Costs of E-Learning Support: A Hong Kong Study of Costs for Supplemental E-Learning and Impact on Institutional Planning

Costs of E-Learning Support: A Hong Kong Study of Costs for Supplemental E-Learning and Impact on Institutional Planning

Paul Lam (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China), Josephine Csete (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China) and Carmel McNaught (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-597-1.ch018
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Abstract

Understanding e-learning costs informs decision making on support for the development and implementation of teaching and learning technologies in higher education. This chapter describes costs and processes in a central e-learning support service that is especially applicable to face-to-face universities that use e-learning in a blended or supplemental mode. We differentiate three types of costs: infrastructure costs that are less sensitive to variation in the complexity of e-learning strategies, and e-development and e-delivery costs that are directly related to the nature of the strategies used. Using actual data from a three-year e-learning support project (e3Learning) with 139 sub-projects, the chapter illustrates how the calculations promoted an understanding of e-learning in the following four aspects: 1) total cost of running an e-learning support service, 2) individual costs attributable to each of the sub-projects, 3) ‘price-tags’ of e-learning strategies, and 4) initial exploration of the cost-effectiveness issue. Institutional decisions made as a consequence of this study are described.
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Studies Of Costs In Different Modes Of E-Learning Use

Twigg (2003) described e-learning modes using three classifications. The substantially online mode represents cases where teaching is mainly conducted online, and e-learning is the sole mode of delivery; this applies most often to distance-education institutions. The replacement mode represents cases where the technology is intended to substitute for at least some of the traditional classroom activities. In the supplemental mode, e-learning is used to assist the traditional face-to-face teaching, and very often there is little change to the class activities. There have been studies of costs in each of the three modes of e-learning use and their approaches tend to differ.

In the substantially online mode, e-learning costs are relatively easy to identify as a substantial portion of the institution’s costs are related to the development and maintenance of the e-learning environment. Typically, these costs may include staff expenses, administration expenses, and preparation and delivery of online materials and activities. Bassi (2000) suggested grouping these costs into fixed costs (costs that tend to stay the same regardless of student size), and marginal costs (costs that increase per student head multiplied by the number of learners served). There is also a distinction between direct and indirect costs among these fixed and marginal costs. The direct costs are money paid for services and equipment: trainers’ compensation, material development, material production and material distribution. The indirect costs are opportunity costs that teachers and departments, for example, pay through sacrificing some other revenue-generating activities because of their engagement in e-learning. In a professional training context, the indirect costs can also include opportunity costs of learners or compensation paid to them by their organizations in supporting them to study.

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