Sustaining and Embedding Innovations - wiki JISC Sustaining and Embedding Innovations / Evaluating costs-benefits
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Evaluating costs-benefits

The evaluation of cost-benefits of e-learning investments is an area that is often avoided by institutions and projects due largely to the difficulties and complexities involved. JISC have funded studies to look into this area such as Tangible Benefits of e-Learning (2008) and details published by David Nicol, Nigel Kay, George Gordon and Michael Coen (2002) - A Model for Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of ICT in Teaching and Learning. This publication highlights the complexities involved, particularly in assessing benefits in a way that can be mapped to costs.


Some of the projects within the JISC Institutional approaches to curriculum design programme (which focuses on technology-supported approaches to curriculum design, approval and review) are evaluating their projects in terms of cost reductions e.g.

  • The University of Cardiff PALET project which is applying “lean” techniques to the curriculum design and validation process and is evaluating “before” and “after” scenarios in respect of e.g. staff time reduction.
  • Similarly, the University of Leicester DUCKLING project (Delivering university curricula: Knowledge, learning and innovation gains) under the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology programme is developing advanced delivery, presentation and assessment processes to enhance the work-based learning experience for students studying remotely – using technologies such as podcasting and e-book readers. The project has found that there are considerable cost savings to be made from e.g. savings in printing distance learning materials. The University has developed a cost/impact matrix which is useful for a top-level assessment of costs –v- impact.


(The University of Leicester Cost-Impact Matrix)


Other projects that demonstrate efficiencies/cost savings include:


  • University of Oxford CASCADE project – where the project is driven by the business strategy/plan e.g. to increase revenue and retention.
  • Lewisham College Making the New Diploma a Success project which is e.g. using e-portfolios to save assessment time, improve retention and completion times and reduce the need for printing.


However, despite some good examples of efficiencies and cost savings from innovation projects, the quantification of costs/benefits tends to have minimal attention paid to it at institutional, faculty/school and sector levels due largely to the non-existence of common and simple approaches. This all presents institutions with some difficulty in making decisions on prioritising investments in relation to e-learning.


What we need is an approach to cost/benefits that balances simplicity with accuracy and that focuses on impact of innovations. The University of Leicester has introduced a simplistic approach of using a quadrant that has impact and cost axes and seeks to evaluate innovation projects in terms of impact and cost, illustrating those projects that provide high impact with relatively low cost. Whilst this can be a little simplistic, it is a highly valuable tool in terms of helping academics and senior management teams to prioritise which innovations are best to focus on.


In ideal terms, the sector needs to develop an approach to cost/benefit analysis that perhaps identifies  where the impact lies and maybe provides some scaling/indicators for this (akin to some of the e-learning benchmarking tools) and is not as complex as the techniques outlined in A Model for Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of ICT in Teaching and Learning.