Case Study

Outsourcing CMS in Iowa

The Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), made up of seven community colleges, is using an outsourced learning management system to offer its online courses to students across Iowa. The learning management system, eCollege, is specifically designed for managing online learning programs, and helps makes course development and management far easier for colleges within the consortium.

eCollege's learning management system differs from products like Blackboard or WebCT in that it is offered as an outsourced service. That means colleges don't buy and install the product on their own computers; rather, they license use of eCollege from the company, which maintains the application remotely on its own servers. That allows schools to avoid heavy upfront capital costs, as well as the cost of adding technical support staff, since eCollege handles all support issues. The company says eCollege is run from computers in various locations, to ensure fast and continual service, and includes multiple levels of redundancy, backups, and an up to date database infrastructure.

eCollege also specifically focuses on the distance education market, predominantly in post-secondary institutions that serve non-traditional students. The company offers other services along with its learning management system, such as technical consulting, training, faculty support and course development.

By allowing each college to offer its online courses to any student enrolled in a college belonging to the consortium, the ICCOC increases the number of students potentially interested in any one course, allowing the rural community college members to offer courses they wouldn't be able to fill otherwise. It also makes the best use of instructors, who can teach a course no matter where they are located in the state.

Through eCollege, students registered at any of the seven colleges in the consortium can select from a range of courses offered by member colleges. The online classes, which feature streaming audio and video with synchronized presentation slides offered over the Internet, are available during the day, in the evenings, or even on weekends.

The ICCOC was established in 1999 to pool community college resources and offer online educational opportunities to Iowa students. The seven member schools offer an all-online two-year associate's degree; students who register to attend classes through the consortium must be registered at one of the seven colleges.

When the ICCOC first began using the e-learning platform, eCollege offered several training sessions over the course of a semester to consortium members to get them started. Participants then received an e-teaching certificate certifying them to train or teach online.  

One of the initial certificate recipients was Paula Henry, now an institutional designer at Iowa Lakes Community College (ILCC). She was one of the first to teach a course online at ILCC through the new system when it was begun in 2000. Henry says that the advent of eCollege has made creating online courses far easier. To set up an online course in the days before eCollege, she would work with a technical expert who did the necessary HTML programming, while she served as instructional designer and content expert. With eCollege, she says, "it's so much easier now to develop a course. They have a wonderful e-learning platform with authoring tools that we can use."

With the rapid growth in online courses, Henry now focuses almost exclusively on training instructors--teaching them how to convert a face to face course to online or to develop a completely new course to be offered online. That can be complex, because ILCC offers classes in several formats: some are completely online; some are partly online and partly offered in a face to face setting; and some feature an "e-companion site," in which online material is offered as a supplement to a face to face course.

The growing interest in online courses is part of a nationwide trend that is also borne out in numbers from eCollege. In 2007, the company says, its platform will support more than a million and a half distance enrollments, up nearly a third from last year. Institutions are now using eCollege to offer some 1,100 degree programs, from associate's degrees to bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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