3 Questions for Noodle Program Director Stephen Green

We got to know Stephane Green through our participation in the Noodle Advisory Board. Stephen has been Director of Programs at Noodle since 2017. Prior to this role, Stephen held leadership positions at Qubed, eCornell and 2U. Stéphane graciously agreed to answer our questions.

Q1: Let’s start with Noodle. One of the challenges for Noodle is that the higher education community struggles to understand what you do. The company seemed to want to define itself as an alternative OPM (online program management) company. At the same time, Noodle ceased to position itself as an online program “general contractor”. Can you explain what Noodle does and how Noodle is different from a traditional OPM?

OPMs have played an important role in helping higher education realize the potential of online education for student access, as well as broadening the definition of quality in terms of student engagement and learning. students and teachers. Our team has founded and led a number of the most notable OPMs, and we continue to believe in the value of OPMs in helping colleges and universities provide excellent educational experiences to as many students as possible.

Our concern with the evolution of the OPM industry over the past 15 years, largely with decades-old revenue-sharing contracts, is the lack of financial transparency about true operating costs and the flexibility of the service delivery. This combination effectively holds colleges and universities hostage to their own programs and eliminates any real opportunity for higher education to develop its own institutional capacity for online services. This capacity building is crucial for higher education to remain a preeminent presence in an increasingly online ecosystem.

The more capacity and understanding higher education has when it comes to online services, the better it will collaborate with the OPM industry on how to push the boundaries of what great learning experiences should look like in 10, 20, 50, 100 years.

As we partner with higher education with their best interests in mind, our goal is to provide a suite of online program support services that are excellent, flexible, and ultimately half the cost traditional revenue sharing agreements of around 60%. We focus on the cost of service to ensure that our partners retain the vast majority of revenue from their programs so that they have the opportunity to increase their scholarships and ultimately reduce the cost of student attendance. Being transparent about the true costs of line items to launch and run an online program, working to increase efficiency and reduce those costs, and ensuring our partners benefit so students can benefit is our goal and why we we are different. We will win if our partners and their students win. It’s not so much what we do that’s different (services are wholesale services); it’s our philosophical approach to how we do it and why it’s different.

Q2: The world of online learning is particularly complex right now. There are many types of entities, from colleges and universities to for-profit companies, involved in creating online degree and certificate programs. There is still much to learn about the cost, value and effectiveness of online learning. What role do you see Noodle playing in helping answer these questions? Can Noodle contribute to the intellectual work needed to fully understand the place of online learning in higher education?

We totally agree on the complexity of the world of online learning. If we consider the many centuries that colleges and universities have operated and juxtapose that against the relative youth of the internet, not to mention online education, it’s safe to say that we’re at the very beginning of learning in line. Like all industries that will be part of our society for centuries, there are complexities, challenges and developments that will undoubtedly continue.

However, difficult challenges are never solved in isolation. The smarter the people around the table are in trying to solve a problem, the more creative and diverse the solutions will be. Emphasize solutions in the plural and not in the singular; there are many approaches that can help different types of institutions serving different audiences of learners. We believe our solution is distinct and meets needs as we see them, but others in the market meet needs as they see them – and that’s what makes an industry and drives early evolution .

Given our willingness to prioritize transparency and what is best for higher education (see response to question 1), we believe we are in a unique position to facilitate the rapprochement of the higher education with understanding the terrain and helping institutions position themselves for the evolution of e-learning. . There are a few salient examples in our current operations where research can help illuminate the intersection between higher education and online learning.

Flexibility of services and institutional capacity

  • Our core business model allows institutions to provide services alongside us if they wish and have the operational capacity and resource commitment to do so. From a research trend perspective, over 25% of our academic partners are already running services to some degree after modeling best practices and evaluating their infrastructure and implementation capacity. (Warning: under-indexing on any of these fronts can be destructive to an online school or program.) This service flexibility helps their overall institutional awareness of how to operate and positions them to be able to reflect on and plan the evolution of their campus with a more refined perspective and understanding. Yet institutions will not want to provide certain services for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to provide those services and integrate with campuses as needed. None of this capacity building and blending would be possible in a traditional OPM revenue sharing model.

Noodle learning platform

  • We announced earlier this year that we would be launching our Open Courses platform. The primary goal of this initiative is to help higher education reclaim the lifelong learning space by enabling colleges and universities to deliver and control the course experience and information on prospects in order to increase completion rates and reduce the cost of acquisition in their degree programs, respectively. We have built our platform with the purpose of researching learning experience outcomes as well as tracking learner cross-enrollment of open courses in partner degree programs, online or in the field. Over the next few years, this type of information will contribute to the intellectual work necessary for higher education to best position itself in the space of lifelong learning.

Corporate partnerships

  • At the request of our academic partners, we are establishing a corporate partnerships function to help bridge the gap between higher education and employers around the world who need graduate and/or highly skilled professionals. We will position the right programs with the right employers to help them recruit, retain and develop their workforce. We’ll tell you more soon. The nuance of our approach is that we will develop our strategy to help our universities reduce their operating costs for online programs rather than putting our own margins at the forefront of the strategy, which our partners will be able to see given our marketing transparency and recruitment costs in our model. As we evolve this strategy, we will measure and report our progress with the impact we will have on reducing the cost of acquisition.

Q3: We want to end this Q&A session by asking you about trust. The perception is that many traditional not-for-profit academics find it hard to trust for-profit online education companies. Many of us in higher education worry that schools and companies have fundamentally different incentives, deadlines, and cultures. This concern – this lack of trust – may be at the heart of at least some of the opposition to non-profit/for-profit partnerships in the online learning space. How would you approach the idea that there is a trust challenge between schools and businesses, academics and executives, in the online learning space? What could be done to build trust?

The reality is that there is a trust gap between higher education and for-profit corporations. Pretending that there is no trust gap only delays the work of closing the gap.

If we break down what “trust” really means, a lot of it comes down to trustworthiness and trustworthiness; that is, an individual or company is trustworthy or trustworthy only to the extent that their motives and interests allow. One of the cleanest ways to assess a company’s motivations and interests is to assess its contractual framework; that is to say, what are the conditions under which they contract with their customers. Traditional OPM contracts (decades long, prohibitively expensive to exit or not renew, no service flexibility, etc.) made it difficult to build great trust, especially that higher education becomes more comfortable and knowledgeable about online education.

Traditional PMOs will need to address this issue for higher education to truly trust them. Perhaps the work of GAO/DOE over the next two years will accelerate thinking about how to reframe agreements to establish better alignment. However, it is not for us to answer how other companies will rebuild trust with higher education (if they even think there is a lack of trust). All we can do is provide a model and contractual framework that reflects our motivations and interests and work hard to execute it in a way that helps build trust.

But trust is a two-way street, and higher education will need to continue to be open to corporate expertise (OPM and others) and be prepared to find an intersection, admitting that they are not experts in some areas. The key to the evolution of early e-learning is working together to find that intersection.

Ryan H. Bowman