The global pandemic has rocket-propelled a decade of “what, how and when” around
universities debating how to deliver their education experience and outcomes more
widely via online platforms. Callan Quinn speaks to experts in the OPM marketplace
to unpick progress so far and the financial relationship which underlies the growth of
ISSUE #26 | THE PIE REVIEW | 43
Online Program Management specialists.
A LOT OF focus is being given to the current
shift to edtech taking place in the education
sector, as the reality of not being able to teach
millions of students in-person settles in.
The so-called new normal will upend education, and
long-time proponents of edtech are trying to balance the
solemnity the Covid-19 outbreak demands with the excite-ment
being generated by huge swathes of the population
experiencing what’s on offer online for the first time.
The online program management industry, which builds
and runs online programs for partner institutions such as
universities, is no different in its cautious optimism that Co-vid-
19 will prove a turning point for online education.
Stakeholders say they’re seeing more and more interest
from universities who have discovered just how vulnerable
their lack of online provision has made them. It’s a trend,
however, that has been developing over several years.
“It’s an early stage market, even before coronavirus, with
massive opportunity because universities have been talking
about how to get more into the online space for a while,”
says Geoff Webster, the managing director of CEG Digital at
Cambridge Education Group in the UK.
“The conversation when I first started this four or five
years ago was whether they were going to do it. Now, it’s
how are they going to do it?”
CEG Digital currently works with six universities in the
UK, having announced its newest partnership with the
University of Portsmouth in March this year. Its role with
partners involves working with academics to develop online
courses as well as doing the marketing, recruitment and
student support for online learners.
Developing an online, pedagogically-sound course
complete with support materials and staff trained to teach
online can take months. And it is perhaps this that has been
overlooked the most in discussions about the edtech shift.
Covid-19 may very well prove to highlight to universities
the value of working with OPMs as they look to develop
their online portfolio. But for many students, their first
experience with online education has been a lagging Zoom
lecture where they spend 90 minutes looking up their tutor’s
nostrils. And there’s a risk that they will walk away uncon-vinced
of the value and potential of virtual learning.
“Universities have done amazingly well, on the whole,
to keep everything functioning at an unprecedented time of
lockdown. They’ve done really well,” Webster emphasises.
“But it’s not a robust way of delivering online education.
Streaming a video and then holding a seminar is not a great
student experience in the long-term.”
“Students, let’s face it, are customers of universities and
they’re paying a lot of money for the experience.”
PHOTO: LUKAS / PEXELS