The Virtualization of University Education: Concepts, Strategies and Business Models

September 15, 2003

In this paper I contribute to the current debate on the adoption of virtual education practices at universities by proposing that there are three separate but related modes of educational virtualization: technological virtualization, geographical virtualization and organizational virtualization. I argue that while each type of virtualization can develop in its own right, independently of the others, there are a number of practical forces at work that pressure most universities to simultaneously combine more than one type of virtualization. The really interesting challenge for educational managers and strategists is to discern some general principles governing the optimal pattern of the relationships between the three different types of virtualization. In taking the first step towards addressing this challenge I outline some basic business principles associated with the virtualization of university education. I conclude by arguing that the choice of educational mode should not be driven by naive and uncritical acceptance of the latest technology. The choice of technologies and the choice of technical systems by universities should be driven by pedagogical, organizational, and geographic considerations, together with a prudent assessment of appropriate business models.

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