Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rock the ThirdWay!

ThirdWay@ASU won Pearson Product of the Year at this year's National Sales Meeting in San Diego a couple of weeks ago. It was the first year in the history of Pearson that something other than a textbook has ever received that honor. The prize is shared by a lot of people who have worked together for more than a year and a half to make this new experiment in Public/Private educational partnership successful, on both the ASU and Pearson teams.

The ASU team is led by Dr. Phil Regier, former Executive Dean of the WP Carey School of Business, now VP and Dean of ASU Online. His first officer is Assistant Vice President Kari Barlow, whose previous assignment at ASU was leading the Strategic Technology Alliance program for ASU's Technology Office. Under Phil's leadership, ASU Online has completely reinvented itself to become an emerging leader in online education. For example, in this year's US News and World Report ranking of online bachelor's degrees, ASU Online was rated #1, FIRST, THE BEST in Student Services and Technology out of nearly 1000 responding institutions. As a direct result of the ThirdWay partnership, ASUOnline is now growing faster, serving more students, and delivering online education at an extremely high level of quality.

On the Pearson side, Matt Leavy, Melanie Biel, Marijean Hamilton, Allison King and Kevin Molloy were backed up by a cast of hundreds of Pearson employees and partners who helped ASU completely reinvent their online offering. Working side by side with their ASU Online colleagues, the Pearson team has helped ASU in every aspect of the marketing, recruiting, advising, design and delivery of its online education.
To ensure the quality, reputation and integrity of the ASU Online brand, ASU faculty design and teach every online course, and are also responsible for establishing and enforcing all instructional and academic policies. But the Pearson team provides technology, content, expertise and support services for every aspect of the student lifecycle including:

  • Pearson LearningStudio as the online learning platform for all courses; 
  • Academic Enterprise Reporting to monitor and analyze trends in student performance; 
  • Learning Outcome Manager for tracking the achievement of learning objectives and goals; 
  • Enrollment services including engagement, retention and student support; 
  • Prospect and lead generation services 
  • Admissions support services to better connect with and keep students engaged during every stage of the enrollment process. 
The match between the Pearson ThirdWay offering and tthe ASU Technology Strategy is uncanny. In 2009, ASU was actively seeking a new model for accelerating its online offering. In the midst of a 10 year plan to expand the size and scope of the University while simultaneously raising its academic quality, ASU had already become the nation's largest residential university.
But President Michael Crow's vision for a New American University did not stop with residential education. Since 2005, he had pushed his institution to develop an online school of similar size and quality -- setting a goal of 100,000 distance learners inside of a decade. But after two failed bootstrapping attempts, President Crow knew that he would have to find expertise and investment from the private sector in order to compete online with giant for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix. Determined to maintain online the same educational standard of excellence found on ground at ASU, he nevertheless needed a new kind of partner if the New American University was to be a significant player in online education.
Since 2005 ASU has followed a technology strategy known as Strategic Technology Alliance. Quoting from the UTO's 2006 strategy document:
To meet rising student expectations and create a system of scalable academic excellence the University must turn from the direct provisioning of basic services to the aggressive application of information technologies to the core missions of learning and discovery.  
ASU will accomplish this turn through Strategic Technology Alliances – aligning the institution’s technology services strategy with the strategic technology directions of private sector partners who operate at scales 1000 times that of ASU’s. Strategic Technology Alliance will dramatically accelerate the institution’s technology platform development while simultaneously allowing the university to focus more of its talent and core resources on the application of this rapidly advancing platform to increasing student success, enhancing the learning environment and advancing ASU’s research agenda. 
In order to keep pace with accelerating technical change, and to extract as much value from the burgeoning power of all things digital, ASU sought to extract itself from the direct provisioning of technology services and instead identify private industry partners who, because of their scale and focus, were better positioned to harness accelerating capabilities at scale.
In a blog post from 2006, I outlined the strategy this way:
Vertically integrated enterprises (like Universities) can use a Core vs. Context analysis to focus resources to achieve leadership. Core activities are those which a firm must concentrate their own talent, management, and internal resources on, because they are central to the enterprise strategy. Context activities, by contrast, are those that might be reasonably provided to the firm in partnership with other firms for whom those activities are Core.... 
...if ASU can find a strategic ally who can assume responsibility for a major part of a Context service -- an ally for whom ASU's Context is Core, an ally that provides that service at a scale orders of magnitude beyond ASU's size, a partner subject to competitive pressures that force it to adapt more quickly than ASU is capable of adapting -- then I say we should seek those alliances. So I propose that, as part of its technology plan, ASU seek to establish a set of strategic alliances and work with those allies to build an integrated platform that provides those Context services going forward, a platform influenced by the technology visions of the allies as well as by ASU's goals. 
In each sector, we want to identify the broadest swath of activity that would be Core to an alliance partner, and identify a timeline for transitioning more of this activity -- over a period of months, or even years if need be -- from direct ASU management and ownership in favor of technology allies whose core business is to provide those services. I believe these alliances are the gateway to developing a technology platform that can more closely track the state of the art and allow ASU to focus its resources on the use of technology in its core businesses. 
ThirdWay is a textbook example of this Core v Context approach. Under ThirdWay, ASU focuses on the Core issues of student success, academic rigor and quality. These are clearly Core for the institution. Pearson focuses on providing the widest possible range of support services, which provide the Context for ASU's Core. These services can be Core for Pearson because we provide them to a wide variety of institutions across the country, at a scale much greater than ASU alone. 
Pearson is invested in the success of the overall venture. Unlike product models, where the institution purchases specific services and technologies and then bears responsibility for making them work in the field, ThirdWay makes Pearson a true partner. ASU and Pearson pursue ASUOnline's goals together, and Pearson only makes money if the venture meets the growth and success goals the enterprise sets for itself. 
It's a great theory -- if I do say so myself-- but it's especially gratifying to see it play out successfully for ASU and Pearson. ThirdWay promises to be an important offering for us this year, and I expect I will be writing about it some more in the weeks to come. So I wanted to say a public thank you to Matt, Melanie, Marijean, Allison, Kevin, Kari, and the extraordinary team that has proved this model out and shown us all how a new kind of Public/Private partnership can make the impossible possible... 
Rock the Third Way!