Seventeen years after graduating college with a degree in Chinese philosophy, Kristin Kim has taken the helm of a venture that teaches topics ranging from philosophy to economic analysis.
The board of AllLearn — Yale’s joint e-learning effort with Stanford and Oxford universities — selected Kim as its new president in January. Kim, who joined AllLearn in January 2001 and has served as interim president since Nov. 1, 2002, replaces former AllLearn president Herbert M. Allison Jr. ’65. Allison stepped down from his post at the company to become the president and chief executive officer of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund, or TIAA-CREF.
Yale President Richard Levin said he hoped Kim would use her leadership skills to expand the alliance’s learner base.
“She’s doing a terrific job,” Levin said. “We’ve asked her to focus on building new audiences for the alliance and she’s pursuing a wide variety of strategies for doing this.”
Kim said the cooperation of the AllLearn board and the participating universities has been crucial to the new developments at AllLearn, which include increasing the breadth of courses, providing free online reference material, and creating classes with a current events focus.
“What attracted me to AllLearn in the first place was the commitment of the premiere institutions to offer a liberal arts education through a new medium,” Kim said. “But the cooperation of the board and local teams has been critical.”
President of the Association of Yale Alumni Jeff Brenzel said while he is not sure what new directions AllLearn may go in under Kim’s leadership, Kim has been in communication with the AYA. Alumni constitute much of AllLearn’s audience, which continues to target Yale, Stanford and Oxford graduates.
Brenzel also said he is pleased with the new course offerings, and emphasized that while Kim has a challenging assignment in front of her, her previous experience at AllLearn will be beneficial.
“I think [Allison] relied on [Kim] very strongly in getting the venture launched up and running,” Brenzel said.
In addition to its standard courses, AllLearn offers short forums on specific topics, such as the two-day “Managing the Economy” course, which begins Feb. 12. Yale economics professor William Nordhaus and School of Management professor Roger Ibbotson will participate in the forum.
A forum on Iraq offered last year attracted approximately 4,600 learners, Kim said.
While AllLearn initially offered its courses to the alumni of the three institutions, the company recently expanded its audience by opening its programs to the general public in September. Beginning Feb. 18, AllLearn will also offer its courses year-round, Kim said.
But Kim said AllLearn does not use mass marketing to generate interest, instead relying on selective partnerships with other institutions to advertise. She said in general, AllLearn tries to avoid any expensive strategies, relying on a small staff.
While other heavily-funded e-learning ventures — including Columbia University’s Fathom — have folded in the past year, AllLearn has not yet spent its initial $12 million investment.
While some other ventures have been unsuccessful, Levin said he is confident that all the participating universities are satisfied with AllLearn.
“I still believe, despite that others have lost faith, that online learning will have a significant role in the years ahead,” Levin said.
Levin said the course materials for the program are excellent. The one problem remaining is ensuring that the alliance builds a sufficiently large audience to cover the cost of programs and courses, he said.
Frank Mayadas, a distance learning expert with the Sloan Foundation, said while online consortia often face the task of trying to make the venture profitable for all those involved, he believes elite institutions can succeed by focusing on a specific audience, such as alumni.
“I think that’s a good way to do it,” Mayadas said. “[Alumni are] a group that wants to stay connected with the university.”
Mayadas said online ventures at elite institutions have not proven to be major players in online learning partly because they worry about their exclusivity.
“I’m not convinced that they ever will be,” Mayadas said. “I’m not convinced that they have the motivation to do it.”
Unlike major state universities with online ventures, such as the University of Maryland University College, elite schools do not have the tradition of providing educational services for the general public, he said.
Mayadas and Kim agreed that online learning has a strong future. Kim noted that approximately 50 percent of current on-campus college courses involve online learning to some extent.
Last year, Kim said, AllLearn participants gave “excellent” or “high” satisfaction ratings 80 percent of the time, and 80 percent said they would take courses with AllLearn again.