Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP)

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Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships
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Information and Application Materials
Fiscal Year 200
Deadline for Submission: March 15, 2001

Technology now makes it possible to deliver education anytime and anywhere, but most educational institutions, including those providing distance education, continue to follow traditional practices. Courses are delivered on fixed academic schedules (usually semesters or quarters), degrees or certifications are awarded to students who complete a set number of credit hours, and students generally choose to attend institutions that serve the geographic region in which they live.

In recent years, the growth of distance education has partially challenged assumptions about geography. Technology now provides the possibility that students may access courses and programs from almost anywhere, and this in turn has changed the ways institutions recruit students. Even so, tradition, funding, policy, and other factors often constrain institutions to honor geographic boundaries that technology and learner demand may not respect.

Furthermore, until recently, even distance education has not seriously challenged many assumptions about time. Educational institutions generally assume that students will enroll in courses of fixed length and delivered in fixed formats. But increasingly, some students need affordable alternatives that may not conform to fixed academic schedules or that are offered only at specific hours during a week or for specific weeks during the year. It has frequently been observed that what our postsecondary institutions offer are fixed programs leading to variable or uncertain outcomes, while increasingly the need is for more flexible programs yielding verifiable outcomes.

Welfare recipients or dislocated workers in rapid need of employment may not have the luxury of waiting for the start of fall semester before beginning semester-length courses. Workers in fast-changing industries may miss complete product cycles if they cannot access skills training precisely when they need it. Working parents may need to fit education around their children's schedules or other duties in the home. Such students could all benefit from education that is shaped to accommodate their needs, and in an increasingly competitive environment, they will choose the providers who can give it to them.

As educational institutions currently operate, however, the goal of learning anytime anywhere cannot easily be accomplished. Putting a course on the Web does not necessarily mean that it will be interactive. Learning should still connect students with instructors, with communities of other learners, and with first-rate scholarship. It should be guided and monitored, with plenty of feedback, and with opportunities for investigation and practice. To try to provide some or all of these functions in a technology-mediated environment is expensive. Educational providers may not have the resources on their own to design and implement this kind of education to its fullest potential. They will not have the money for development (except perhaps for a limited array of offerings), nor will they necessarily gain the enrollments to recoup their investments and sustain their offerings.

If learning anytime anywhere is going to be achieved, and if students are going to have the options they need, educational providers will have to find new ways to leverage their investments, to build economies of scale, and to share courses and programs. They can do this through partnerships. In American postsecondary education today, there already exist many virtual universities, consortia, and other partnerships that are in their infancy and in need of educational programs and models for student services. And there are colleges or private sector companies that have developed solutions that others might benefit from, but when acting alone have not been able to implement these solutions on a significant scale. Finally, there are students, targeted by a whole new wave of vendors and educational providers, who are not necessarily well equipped to make choices in the rapidly changing distance education environment. Partnerships can serve them too.

WHAT IS LAAP SEEKING TO SUPPORT?

  • LAAP seeks to support "anytime anywhere" distance education that uses predominantly asynchronous technologies to reach students wherever they may be, whatever time of day. In most cases, this means Internet course or program delivery, but it also means more than that. For example, in some cases, LAAP grants may allow students to customize their education or to proceed at their own pace, without being tied to conventional academic calendars. Often working adults need training delivered "just in time" to meet the needs of employers, for example. In order for this to occur, programs may need to be competency-based - so that there are alternatives to seat-time and credit hour measurements of student progress. Additionally, all LAAP projects should seek to improve the quality of asynchronous distance education, in most cases as measured by student learning and program completion.

  • LAAP seeks to fund strategic partnerships among colleges and universities, technology companies, groups of employers, professional associations, publishers, and any other relevant organizations. One great strength of LAAP partnerships is that they can promote better cooperation across sectors - for example, between academia and industry - and thereby overcome the limitations of any one sector working alone. Another great strength of partnerships is that they can help institutions leverage resources and achieve complementarity of effort. On their own, postsecondary institutions may not have the faculty or resources to create and deliver first-rate online curricula. Through a LAAP-funded partnership, institutions can pool development resources; share courses, programs, or services; and market these programs to students over larger geographic areas to achieve economies of scale.

