The Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) Strategy is an institutional strategy enabling faculty to choose and students to use quality no-cost and low-cost instructional materials, making college more affordable and students more successful.  The AL$ strategy has been developed and deployed by MERLOT and SkillsCommons, along with its institutional partners (e.g. the California State University System) for over the last 11 years and with the HBCUs over the last 4 years.

The graphic below provides the “ABC’s” of the AL$ strategy to guide an institution’s management of  the complex interactions and interdependencies of various stakeholders and campus resources.

E. Enabling Ecosystems with policies, leadership, and business models  D. Developing Demand with communications, training, and professional development  C. Creating Capabilities with convenient and affordable access to content through technologies  B. Building Bridges between siloed groups that need to collaborate  A. Aggregating Assets Identify all the resources, organizations, and people that can be part of the solution

The MERLOT-SkillsCommons AL$ strategy begins with the foundation of Aggregating Assets – identifying all the resources, organizations, and people that can help make the project a success.   For example, librarians, book store managers, faculty development directors, directors of centers for students with disabilities, directors of academic technology, CIOs, associate deans, provosts, financial aid staff, and business operations staff can all play a role in an institutional AL$ strategy.   Many of these people in these roles do not communicate with each other frequently or can even be “non-collaborative” on campus.

The next step is to Build Bridges between siloed groups by explaining how their collaboration will result in benefits to their organizations and to the common groups they serve: the faculty and students.  Building communication and project bridges will enable them to achieve these benefits with significantly less effort and cost than if they tried to do it themselves.

While Building Bridges focuses on people’s relationships and communications, Creating Conveniences is about using technologies to reduce people’s workloads to produce the affordability outcomes.  Working with the campus technology leaders and making sure the academic and business requirements are guiding the technology applications are critical for this step.   These “A, B, C’s” of AL$ are producing the campuses’ capacity to deliver an AL$ program but without Developing Demand for no-cost and low-cost instructional resources and AL$ services, the project will not be successful.

Developing Demand through communications, training, professional development, and communities of practice will enable faculty, students, and staff understand and be motivated to change their choices of high cost course materials to no/low cost materials.  It is essential for the multiple campus stakeholders to understand and believe in the value of making college more affordable by reducing the cost of course materials.   Reliable data about the degree and extent of students financial needs, such as the percentage of students eligible for Pell Grants or on some financial aid, or the percentage of student who are food insecure or homeless part of the year.   Your campus community needs to develop a deeper compassion for the economic state of your students if they are going to create a demand to change long-held practices of using higher cost, print textbooks.  A communication campaign by your campus leaders is essential for developing the campus demand for the AL$ program which in turn motivates people to participate in your initiative.

Demand is a reflection of a community’s values and to develop demand for a campus AL$ initiative, the campus leadership must Enable the Ecosystem with funding, campus policies, initiatives, partnerships, and business models.   The campus president, provost, deans, CFO, and other executives will need to at least incorporate the value of their AL$ strategy within the context of their campus strategic plan.  The following principles for an AL$ strategy can be incorporated into the campus governance and management of their initiative:

  • Choice:  Faculty will choose and use the open course materials that they decide are best for student learning. The AL$ Inititative will provide services that enable faculty to make informed choices.
  • Convenience:  The adoption and delivery processes for free, open, and low-cost materials will be easy, reliable, timely, customizable, and deemed successful by faculty and students.
  • Affordability: Free, open, and low-cost course materials will be readily available and substitutable for higher cost course materials, consequently lowering the cost of education for students.
  • Accessibility:  AL$ resources and services will meet accessibility requirements.
  • Responsiveness: AL$ services will be responsive to the faculty, student, and institutional needs and integrated into institutional academic, technology, and business practices.  The campus needs a shared-governance process to support participation and feedback about the AL$ services.
  • Sustainability: AL$ will be guided by the feasibility of sustaining service and will achieve sustainability by leveraging the existing staff, technologies, and resources of the campus, leveraging existing free and open educational resource collections and services; enabling customization through interoperability; and applying industry standards for technology and business practices when possible and appropriate.

AL$ Change Management Process:  You can do it!

The AL$ Framework presented above describes what a campus needs to do.   A change management process will help a campus plan how to implement their AL$ strategy.

Change Management Process

Examples of Campus AL$ Activities

Project Management for the Change Management Process A campus coordinator with the authority and respect within the campus community is provided the time, staffing, and funding to leverage and incentivize existing campus stakeholder groups to support AL$ and achieve their own goals.
Raise Awareness Communication and Outreach:  Presentations at standing meetings, memos, emails, & webinars.  Affordability is not about the cost of books but about what students can afford; for example,  40+% of California State University students are food insecure; 11% homeless; 49% on Pell Grants;
Develop Demand by Motivating Mindset and Actions Communication and Engagement with Institutional Priorities:  Presentations at standing meetings, memos, emails, and webinars to share 2018 Florida students’ responses to costs (survey)

  • 64% Not purchase  required textbook
  • 43% Take fewer courses
  • 36% Earn a poor grade
  • 23% Drop a course

Do you have a graduation Initiative?  Affordability is a retention & units/semester driver. Can academic senate policies support faculty leadership of OER/AL$ strategies? What are the campus-culture barriers?   What are some incentive programs for change?

Educate and Enable Actions with Convenient Capabilities to “Get What They Want” Technology Services, Library Discovery Services, and Curation:   Website portals, digital libraries, LMS integrations, connections to communities of practice all provide capabilities for faculty to choose no/low cost course materials.  MERLOT has over 7,500 free and open etextbooks across a wide range of disciplines. Did you know bookstores could provide 70% reduced prices with “Immediate Access” programs that can result in 85% of students purchasing the book?
Training & Professional Development:   Conduct workshops to discover, adopt, and adapt the no/low cost options for quality course materials for their courses.
Support Success and Resolve Problems Encountered In Implementation Help & Support Services and Providing Print Copies:  Bookstores and libraries are staffed to help but they need help to learn how to support AL$.
Celebrate Measureable Outcomes Recognition Events by Campus Leadership:   Public celebrations, recognition ceremonies, and awards hosted by campus leaders reinforce the institutional value of the AL$ program.