The University of Idaho will invest more in distance learning online courses

ByMike V. Cooper

Feb 2, 2022

(TNS) – The University of Idaho hopes to build a stronger distance learning infrastructure and improve its online education offerings under recent initiatives.

Ken Udas, VP of Digital Learning Initiatives at User Interface, discussed e-learning strategies at a talk Tuesday as part of the Malcolm Renfrew Interdisciplinary Weekly Colloquium.

“The university’s online efforts are guided by the educational strategy,” he said. “The growth and quality of online learning is supported by a sustainable financial model.”

According to Udas, online learning should not drain university resources, but could in fact provide a return on investment over time.

Student success is at the center of online learning at the university, he added.

“E-learning supports digital innovation,” Udas said. “Functions are centrally coordinated so that student support services and technical service delivery become more seamless.”

In the spring of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UI President Scott Green established a task force to examine how the university could quickly enter the market for course delivery and online programs.

The goal was to examine the opportunities available in online education and develop a plan to establish a stronger distance learning infrastructure.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity for faculty to learn about online education and engage in the creation, delivery and management of online courses,” said a working group summary. “The previously perceived daunting task of developing an online course or program is now understood as an achievable teaching methodology and strategy.”

The Task Force for Online Education is one of six task forces at the university.

Based on the group’s findings, an initial investment of $1,048,809 is needed to create an online unit and start competing in the already crowded digital marketplace.

An additional $666,000 was also recommended to invest in technology and user experience improvements across the university system. The return on investment should exceed the additional costs.

“In the United States, during the 2013-2014 school year, residential enrollment declined,” Udas said. “For this period, we are seeing a net contraction of approximately 2 million students and distance learning has increased significantly.”

He says capacity building and investment in online learning is essential for the university.

“We need to do more than just improve our current processes,” he said. “We need to address and really address some provisions that challenge current standards.”

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