  • Though the configuration of partners may vary according to need, LAAP seeks partnerships that will implement "anytime anywhere" distance education on a regional or national scale. Generally LAAP is not interested in the kinds of local partnerships that many postsecondary institutions undertake routinely to meet the needs of students in their traditional service regions. Rather, the goal of LAAP is to stimulate improvements in access, quality, and cost-efficiency made possible when partners with common interests - or who would otherwise even be competitive - join together in ambitious new combinations. Many LAAP partnerships operate statewide, in multiple states, or even nationally. In such cases, a postsecondary institution may serve its local students by delivering consortially developed curricula, by brokering externally delivered programs, or by providing technology support and student services.

INVITATIONAL PRIORITIES

LAAP invites proposals to support partnerships that deliver innovative "anytime anywhere" distance education on a national or regional scale. Specifically, LAAP seeks proposals that address one or more of the invitational priorities outlined below. However, the list is not exhaustive. Funded projects may also target other issues relevant to "anytime anywhere" distance education that are consistent with the program legislation.

CREATING ECONOMIES OF SCALE

One of the significant challenges facing "anytime anywhere" learning is cost. To be effective for most learners, "anytime anywhere" instruction must make it possible for students to learn actively -- to tackle problems and get feedback, for example. But "anytime anywhere" teaching materials that enable students to learn actively often have very high development costs. For instance, software programs that "tutor" students in science - -posing problems, correcting students' solutions, suggesting appropriate review - have certainly been developed, and they have been shown very effective. But they are expensive to construct. To take a less obvious example, instruction delivered asynchronously over the Internet by real instructors can also involve upfront development costs for such things as careful course design and instructor training. Such investments may hold down the incremental costs of adding a group of students by making it possible to utilize lower-cost graduate students or peer instructors as teachers; nevertheless, the initial investments may be significant.

Plainly, then, given its high development costs, "anytime anywhere" instruction that allows for active learning becomes cost-effective only when development costs are amortized over many enrollments. However, there are a number of barriers to wide usage of technology-delivered instruction. Some of these barriers are practical - with courseware, for example, the lack of systems whereby faculty in one institution can locate and determine the usefulness of materials developed elsewhere, and the lack of systems for transferring income from users to developers. Others barriers are "cultural," stemming from the professorial tradition of developing distinctive syllabi and teaching materials.

Accordingly, the LAAP program invites applicants to find new ways of aggregating enrollments so that significant development costs are justified, and to find new ways for consortia to overcome the barriers that may inhibit faculty across institutions from working collectively. One recommended approach is for multiple institutions to share in the creation and delivery of a new program, and then to market it to students over wider geographic regions. By aggregating small enrollments across many areas, overall enrollments may become large enough to generate tuition revenues sufficient to support programs that would not otherwise be economically unfeasible.

DEVELOPING PORTABLE INTERACTIVE COURSEWARE

Most courseware developed within postsecondary institutions has been created by individuals or small groups of faculty and programmers. Although much of this courseware may be very good, it has generally been designed to supplement traditionally constructed courses or distance education and usually does not adhere to the principles of learning anytime anywhere. Such courseware is often an expensive "add-on," and if one were attempting to construct meaningful courses from the disparate products available, one would run into several problems: software that does not run on multiple platforms, constantly changing user interfaces, and sloppy documentation are a few examples. Because academic courseware has usually been created for local use, it has generally not been tested adequately for use in wider markets, sometimes for lack of adequate staffing and resources. However, private courseware developers have often been reluctant to enter the postsecondary education market, unsure of how to recoup large investments in a fragmented marketplace characterized by individual faculty who take pride in shaping the content of their own courses and therefore often resist products created by others.

