Building a Playbook for Developing and Delivering Online Programs

We are in the thick of March Madness, and here in Kentucky, it is virtually impossible to avoid a conversation about brackets, coaches, players and rivalries. Right now the view from my office window in downtown Louisville contains a jumbo screen projecting the day’s tournament games. During a particularly close game today, the camera zoomed in on a coach in a team huddle furiously scribbling X’s and O’s to communicate the next play to his team. That moment reminded me that it takes a good deal of planning and a vast playbook of practice drills, plays and notes on player development to pull off that buzzer-beating win.

Similarly, for those of us who support online education in our colleges and universities, success does not come down to scoring at the last second; rather, the victors among us invest in preparation and planning, building our own playbooks — or set of tactics and strategies — to pull off a “win” for our institutions, and ultimately our students.

It takes an entire team of stakeholders collaborating across multiple divisions of the university to succeed  in the complex and competitive higher education marketplace. As leaders, it is important to first define what constitutes success.

For some of us, success might mean launching our first fully online degree program. For others it is defined by meeting increased enrollment and graduation goals, or perhaps strategically reworking a program in decline. Although there are myriad definitions of success, achieving it in any form requires buy-in from supported and fulfilled faculty members as well as leaders who can help their team to execute a win.

Once your vision for a win is well defined, achieving that vision starts with laying out the tactics and strategies that will get you there. It is important to include the following three sections in your playbook for success.

1) Practices and Drills:
Understand and implement foundational best practices for online delivery and development. Invest in the technical infrastructure to scale. Competition is too great and other teams too good to have distance students experience sloppy and inefficient student services or less than optimal course quality levels and instructional experiences. Significant resources should be devoted to understanding how degree programs will fare in the current and emerging markets. Do your homework and conduct research on labor trends, competition and demand.

2) Plays:
Strategies such as implementing multiple start dates a year, offering programs and courses on a carousel model, and maintaining a reputation as a transfer-friendly institution will always be part of a winning playbook compilation. However, champions consistently innovate to gain an edge. Be a differentiator. You should already be adding competency-based education, MOOCs, outcome analytics, corporate partnerships, and workforce development to the tried-and-true plays.

3) Player Development:
Spend time with students, faculty members, staff and administrators helping them to develop the stamina to persevere, lead under pressure, advance an expertise and ultimately contribute to a unique team and campus culture that will make your institution stand out from others. Consistently measure and evaluate outcomes at the student, program and institutional level and revise the practice drills and plays accordingly.

If your institution does not have a playbook for online program development and delivery, start sketching out and compiling the plans now.  And for those who have been in the game for quite some time, now is the time to go back and revise your playbooks — this year’s bracketology depends on it!

For more advice on how to build your playbook for success in online program development and delivery, watch Dr. Howell Williams and Dr. David C. Clinefelter free webinar recording.

You can hear Howell speak at Connect 2015 Online Education Conference July 9 – 10 in Louisville, KY. For updates on the conference, follow #LHConnect2015

About Learning House

The Learning House, Inc. helps people improve their lives through education. As an academic program manager, Learning House offers technology-enabled education solutions designed to meet the needs of a dynamic global market. Solutions include Online Program Management (OPM), Enterprise Learning Solutions, The Software Guild, Learning House International and Advancement Courses. With a focus on data-driven decision making, Learning House is on the leading edge of higher education. Learning House provides expertise in research and analytics, marketing, enrollment, retention and instructional design. Through its broad portfolio, Learning House delivers more students, more graduates and better outcomes.