Learning alliance to grow

Officials at the joint e-learning venture operated by Yale, Stanford and Oxford universities are hoping that the brand appeal of the three institutions will prove to be a winning combination for some new customers.

AllLearn, the three schools’ nonprofit distance learning alliance formerly known as the University Alliance for Lifelong Learning, originally offered classes only to alumni and other affiliates of the three schools. But now the online venture is expanding to include other potential students.

Yale President Richard Levin said the program is still considering different ways to target additional students.

“It’s not clear that we are going to go to the general public,” Levin said, adding that alumni were always only seen as the venture’s starting point. “We are going to look at a variety of strategies to get a variety of users.”

AllLearn CEO and Executive Director Herbert Allison ’65 said AllLearn would not use mass-marketing or other broad advertisements.

“We are doing this in a targeted way,” Allison said. “We are going to be contacting interest groups that may have interest in particular course offerings.”

Levin said he feels confident that the program, which was launched in 2000, is making progress and has avoided pitfalls similar other distance learning ventures have faced.

“All these other people were trying to make money. We never thought that from the beginning,” Levin said. “I think that was an unrealistic expectation during the dot-com bubble.”

Frank Mayadas, a distance learning expert with the Sloan Foundation, said several factors have contributed to unsuccessful e-learning ventures. Business, he said, is not a particular strength of universities, and courses that rely only on software can be expensive.

“To create a course entirely without an instructor that is a high-quality course can be very expensive,” said Mayadas, who estimated a cost of nearly $1 million for such a course. “[But] if the cost to create the course is kept down, and the cost to deliver it is less, I think this could work. The big cost of the course is the instructor’s salary. The other cost of delivering the course is the cost of the classroom, the parking costs, the heating — those you don’t have in the online course.”

Levin and Allison declined to provide exact figures of AllLearn’s expenditures, but the venture began with an investment of $12 million, and Allison said this capital has not been fully spent.

The fall semester begins Oct. 7 with over 50 courses offered at costs around $300. The courses have been designed by professors ranging from famed Yale Cold War historian John Gaddis and former director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization Strobe Talbott ’68 to Stanford’s David Kennedy. Topics include Winston Churchill, Homer’s Odyssey and Beethoven.

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