In order to develop the high quality courseware necessary for fully interactive, "anytime anywhere" learning, private industry and academics need each other. Private industry can provide the discipline, cross-platform functionality, and attention to standards. Academics can provide the scholarly content and attention to pedagogy.

But large investments in courseware development will never be recouped unless the courseware can be implemented in ways that achieve scale. Consequently, LAAP invites partnerships in courseware development only if they address widespread faculty adoption at the same time. For example, a large consortium of institutions might partner with private developers, pool their faculty expertise to define learning modules that can be used in a variety of settings, and mutually agree upon a common, but flexible, plan to implement the courseware throughout the consortium. No such plan is likely to succeed without a respect for the faculty's right to shape and modify academic content; nor will it succeed, however, without channeling their energies into the goals decided upon by a collaborative team. Such projects should also be based upon clear, mutually agreed upon policies regarding intellectual property and ownership, and the distribution of revenues.

PACKAGING COURSES AND PROGRAMS

Because technology enables students to access courses from anywhere in the country, students may enroll in courses from multiple providers, and they may wish to assemble a complete education from these component parts. This will surely strain the existing mechanisms for credit transfer and articulation among postsecondary institutions, and it will pose some issues about the meaning of credentialing too. The problem with assembling offerings from multiple providers is three-fold. First is the question of what is included in a course and whether an institution will have assurances both of its content and of its fit with other offerings. Second is the question of control over the shape of a program. Students may in many ways be served by a broader menu of choices, but will they select a coherent collection? Finally, what is the meaning of a credential? Who grants the credential, and who determines how it will be comprised?

Institutions will also have the motivation to become better "packagers" of courses, both to accommodate student demand and to remain competitive with other providers. But there is much to be gained by institutions cooperating with one another. A state system, virtual university, or consortium might benefit from directly sharing courses, and in the process, reduce duplication of efforts and expand student options. Cooperation might allow for individual institutions to specialize in their strengths and draw upon the strengths of others instead of thinly distributing resources into too many areas.

For these kinds of efficiencies to be achieved, groups of partnering institutions might need to develop new mechanisms for cataloging and describing courses, for mutual credit recognition, or even for jointly offering credentials. They might need to establish financial models for sharing the costs of curriculum development, teaching, and using computer networks, and they might need to establish mechanisms for sharing tuition and other revenues. Or, they might need to explore alternatives to traditional residency or degree requirements or to work together to redefine general education. LAAP invites proposals to address all of these issues.

USING COMPETENCIES TO MEASURE STUDENT PROGRESS

In many instances, the concept of "anytime anywhere" learning implies some other method of testing learning outcomes. Students may, for example, wish to learn at their own pace, starting when they want, taking the necessary time they need to master the material, and achieving certification of learning when they are ready to do so. If seat time and credit hours are no longer applicable, then how otherwise do you measure student progress and achievement? Rather than taking for granted that learning is a function of time spent in the classroom, competencies can provide guarantees that students are mastering the course material they need. For working adults seeking just-in-time job training, competency-based learning is an ideal way to identify what they need to learn, to help them focus on what they do not yet know, and to prove to employers what they have achieved. Certification of competencies may, in some circumstances, offer employers better assurances of job readiness than a traditional credential.

Competencies can serve other functions as well. They can provide outlines for courseware and curriculum developers to use in creating "anytime anywhere" materials. Or, if courses are mapped to specific learning competencies, institutions can better analyze transcripts, make judgments about credit transfer, or advise students seeking enrollment information. As a result, competencies are useful for matching courses with students, and for ensuring that different courses will complement each other. Finally, competencies might be used as a way to ensure that students who have prior experience or training can enroll in certificate or degree programs without duplicating prior learning. Consequently, LAAP partnerships may find that competency-based education can be used to address many of the barriers to "anytime anywhere" learning.

