Approach Experiences from a “Product Line” Perspective

Types of “Product Lines”

More and more institutions are approaching the development of online programs like “product lines”.  These product lines interpret each model of online learning experience from the lens of an overall strategy that encompasses a number of interacting elements within a large institutional approach to online courses, programs, micro-credentials, etc.

Elements of Types of Learning Experiences

There are a variety of components that are relevant across the different types of online learning experiences.  These categorial components include:

  • Audience (type of learner)
  • Relationship to Credit
  • Relationship to Time
  • Financial Model
  • Faculty Role

Each of these elements combine within each type of learning experience.  Even within each type of learning experiences there are a great diversity of how those elements combined to create unique experiences.


Who is the targeted learner?  Previous assumptions for online learning included that these courses and programs were best for post-traditional learners; however, the declining numbers of learners taking courses exclusively face-to-face indicates an increased desire on the part of more “traditional” learners to participate in online learning experiences.

Many programs are, however, designed to target post-traditional learners, working adults, those seeking to complete a degree that they stopped out of, or those seeking graduate education to further their careers.

Relationship to Credit

Though fully online degrees for credit are still the majority of higher education-related credentials, the rising importance of non-credit training experiences that have immediate workforce relevance indicates a subtle shift.  Additionally, there is an increased focus on the use of Prior Learning Assessment and Competency-Based Education, both of which enable a transition of non-credentialed learning into credit.

Relationship to Time

Though there have been accelerated degree programs for quite some time, including cohort-based programs, the emphasis on self-pacing is gaining traction within higher education.  Post-traditional learners in particular are selecting time-variable options that enable them to accelerate degree completion.

Financial Model

Financial models are evolving in higher education.  Boise State University, for example, announced in June 2018 an experiment with a standard subscription-based pricing modelWestern Governors University utilizes a six-month low-cost subscription model.  Some universities provide innovative pay models for B2B (Business-to-Business) pay structures like that offered by Walmart through University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University and Starbucks and Arizona State University.

Faculty Role

Many institutions employ traditional faculty models in online courses and online programs.  However, institutions that have scaled online programs rely largely on a model whereby courses are centrally designed and developed.  Some of these institutions distribute the faculty role into facilitation of online courses, an increased reliance on adjuncts, and support through coaching and etutoring.  Some CBE models also use a separate role for assessment only, supporting blind assessment.

An example of how these elements interact across product lines can be found in the table below.

Product Lines with MOOCs

There are many analogies to how approaches to building out a range of educational opportunities online can be effective, the product line approach is just one.

Thanks for reading!


Blackmore, P., & Kandiko, C. (2012). Strategic curriculum change: Global trends in universities. Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

Fain, P. (October 28, 2016).  Blackboard study on how instructors use the LMS. From: