produces, thus integrating design w/delivery and continuous improvement.


Product development is not mission-critical

Lack of business expertise


Uncompetitive structures

Lack of incentives

Scenario B: Publishers Go It Alone

In this scenario, publishers expand their current role to one in which they create, distribute and deliver instruction. They would continue to aggregate content, but they would wrap additional educational services including full course delivery (instruction) and certification of learning achievement around that content. These services include the administrative support services (registration, billing, etc.) that currently exist within traditional higher education institutions. Publishers would begin to market products and services to new kinds of intermediaries (e.g., Sylvan Learning Centers, University Online, AARP, employers and other workforce development providers) and directly to learners in vertical markets (e.g., law, biology). They would also gain approval from regulatory agencies to grant credit and award degrees.



Scenario C: Collaborative Model(s)

In this scenario, some set of collaborative alliances would be identified in which both partners would "get" more than would be possible through a conventional buyer-seller relationship. In this collaborative model, each party (higher education institutions/systems/other academic collectives and publisher/software developer) would bring strengths or competencies which can be effectively--and profitably--linked with the competencies of the other. Both parties must gain greater leverage of all resources by collaborating with other players in the value chain.

In Scenarios A and B, each partner lacks one major component. In the first scenario, higher education would need to significantly modify its mission and outsource production to enter a totally new business: scaleable software development. In Scenario B, publishers would also have to modify their mission in order to award credit or grant degrees and take on new competencies in the full delivery of educational services..

In a collaborative model, the development of a seamless and efficient but flexible channel should be the outcome. Gaps in development and delivery would be reduced; risk sharing would result. Ideally the partners would be able to respond flexibly to changes in student needs and more reliably know demand since the partnership would control the entire channel from production through completion of study and/or degree granting. Success would include both risk reduction and greater productivity.

Principles and Questions

In a collaborative model, what would this workflow look like? A joint venture? Shared resources?

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