Published on 2016/03/09
The EvoLLLution | Using the Correct Tools
Competing and serving students in the non-traditional, non-credit market requires institutions to look at systems and solutions specifically designed to serve this space.

My roommate in college used a screwdriver for everything. More specifically, he used a straight blade screwdriver. I have witnessed him place it at just the right angle to unscrew a Phillips screw, open beer bottles, scrape up whatever it is that sticks to dorm room floors, and my favorite, holding the blade in his hand and using the handle as a hammer. His motto was always as long as I have a screwdriver, why would I need to learn to work any other tool? Besides, more tools would just cost more money.

We all quickly understand how silly this approach seems, yet we do the very same thing at our institutions. Maybe not with our screwdriver but with our LMS, our SIS (student information system), our ___ (feel free to fill in the blank). We are institutions of higher education so we have much more sophisticated justifications, but they tend to fall into the “we don’t want to learn another system” or “we don’t have the resources.” And to be fair, with legacy systems there might be some validity. Recently, a client asked us for a very simple LMS solution to deliver non-credit workplace safety content for marina workers. Most learners had never taken an online class and several didn’t even have an email address. Could they modify a complex, academic LMS to deliver the content? Many organizations do, but it is not an appropriate solution for the market or student, as this overcorrects too far the other way.

Having spent several years on the plains of Kansas, the best analogy I can think of is using a Boeing 747 as a crop duster. Can it be done? Yes, but the 747 requires multiple pilots, several crewmembers and lots more fuel than a small single engine crop duster. However, from what I can see, LMS vendors are racing to add more features and benefits to already complex systems in an effort to retain or gain market share. The ability to answer “yes, our system does that” to almost every constituent inside an institution has taken priority over a faculty’s ability to deliver knowledge to a learner in a simple and engaging manner. It seems we spend our efforts looking for a complex solution to a simple problem.

So the choice for many administrators and faculty members who wish to monetize their content in non-traditional, non-credit environments is to attempt to modify the big bulky LMS into something it was never designed to do or just simply miss the opportunity. And that is just the LMS. How many registrars want to process registrations for these opportunities, not to mention the bursar’s apprehension to accept a $49 registration fee through their system? Imagine the (likely) consternation and derision from the IT department.

Alternatives are emerging outside of higher education that must be examined and considered as a way to expand the institution’s market reach and provide an opportunity to capitalize on revenue generation outside of the traditional for-credit offerings. Most of all it must provide an appropriate platform for the student and the knowledge being delivered. For our client, we built a WordPress website, added an LMS plug-in and a payment processing solution that utilizes PayPal processing. Ultimately, we could create a low-price solution for our client allowing for unlimited courses, unlimited students and unlimited transactions with no impact on the IT staff, accounting staff or student services for the client. While this is an extreme example, it does highlight the changing marketplace and higher education executives must begin to think about vetting and offering its constituency multiple systems and alternative processes if they truly wish to capitalize on the emerging market craving quality content outside of their ivy-covered walls.

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