May 12, 2022

The Instructional Designer and the OPM Conversation

before digging Matt’s tweeta quick promo.

Go see Matt’s book, Creating online learning experiences: a brief guide to online courses, from small and private to massive and open. This is a must-have book for anyone considering teaching or designing an online course or program. The book is clear, concise, research-based, and even fun to read. Additionally, and surprisingly enough, Matt and his colleagues released the book under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, so you can download and read the book for free.

Alright, back to Matt’s tweet. Matt was reacting to the Twitter chat I tried to capture in An OPM debate: 11 colleagues in 32 tweets.

What do you think?

My first reaction was, “It’s true.” To say that the instructional design community was not well represented in our conversation about online program management (OPM) is an understatement.

The thing is, neither of them have faculty. Or students. Or any other stakeholder who might approach the OPM conversation from a non-financial perspective.

What worries me most about the spread of the OPM model is the outsourcing of key institutional capabilities in instructional design. E-learning programs should be a method to create new capabilities for colleges and universities in learning design and educational media.

Done right, online education should be an incredibly effective engine of faculty development and institutional capacity building. This requires that there is a strong link between online and residential programs.

Collaborative faculty/instructional designer partnerships that are built when designing an online course should transition to residential courses. The up-front lesson design methods that instructional designers use to work with instructors to create online lessons also apply to face-to-face lessons.

Good online courses built around modular level course objectives and learning objectives, with content and assessments supporting those learning objectives and objectives. The same methodology should apply to residential courses.

A university partnering with an OPM would have a terrible outcome if this link between online and residential teaching and learning were to be severed.

We should ask how OPM provisions allow schools to improve instructional designers more, not less. Any OPM strategy should be integrated into efforts to attract more instructional designers to campus and to ensure that instructional designers are given the respect and autonomy that all educators deserve.

What might a pro-OPM and pro instructional designer argument look like?

First, it is clear that the campus instructional design community should be involved in any discussion regarding a possible contract with an OPM. Instructional design teams on campus may be able to provide the services needed to create a new online program – and all you have to do is ask them.

If an OPM partnership turns out to make sense because a school is unable to provide the capital and people needed to support a new online program, then it should be clear how that OPM agreement aligns with the goals of the instructional design team.

Will the new OPM-enabled online program generate revenue that will enable other learning innovations that the instructional design team can initiate?

Will the OPM-enabled online program generate content and materials that can be used in residential courses, using on-campus instructional designers as partners?

What role can the instructional design team, even one that is over-resourced and facing high levels of demand for its services, participate in new online programs made by OPMs?

Anyone working on OPM partnerships, including the OPM industry, should ask themselves these questions.

The quickest way to kill an OPM partnership would be to ignore the long-term interests of on-campus educators – teachers and non-academic teachers – in favor of a purely financial and transactional approach to online learning.

I’m glad Matt jumped into the discussion. He is absolutely right.

The question for me is how could we have another type of OPM conversation? Where can we have an inclusive, collegial, data-informed discussion on OPMs? (In particular data on student and institutional outcomes).

What do you see as the potential risks and benefits of the OPM wave for campus instructional designers?