An introduction to OPX

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Chelsea Castonguay Stanhope
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shutterstock_1594086229Within the last academic year, the way we participate in higher education has shifted significantly. In the past, most of universities held courses in person, with students attending classes in brick and mortar buildings. While there was a demand for online education before the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, that need exponentially increased when universities were forced to send students home. Courses rushed to online, which led to more work for faculty and staff. In addition, students expected the high levels of education they were receiving in-person to translate to their new online experience.

While online program management (OPMs) existed before the shutdown, the marked need for help with developing sophisticated and streamlined online education led to the development of OPX. This new category is “defining the entire spectrum of services models supporting Universities in the design, development, and delivery of online higher education,” according to holoniq.com. Here’s a refresh on what OPMs are, the introduction of OPX, and how the two connect. 

What’s an OPM?

Many universities have opted to work with online program management providers to more seamlessly integrate their courses onto an online platform. These companies offer a variety of services, generally as a bundle or a la carte. This way, a university can determine which works best for them. They can choose to utilize a bundle or select which services best fit their needs and budget. Working with an OPM allows universities to use “services like student recruitment and enrollment, student and graduate retention, market research, course design and technology platforms, and student placement for training or employment purposes.”

As the demand for higher education rises, so does the work necessary to create great online courses. This is where OPMs help. According to library.educause.edu, many OPMs are used by universities to “jumpstart an online presence for institutions that do not have that capability in-house.”  This could include marketing, recruitment, and online courses. Not every institution has the capital to get started using an OPM or to put these programs in place alone; many organizations operate “on a “tuition revenue share” model in which a vendor provides services in exchange for a share of revenues. Others offer a pay-for-service model, so universities can pay for their programs when they use them.

What’s OPX?

According to HolonIQ’s managing director and co-founder Patrick Brothers, OPX is “a whole bunch of different models and options.” The X replaces management to signify “whatever job that company is doing.” OPX brings together all of the components offered by various OPMs under one umbrella. Under this category falls OPM, MOOCs operating as an OPM, and OPE. You can also expect to find hybrid and new up-and-coming programs falling under the OPX category as well. Clients will now find OPMs broken down into four categories: generalists, specialists, MOOCs, and universities. If your university has decided to begin utilizing an OPX, there are plenty of companies ready to assist you. Currently, over 80 companies offer OPX services, supporting “all aspects of the design, development, and delivery of online higher education.”

For beleaguered staff and faculty, OPX can be a much-needed helpmate. Rather than transforming their courses into easily accessible and streamlined courses, a partnership with an OPX company can make that dream a reality. As OPX now also encompasses all of the services and aspects offered by OPMs, there are lots of ways to put it to work for universities. For example, there are four categories of “program design and development, student information and learning environments, marketing and enrollment services, and program delivery and student success.” Through these categories, universities can select which area they’d like to focus.

How OPM and OPX connect: 

While OPX is newer on the scene, OPMs have been around for quite some time. Many universities have worked with an OPM at one point or another, making many of the services they provide familiar and easily understandable. However, OPX is a new concept that might take some time to get used to, as it might feel a bit overwhelming while companies continue to expand their services. 

Without specific direction from a university, the OPX model might make things a little generalized. Therefore, it will be up to the school to figure out exactly what services they’ll need. While this allows for a tailored, individualized approach, it might also prove daunting to make that initial determination. It’s important to go into a contract with a company with a clear understanding of your university needs and what you’re willing to spend. Insidehighered.com predicts that in the future, universities will utilize OPX in a couple of ways. Universities might take a more do-it-yourself approach to use OPX by cherry-picking services from various companies to accomplish their goals. Colleges may also ultimately end up creating their own “in-house” networks, aided by the expertise of outside consultants with the knowledge and experience to get such a system up and running.

While traditional OPMs can be expensive, there’s reason to believe OPX might be more affordable. According to Brothers, “Coursera, for example, is saying for its degree programs that it can tap into a large global cohort and have the systems and scale to help a partner achieve student acquisition at a much lower cost.” This means schools that might not have had the budget for an OPM in the past might now be able to afford services under the unbundled OPX model.

Ultimately, OPX is going to offer more flexibility and accessibility to the delivery of online course materials. While it may take some time to get used to this new model, OPX is here to stay. The category is still rapidly changing and developing, but ultimately this will prove useful to those who work with an OPX. Faculty and staff will be able to spend more time focused on their students and coursework. Students will get the same high-quality level of education online as their peers do in person. Finally, university staff will be able to utilize data in new ways to help drive enrollment, help manage the student journey to graduation and make other determinations to help navigate the institutions future.

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