Strategic Academic Planning for Distance Education

Manila Bulletin, May 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Strategic Academic Planning for Distance Education


STRATEGIC planning for distance learning represents a significant challenge to any educational institution as it not only requires the expansion and operational planning beyond that of the core business of residential teaching, but also requires the integration of new activities with those of the operational units and functions. Educators are no longer limited to the physical classroom, and students are no longer restricted to courses offered on a campus. Strategic planning offers five primary benefits and these are:

* The communication of a strategic vision;

* The increase in external support that normally follows a clear articulation of vision;

* The increased certainty it brings to the lives of organizational members;

* A context for resource allocation and reallocation on campus; and

* Improvement of the institutions image.

The strategic planning process for distance education

The process of strategic planning for distance education should not be perceived as essentially different from other forms of academic planning. To seize opportunity while avoiding pitfalls, strategic planning permits an institution to gather data, to analyze information, and to rationally move toward the implementation of a plan that has a high probability of achieving expectations. Any strategic plan seeks to avoid common mistakes. In distance education these include: Premature selection of technology, emphasis on technical planning, and neglect of market factors and programs resources.

The traditional framework of a strategic academic plan still applies, however, the planning elements differ somewhat and the range and impact of elements to be considered often exceed that of other strategic academic planning processes. The planning process is not linear. Each module has an impact on others, hence the assessment of these interrelated impacts must be continual throughout the planning and implementation processes.

The mission statement

A clearly defined and articulated mission statement is essential to the development of a successful distance learning strategic plan. This mission statement is not just the generation of a carefully worded statement of purpose; it must also have accompanying supportive goals and objectives. It is important that these goals and objectives be available for use in the entire planning process. Their development will facilitate the planning teams understanding of the interrelationships and the needs of other units. There are different groups involved in a mission definition process. These include the offices of admission and registration, student counseling, continuing education, personnel from the schools or colleges involved with the actual educational delivery and of course, representatives from potential student populations.

The process must balance the necessity of a concise, clear mission statement with the potentially negative impacts of a strictly top-down process or the exclusion of key factions or individuals. This process will also identify the key groups to be involved in the remainder of the planning. Once the initial mission statement and participants are identified, the structure and tasks for the remainder of the planning process can be assigned. The first and most comprehensive of these steps is that of the environmental scan.

The environmental scan

The major topics of consideration for the environmental scan consist of customer analysis, provider analysis, evaluation of external factors, and assessment of internal factors.

Customer analysis

The evaluation of the market for distance education includes needs, resources, size, and demographics. Emphasis is on the need for a very practical and precise analysis of the market. Many of us have gone through the experience of identifying a large market for a particular program only to discover that this market existed only as a potential market.

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