Interesting to see Wiley selling off its OPM business to its rival Academic Partnerships last month, at a substantial loss. This follows on from Pearson earlier in the year selling off its OPM business to Regent LP, also at a substantial loss. These publisher-founded OPM companies had become loss-making, and obviously neither parent company felt it strategic enough to be involved in future academic online programme partnerships with the affected customer institutions.
The traditional publisher revenue model based on textbooks ended up being a drag for online education management companies – particularly those created by well-established textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Wiley. The cost of digitising such assets came at the same time as the need to unbundle them and to rework their inherent pedagogies for more flexible use online. CAPDM was sometimes held-back by a refusal to innovatively reuse academic texts, particularly popular, lucrative ones.
The Covid-19 experience also seems to have convinced the majority of academic institutions they can do an ‘acceptable’ form of online learning themselves now, making the most of their chosen VLE system for their own blended institutional use.
Establishing large programmes of online education still requires a business mindset though, one which can commercially deploy distance learning profitably at scale. This is still beyond what most academic institutions feel comfortable with, but Neil Mosely’s recent article on the growth of senior roles for enabling online education in the UK touches upon this emerging strategic need for people with appropriate senior level skills and experience.
In the US the government’s regulatory environment, by threatening to restrict third-party revenue shares for university partners, is likewise encouraging institutions to do more of the OPM work for themselves. This, while probably sensible in the long-term, also creates a big demand for people with the requisite skills, while introducing uncertainty for third-party investors in higher education.
In short, the OPM market is evolving quickly now on both sides of the Atlantic. What we’ve learned so far is that people and systems come and go, and so do OPMs. If institutions are to be further encouraged, cajoled, regulated or motivated to build and market their own online programmes for the long-term, let it be solidly founded on their own asset-building. Establishing flexible domains of reusable learning materials is an essential basis for a quality distance learning product.