There’s no magic bullet. Nope. None. Stop looking for one. The simple fact that a course is offered online, or at a distance, does not equate with automatic cost savings when compared to the cost of developing and delivering a traditional onsite course in a higher education setting. Being an online course is not a magic bullet to cost reduction.
In Canada, several reports have been issued in the last decade which examine this subject. The fine folks at Contact North / Contact Nord recently released a interesting survey of the existing literature in Canada. It’s a very useful annotated bibliography-style of presentation that walks you through the salient pieces of literature and supplies some useful quotes. Read it in detail here.
I have never done research on this subject, but I have been closely related to the development and delivery of online courses in Canada for a long time. My feeling is largely in agreement with what you’ll read in the Contact North report. I feel that costs savings are not directly associated with the simple existence of online courses per se. Instead, offering a mixture of online and classroom-based courses offers choices for students, enhances student flexibility and enriches the suite of products that an institution can offer to learners. There can be some indirect cost reduction. For example, colleges and universities that are space constrained may find that offering online courses alleviates scheduling conflict nightmares, the need to find large classrooms for growing class sizes, and/or the need to build new campus buildings.
Lastly, I believe online courses can increase a revenue stream by providing access to learners that might otherwise not be able to come to your school. This factor could be very important to those schools offering niche programming - especially those with a solid marketing plan (Hint: one that involves intelligent social media strategies!)
Do you have any ideas on this subject? Share them with a comment below.