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Value Proposition for Distributed Learning

Exercise Instructions

Many of Penn's counterparts have made institutional commitments to distributed learning, some even going so far as to establish for-profit entities. Imagine that Penn was considering explicitly whether to invest in distributed learning as a university or simply allow schools and departments to make individual entrepreneurial efforts.

Senior leaders of the University have asked you to create a process that would help them assess the value of an investment in distributed learning to Penn as an institution. As a group, work through the following questions. Summarize highlights of your work on a flip chart legibly enough for others to read.

1. Sources of Value--Brainstorm a list of sources of value, using the following questions as guidelines:

  • What sources of revenue might be created or enhanced if Penn moved forward with distributed learning?
  • What risks might be avoided or decreased?
  • Which external relationships might be enhanced?
  • What other sources of value can you imagine? Consider the links to the world outside Penn. (For example, if faculty benefit from support for distributed learning, a value would be the ability to attract faculty.)

2. Prioritize--Take the list and set priorities for exploration by "voting" those sources you think are most likely to yield significant value.

3. Flesh Out--Using the top three (or five if you have enough time) sources of value, identify:

  • Whose input you would need to estimate value. Think concretely about individual people or sources of information.
  • Those units within Penn to which value would accrue. Again, be as specific as possible.
  • To what extent could you quantify the measures of value so that cost and value could be compared? What metrics could you use?

4. Applies Elsewhere?--Step back for a moment from distributed learning.

  • Which of these strategies and metrics for assessing value are also useful when considering whether to replace a large current application with a new one? What additional strategies and metrics would you see?
  • Is that a more--or less--complicated value proposition? Why?

5. Handoff--Today's retreat won't answer all the questions, much less figure out all the answers. Is there a natural "home" for the issue of developing a process for assessing the value of major investments at Penn: a group or role whose responsibility is to explore the issue and begin working on possible solutions? If not, identify the kinds of people who need to be involved.

6. Advice--All in all, what two or three pieces of early advice would you give to the people to whom you would hand this issue?

Exercise Results: Value from Large Change Processes


  • Influence the Provost and Deans to add distributed learning to their agenda
  • Encourage local product development; Central infrastructure and support of innovation is highly desirable (distributed learning, administrative processes, etc.)
  • Create a distributed learning committee to be convened by the Provost
  • Reinvest distributed learning profits back into the schools that develop successful programs; Feed innovation as an incentive to grow distributed learning on campus
  • Value faculty participation early in the process
  • Value curricular mechanism of each school when developing distributed learning processes University-wide
  • Examine the College of General Studies' distributed learning program and others for how to increase Penn's distributed learning offerings
  • Determine the level of grant funding that may exist
Outstanding Issues:
  • How do new distributed learning initiatives get off the ground?
  • Some Schools may be duplicating distributed learning efforts; some intra-Penn competition might already exist
  • Penn needs to do distributed learning for the following reasons (in order of importance as determined by the Work Group):
    1. Distributed learning enhances traditional classroom learning;
    2. Distributed learning enables greater attachment to Penn for students (Life-long learning, pre & post-Penn);
    3. Distributed learning provides Penn with additional revenue streams and opens Penn up to new markets;
    4. Distributed learning gives Penn a chance to reach those that reside outside of the Philadelphia metropolitan area; and,
    5. If Penn does NOT establish a cohesive distributed learning program menu, then the external market may fill the void; if we do nothing, we may lose prestige and credibility
Next Steps:
  • Develop a process for creating new programs at Penn for distributed learning
  • Write a business plan; Find a suitable business model
  • Launch a group that addresses steering for distributed learning that involves the Deputy Provost, associate deans, and the consortium of schools
  • Build bridges between and among schools on distributed learning over 1999-2000


A decision-making body that involves the Provost's leadership, as determined by the Work Group; The Executive Vice President's role is also essential for distributed learning's success University-wide.


Please note: This material is no longer current and appears online for archival purposes only.
Use the search and navigation tools above to locate more up-to-date materials, if they exist.

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