IMPROVING QUALITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

One of the greatest challenges facing the practice of learning anytime anywhere is quality assurance and accountability. American higher education has a longstanding tradition of quality assurance based on voluntary peer review of institutions and programs through accreditation. Many of the criteria used to assure the quality of higher education are based upon traditional course delivery and teaching at institutions. The challenges are many. How do we assure the quality of programs and courses that start outside of the context of the traditional academic calendar or that are offered across state and regional borders? How do we measure quality without the traditional parameters of seat time and credit hours to help us? How do we measure progress and certify achievement when students are engaged in "anytime anywhere" learning?

The LAAP program encourages the development of new ways to think about assessment, quality assurance, and accountability. Partnerships are encouraged to engage educational providers, professional associations, and the accreditation community to rethink the issue of quality assurance and accountability to ensure that credentials are meaningful, that educational providers are accountable, and that educational courses meet at least the same high standards demanded of traditional means of delivering education.

CREATING NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNDERSERVED LEARNERS

LAAP seeks to expand access for any learners seeking postsecondary education or career-oriented lifelong learning, or who can benefit from the removal of time and place constraints. But LAAP is especially interested in proposals specifically targeting one or more of the following groups of learners who have not always been well served by either traditional campus-based education or common forms of distance education, including:

  • individuals with disabilities
  • individuals who have lost their jobs
  • individuals making the transition from welfare to the workforce
  • individuals seeking basic or technical skills
  • individuals seeking their first postsecondary education experience

In the past, some distance education has worked successfully with independent, experienced, and self-motivated leaners, but LAAP is interested in exploring what it takes for individuals with other characteristics to succeed as well. Do the same basic lessons and assumptions hold true? New enrollment opportunities are meaningful only if students have a reasonable chance to complete their postsecondary degree, certificate, or job training programs.

Very likely, many of these underserved student populations will need personal attention, counseling, and other kinds of support in order to succeed. Remember, learning anytime and anywhere does not have to mean that students are learning in isolation. Rather, there may be innovative ways to connect students with other learners - and perhaps even with working professionals, community leaders, or others who might facilitate learning. LAAP encourages applicants to choose carefully the pedagogical and support strategies that will best promote retention.

IMPLEMENTING COMPREHENSIVE ONLINE SUPPORT SERVICES

All students should have access to the support services they need to be successful. One of the disadvantages of enrolling in distance education is that you are often removed from access to many of the support services that traditional campus-based students take for granted. If your courses are available anytime and anywhere, will you likewise have "anytime anywhere" access to registration, advising, financial aid, counseling, assessment, study skills, libraries, and other services? Advising is critically important, for instance, when individual students may be drawing courses from multiple providers.

Many institutions and commercial providers are recognizing the problem and beginning to develop systems to address these needs. But a recent survey of over one thousand institutions conducted by the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications suggests that very few comprehensive models for the delivery of support services exist, and that institutions will likely have to undergo a rather significant cultural shift to reform the way support services are administered. One important problem is the structural segregation on most campuses of many support service functions. What is needed are systems in which students can do one-stop-shopping for assistance with a variety of needs. Some information or routine transactions might be handled electronically, but this will require integrated data systems. Other services might be dependent upon interactions with staff, who may need new training to address the full variety of student needs.

Consortial partnerships to deliver courses or degree programs may face particular challenges with regard to some of these problems - especially if data exchange between institutions is necessary. But all LAAP-funded projects should make the provision of quality support services a top priority. Partnerships between postsecondary institutions and commercial providers who are working on these problems may lead to efficient ways of coordinating systems, sharing already developed products, and expanding student access to services.

REDUCING POLICY BARRIERS

Frequently, "anytime anywhere" learning may be difficult to implement because of restrictive institutional, system, state or other policies which were developed in the context of more conventional modes of instructional delivery and institutional practices. For example, within a state college system, the pooling of faculty and sharing of courses and programs might be inhibited by funding allocations or staffing levels based upon student enrollments. In this situation, the individual colleges may be motivated to duplicate offerings and compete with one another for students. Any attempt to share courses or faculty may require the creation of new mechanisms for sharing instructional costs, distributing tuition revenue, and the like.

