Competition and Collaboration in Online Distance Learning

by Walter S. Baer

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For-profit firms use the Internet to offer classes, courses, and degree programs in direct competition with nonprofit and government-supported colleges and universities. At the same time, many firms seek to partner with academic institutions in offering online instruction or distance learning. This paper outlines and discusses alternative models of academic/for-profit collaborative efforts that are being developed in the United States. Collaboration requires the partners to define responsibilities for technology, administrative services, content development, promotion and student selection, instruction, awarding of credits, and overall quality control. This paper states that firms may want to "unbundle" the traditional dual faculty role of course designer and teacher, and use different professionals for the two functions. Although most collaborations today involve non-degree programs, many schools of business are working with for-profit firms to offer MBA degrees online. The diversity of higher education in the United States means that many different models will be tried. Collaborations will expand the markets for online distance learning, but a number of difficult issues remain to be resolved.

Originally published in: Information, Communication and Society, v. 3, no. 4, 2000, pp. 457-473.

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