Many people, including myself, may think little about online learning in terms of business, especially business having to compete and survive in the market. According to a report from Inside Higher Ed, however, it may be possible that local online learning providers such as University of Minnesota will soon compete with some other national or even global learning institutions.
As we all know, one of the benefits of online learning is that it has no geographical limitations. In terms of learning, being able to study from home or wherever you are as long as you have an internet access is a great advantage.
Thinking the 'no-geographical limitation' benefit from the perspectives of business entrepreneurs, the geographical benefit can become an opportunity for for-profit education companies, such as the University of Phoenix or Kaplan University, to grow their business very large and make a lot of money.
The challenge here is that many institutions that until now have been able to draw students reliably from their local populations may face serious challenge and competition from other major educational institutions.
However, the good news for traditional institutions depending on local populations is that on-line learners like the tangibility of having a "real campus" nearby. A 2008 study by the Sloan Consortium noted that 85 percent of online students were taking courses through universities located within 50 miles of their homes.
There is also a matter of "hybrid education" -- online learning that has some face-to-face component. Taking a hybrid course means that students will have to choose an institution that has a nearby campus. Here too, local institutions could demonstrate their value.
The major for-profit institutions, meanwhile, have also recognized online students' preference for a nearby 'real' campus, and some have opened satellite campuses around the country (for example, Kaplan University has 80 campuses in US and University of Phoenix has more than 200 in North America).
So, providers and instructors of online learning in University of Minnesota, what should we do in order to maintain and grow our competitive advantage other than relying on local loyalty?
Richard Garrett, managing director of Eduventures, says in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, "In order to succeed online in the long term, institutions need to stake their value on something beyond the merely being online". Christian institutions have been able to work the faith angle. Similarly, regional universities can play up their ties to local employers that have hired their graduates for years, Garrett says.