How to produce a successful part time university course

How Andrew Pollard produced a successful course at the Open University Business School

Andrew Pollard, was then an experienced OU academic course chairman. He was asked by the School of Management to produce a business course, provisionally called ‘The Business Environment’. The first task was to gather opinions about the proposed course from a wide variety of people out in “the real world”, among them directors of business development in large companies.
It soon became obvious that the term “business environment” was not at that time understood very clearly. What contacts said they wanted was a course on the “competitive environment”. In particular they wanted a course that helped them to analyse the competitive environment, including their competition, and then to help them make sense of the analysis and turn the analysis into action plans.
The course was to be part of the School of Management’s MBA offering and was also to be sold as a stand-alone course. It was therefore to serve two markets. The qualifications market and the skills market. While it had to have good academic quality it had also to be practical as well, teaching a set of skills and tools which students could use in their own careers and which could be rigorously tested in assessment.
Andrew set up a small course team with the BBC with which he produced audio and video teaching components. He also set up a strong evaluation process to test draft course materials. About 40 people were included as testers, made up of academics (including 4 professors) business managers and OU students.
Most of the first two drafts of the course were binned, but by that time it was clear what was required by the testers. Nine months after course production began the course was launched on time and within budget. Part of the course was pathbreaking. It was the first university course in Europe to include competitive intelligence and analysis.
The course title was changed to “Managing in the Competitive Environment”. It consisted of three main sections:

  • Know your Jungle – how to understand and analyse the competitive environment
  • Know Your Competitors – how to research and analyse your competitors
  • Do Something about it – translating analysis of the competitive environment and the competition into strategy

The course was very successful and made a lot of money for the OUBS. The lessons for other universities are very clear. If you want a new course to be successful there are five key success factors:

  1. Carry out sophisticated and wide raging market research
  2. Listen carefully to what your market contacts are saying to you
  3. Test drafts of your course on a range of testers (academic, business & student)
  4. Again, listen carefully to their comments and redraft
  5. Present the course clearly, attractively & make sure the teaching is good

Take a look at 2 other strategies which EMP has found are very important to universities:

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