Teaching & Learning Tips

A collection of tips and tools designed to aid in transitioning instruction online.

Launching a New Program: Key Tasks and Timelines

Apr 16, 2021

Thinking of launching a new program? Perhaps a degree, a certificate, a Coursera Specialization, or a non-credit sequence of courses? Being aware of the time it takes to adequately plan and prepare for the launch of such a program will help avoid headaches down the line. The key steps required in launching a program include market research, financial planning, program design, gaining necessary approvals, managing faculty and instructors, marketing and recruitment, course development, onboarding students and learners, delivering the actual courses, program evaluation, and any sort of graduation or credential-awarding process. For a full degree program, it can take over two years before the first day of class to have everything prepared; non-credit programs require substantially less time.  

Let’s break-down these steps and explore more closely the time that may be involved for each. Note that these steps are not necessarily linear and that some steps can take place at the same time. Each step can also have a wide-range of timelines associated with it, depending upon a number of factors. Furthermore, programs that are funded through a grant process might accomplish the first few steps as part of submitting the grant proposal, wait several months before being awarded the grant and then resuming with the other steps. Every situation is unique! For a detailed analysis of what your program might expect, contact CITL’s Program Management team. 

Market Research (2-3 Months) 

Knowing with confidence how many potential learners or students may be interested in your program enables you to make better decisions regarding whether to proceed, what pricing to use, what specialized content would attract folks, who your potential competition might be, and what the competitive edge might be for your program. CITL can provide market research services both in-house and through our partner Eduventures. The process takes two-to-three months and there may be a queue of other studies. You are not required to work with CITL in this or any other stage of developing a program. 

Financial Planning (1-3 Months) 

Armed with a better understanding of the potential market, some projections of potential enrollments, along with some analysis of what costs might be associated with developing and delivering your program, you can project potential revenues for your program over multiple years. This is important to consider when making a decision in the early stages about whether to continue pursuing the program. CITL can help you identify determine whether your program (if credit-bearing) would be considered self-supporting, establish enrollment goals, and aid in revenue planning. 

Program Design (1-4 Months) 

The program design phase is about planning for future actions that will be taken. Where might you reach-out to your target audience? What do we know about that audience that should be kept in mind when designing the program as a whole and any courses within it? What are the goals and objectives for the program? What technologies should be made consistent across the program and where can there be flexibility? When will courses be developed and by whom? What strategies will be used to evaluate the program? CITL can share how several other programs from across campus have answered these same questions and advise you on strategies that might work well for your situation. 

Approvals (1 Month to Multiple Years) 

What approvals are needed vary significantly based on the type of credential you intend to offer. Delivering a single MOOC on the Coursera platform requires only approvals internal to your department and possibly college. Non-transcriptable college-level certificates a little bit more. Campus-level transcriptable certificates and degrees, however, require approvals all the way through the Faculty Senate, Board of Trustees, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and ultimately our accrediting body, Higher Learning Commission. Such approvals take not less than one year and often longer. 

Faculty Management (1-4 Months) 

Depending on the scope of the program and how involved faculty were in conceiving of the idea, you may need to recruit faculty to teach the program. This involves figuring out, at a high level, when they will develop the courses, whether that will be done “on load” or “off load,” etc. This is also a good time, especially for larger programs, to orient faculty to the program and provide them with any training that may streamline the later course development process. CITL’s Faculty Development team can offer such workshops and our Program Management team can help organize faculty orientations. We also recommend regular, perhaps yearly, check-ins of the entire faculty involved in a program to offer updates on the program, highlight recent successes, and anticipate future directions. 

Marketing and Recruitment (6-12 Months) 

Maximizing the enrollment funnel starts with early planning and execution on marketing strategy. Typically a system is set up for collecting expressions of interest from potential applicants and these folks are followed-up with over time. CITL can set up an instance of Slate, our customer relationship management (CRM) system to handle exactly this. We can also help you identify an applications and registration period for your first cohort of students. Note, for Coursera-based MOOCs and Specializations, most of this is handled entirely by Coursera. 

Course Development (About 6-Months Before Each Course Launches) 

Unless you already have courses developed in the proper format, online courses typically require substantial work to develop them before the course is first taught. This time varies greatly based on a number of factors, but planning around six months is a good starting point. CITL’s Instructional Design, Instructional Media Resources, and eText teams offer a number of support solutions based on the needs of your courses. CITL’s Program Management team can help get your course needs scheduled for the support they need. 

Course and Program Evaluations (1-2 Months) 

Once your courses are running, you’ll likely want to evaluate how well they and the entire program are meeting the needs of your students. CITL can help you plan, design, deploy, and analyze surveys and their data to your students. 

Special Events 

Some programs benefit from employing webinars and other special events throughout the student’s time in a program. For some, this can include an online graduation ceremony for those unable to travel to campus. CITL’s various teams can help you plan and advertise these events as well as provide the production and technical support to carry them off flawlessly.