As another example, a college attempting completely self-paced, open entry/exit, and competency-based degree programs may find that it needs tremendous flexibility in matching students to faculty. But implementation of such a program might be obstructed by a collective bargaining agreement ensuring that faculty be assigned to a specific number of course units and students per course. In this case, a good idea may have to be abandoned or compromised because policy assumes conventional seat time and credit hours.

LAAP therefore encourages all applicants to address explicitly all relevant policy issues that arise among partners, revising policy when it is outmoded or outdated and creating new policy to reflect new challenges. However, LAAP also invites applications specifically targeting the restrictive distance education policy of college or university systems, states, regions, consortia, or any other relevant group of partners. Such efforts should aim to go beyond merely local reform and pave the way for the creation of new "anytime anywhere" distance education programs that are scalable and nationally or regionally implemented.

SOME ADVICE ON FORMING PARTNERSHIPS

In most cases, LAAP partnerships will be expected to work collectively toward several goals: first, to become self-sustaining; second, to grow to reach increasingly large numbers of students and perhaps take on additional partners; and, finally, to create products or model practices that will be adopted in other settings. If your partnership is to reach these goals, you must plan from the outset, starting with the commitments you make to each other. It is especially important that you clearly define the roles and expectations for each project partner. You should formalize your promises to each other up front, especially regarding cost sharing commitments and such thorny issues as intellectual property rights or revenue sharing. In some cases, it may be necessary for you to explicitly address policy issues. Additionally, it is recommended that you think carefully about how you will build a staff and budgetary infrastructure to sustain the project, including mechanisms for ongoing communication and operations.

EXAMPLES OF POSSIBLE PARTNERSHIPS

The most interesting partnerships should be formed on the basis of a clearly stated added value of a linkage of two or more organizations. In other words, the goal of the partnership should be to create new opportunities, educational or otherwise, not possible from institutions or organizations acting on their own.

Of course, there are many possible partnerships that fit the LAAP guidelines. We have listed below a few illustrations of the types of partnerships that aim to achieve a strategic purpose, solve a particular problem, or overcome barriers to achieving successful learning anytime anywhere. These examples are by no means exhaustive and do not represent a preference for funding by FIPSE:

  • Partnerships among state systems of higher education, private college consortia, regional educational consortia, accrediting agencies, professional or industrial associations, or regional or national telecommunications networks in order to join those with allied interests, coordinate efforts, reduce duplication, and leverage resources. Such partnerships can promote the sharing of courses or programs, encourage course and credit transfer, and promote economies of scale in program development and delivery.
  • Partnerships among postsecondary education institutions and consortia of employers in a particular industry to define workplace competencies. The partnership might then be enlarged to include software companies who can aid in the collaborative development of modular interactive courseware that could be used in the delivery of a competency-based "anytime anywhere" training program suited to employer needs.
  • Partnerships among educational providers, software developers, professional associations, and/or publishing companies to create larger markets for the development of quality interactive courseware that is responsive to a national educational demand. Educational providers, software companies, and publishing companies may wish to team up with professional associations in the field of health care, for example, to produce programs that meet the needs and the market demands of their constituents.
  • Partnerships among educational providers, state agencies, professional associations and accrediting organizations to explore new ways of assuring educational quality and certifying student attainment that is accepted by academic, professional, and business communities.
  • Partnerships among state higher education systems, member colleges, and state governments - or among other kinds of regional or national consortia of colleges and universities - to revise institutional, system, or other policies that inhibit the delivery of "anytime anywhere" learning. For example, state funding allocations based upon student enrollment may be a disincentive for colleges to pool courses into shared degree programs.

To see specific examples of partnerships funded in the FY 1999 and 2000 competitions, visit the LAAP website at:

http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/fipse/index.html

 
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Last Modified: 06/09/2004