Online programme Management (OPM): what are they good for?

Core competencies are the resources and skills that give an institution its unique place in the market. It is a management theory created by Prahalad and Hamel and published in the HBR in 1990. An institution should never outsource its core competencies.

An Online Programme Manager (OPM) company in the Higher Education sector is a private company that provides core services to a University to get them delivering online courses. These services typically come as a package for a percentage of the student fee with the University providing the academics and the degree awarding powers. The OPM may provide individual services such as marketing and recruitment with the institution doing the rest.

The typical services include: 

  • Market research for which courses to develop
  • Marketing these courses
  • ‘Active’ recruitment
  • Learning Design and development
  • A virtual learning environment ecosystem and other technologies to deliver the courses through
  • Student engagement & retention services

The question is, what are a university’s core competencies and, with an OMP deal, are we outsourcing these to a third party? It is clear the quality of the institutions academics are one, and the degree-awarding powers and how they maintain the rigour of these are another, but Learning design, and student engagement and retention services must be others? 

For institutions that are starting in the online learning area, OPM deals can help them learn how to do online learning properly. However, it could be argued that the services OPMs provide are becoming core competencies. Universities that have not been developing these skills for the last few years will have found themselves with a vast skills gap this academic year with blended learning with social distancing delivery.

For those institutions looking to partner with an OPM:

  1. Approach the partnership and the contract as an opportunity to learn how to do high-quality online learning not to outsource a future core competency.
  2. Make sure the agreement provides opportunities to terminate the contract if the OPM does not deliver the required student numbers or quality promised.
  3. Get the OPM to demonstrate, with examples, how they define quality online learning and make sure the team that build those examples are the team you will be getting.
  4. Have a solid financial model for income and expenditure over the first three years and get evidence that the OMP can deliver this.

Get in contact with me on Twitter if you want to share experiences of working with OPMs or if you are thinking of partnering with one and want to talk it through.