Course Licensing

Course licensing is by far the most common means of providing a comprehensive curriculum. There are a large and growing number of commercial providers that vary greatly in the types of courses they offer, the quality of the courses, and the cost. Most vendors offer several of the following options.

Per-Enrollment Models

In per-enrollment models, you pay per semester enrollment (or sometimes per year-long enrollment). There are several common types of per-enrollment models, and each type can vary among vendors in its nuances. It is important to find out what is and isn’t included in order to make valid comparisons. In all cases, tiered pricing generally provides lower costs with the purchase of larger numbers of enrollments.

Tuition-Model:The vendor supplies the content, hosts the course and provides the teacher. Payment is based on the number of students who enroll in the course.

  • A major benefit: Minimal local professional or technical requirements make this relatively easy to implement, especially as a program starting point or with low-enrollment courses.
  • A major challenge: Using teachers supplied by the vendor may raise issues with teacher contracts and/or licensure rules.
  • Questions to ask: What is the vendor’s grace period during which a student can drop the course without being charged as an enrollment? What provisions and expectations are there for a local person to monitor progress and support the student?

Per-Student-Enrollment: Very similar to the tuition model, except that the local program provides the teacher. The vendor supplies the content, and sometimes hosting. If the course is hosted locally, the vendor typically requests a report at the beginning and end of each quarter, semester or year to determine how many enrollments were used and to adjust the billing accordingly.

  • A major benefit: Much less expensive than the tuition model, and the program uses its own local teachers.
  • A major challenge: Local teachers may be new to online instruction and need significant professional development.
  • Questions to ask: How is hosting provided? If the program hosts the courses, is there a cost to upload the courses into the program’s LMS?

Per-Seat-Enrollment: In this variation on the per-student-enrollment, you pay for a seat in the class for a specified amount of time, usually one year. When one student finishes the class (or withdraws), another student can fill the seat without an additional enrollment fee. In other seat-based models, you pay for a specific student’s seat in the virtual school. That student can then complete an unlimited number of courses in the time frame allowed. As is the case with the per-student-enrollment model, sometimes the vendor also provides hosting.

  • A major benefit: Can be very cost-effective with some courses and some student populations.
  • A major challenge: Uncertainty about how long a student will take to finish the class can make planning difficult for the schedules of that student and the next one who will take the seat.
  • Questions to ask: Is there any allowance for carryover from one year to the next, particularly if a student is part way through the course when the time period ends?

Annual Models

Annual licenses typically permit the program to use the content for one year. Pricing is generally tiered based on the number of student enrollments, the number of seats, or the overall size of the school. Licenses can be for content only or for content and hosting in an LMS. Price can decrease if a program contracts for multiple years.

  • A major benefit: Can be cost effective compared to per-enrollment models and less expensive than perpetual models. In some cases, programs have the ability to modify courses.
  • A major challenge: Comparing the cost of annual models to per-enrollment models and perpetual models can be difficult if the number of anticipated enrollments is uncertain.
  • Questions to ask: Does the program have the ability to modify the courses, and if so, can modified courses be saved and replicated for multiple years?

Perpetual Models

In perpetual models, the program purchases the course for permanent ownership. Although the program does not purchase the copyright or own the intellectual property, it purchases a license to use the course in perpetuity. The course content is delivered to the program for uploading into the program’s own LMS.

  • A major benefit: The program owns the course for the long term and can generally modify the course to meet its own needs.
  • A major challenge: Upfront cost is high.
  • Questions to ask: Does the vendor have an update service that keeps the course(s) current? If so, is it required, how much does it cost, and how often are courses updated?

Membership Models

Membership models are used in consortia of school districts and some nationwide programs. In these models, the program buys a membership in a consortium that provides the content. The consortium may be made of local school districts or may be a nationwide provider. Typically annual memberships, the cost may be based on the number of enrollments, seats or general program size. In some cases, member programs are expected to train and provide teachers who then teach classes for the consortium as part of their workload.

  • A major benefit: The membership organization often provides professional development and a supportive professional learning community.
  • A major challenge: In some cases, teachers can come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and school cultures.
  • Questions to ask: What is the breakdown of all the costs involved? What are all of the responsibilities of the local program?