The following document was approved in June 1995 during preliminary planning for the Indiana College Network. The vision of innovative services and student-centered focus remain today in learning centers across the state. What have changed are the varieties of learning centers and governance now operating. The following document is rich with descriptions of learning center functions and student-service models.

1. Learning centers and three-tiered distance education delivery model

Learning Centers can be viewed as the education providers physical and social point of presence with the distance learner. As such, learners should expect to find an array of functions and services supporting their distance education activities offered at or facilitated through the Learning Center site.

Under the three-tiered model (see: ISPE Management Plan, Attachment 3) the Learning Center serves a unique role. While a model Learning Center probably should contain a receive site, its identity is distinctly different from a receive site. Unlike receive sites (and individual learning sites) that function mainly as places for receiving delivery of courses, Learning Centers provide multipurpose settings offering academic and administrative services and facilities supporting both distance education learners and providers. Furthermore, unlike Learning Centers serving a single distance education provider, IPSE endorsed Learning Centers must support distance education delivered by all IPSE originating and home institutions.

2. Responsibilities of education providers, IPSE, and Learning Centers

For Learning Centers to exercise their identities in the current and future IPSE distance education delivery system, unique roles and responsibilities of primary entities constituting the system should be explicit. Primary entities in the current system are: educational providers (i.e., home institutions, originating institutions, and receive sites), Learning Centers, and IPSE/IHETS (IPSE working group). Unique roles of other entities expected to engage the system (i.e., Indiana Commission for Higher Education, Access Indiana, local community agencies, secondary education, and organizations of distance education learners) should at some appropriate time also be delineated. Currently, many of these entities are participating in the system through one or more of the primary roles.

Educational providers

  • Home institutions are assumed responsible for developing and delivering (at or through Learning Centers) student academic support services. Home institutions are also responsible for assuring all necessary administrative record keeping and maintaining the quality of the content of support services.
  • Originating institutions are assumed responsible for creating and delivering instructional content and courseware (including necessary supporting instructional material). Originating institutions are also responsible for grading processes, instructional evaluation, and instructional quality.
  • Receive and/or individual learning sites. These sites assume responsibility for assuring availability and maintenance of adequate space and equipment for receiving instruction offered over satellite, cable, or other telecommunications or computing technologies. Currently, receive sites are also responsible for assuring audio communication with the originating institution.

IPSE/IHETS

Overall coordination of the IPSE distance education delivery system is the primary role assumed for IPSE/IHETS. Such responsibilities include: (1) contracting with Learning Centers, (2) establishing criteria and processes for deploying Learning Centers, (3) IPSE curriculum, (4) assuring a statewide distance education communication infra-structure with appropriate technical guidance or support and (5) assuring quality control processes for all aspects of the delivery system.

IPSE/IHETS

Learning Centers serve both IPSE institutions and distance learners. Learning Centers function to: (1) provide learners with access to academic resources (i.e., library, Internet) and instructional support material (2) provide access to guidance and student support services offered by home institutions, (3) provide administrative linkage between education providers and the distance learner, (4) offer direct technical and logistical support for distance learners, (5) offer a setting to facilitate study, self-assessment and socialization among learners.

3. Desirable characteristics of a learning center

Effective Learning Centers operating in a dynamic educational delivery system will exhibit flexibility and adaptability. A form follows function strategy will enable Learning Centers to be tailored to particular communities to assure: (1) the necessary complement of functions to meet support needs of learners and educational providers in those settings and (2) that functions are offered in the form and qualities desired by community learners and endorsed by the educational providers. This strategy does not dictate a single type of Learning Center, but instead advocates for multiple types of Learning Centers, each of which (1) operates effectively within a particular community setting and (2) assures availability of a set of support functions delivered in form(s) that incorporate desirable characteristics of quality.

For the learner, any set of support functions should exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Accessible - The Learning Center should be accessible within a 20-minute drive for at least 80 percent of distance learners using the center. The center and all common support functions should be available to any distance learner during regular operating hours and operating hours should explicitly accommodate evening and weekend preferences of distance learners using the facility. Learners with disabilities will be assured access to the facility no less than that which they would receive on campuses of the educational providers. Adequate and convenient parking should be available.
  • Convenient - Necessary support functions such as: electronic communication with home and originating institutions, academic advising, instructional material support, should be made available in forms that have strong student service orientation; that is, they are efficient, convenient for students, and easily accessible.
  • Comprehensive - The array of support functions available through the Learning Center should be sufficiently broad, not only to assist learners in appropriate course placement and completion, but also to orient learners to distance education technologies, academic degree programs, career guidance, personal development and personal skill competencies (i.e. study skills, social skills, technology skills).
  • Supportive and enjoyable - The architecture of the Learning Center setting (i.e., space, facilities, and the demeanor of Learning Center staff) should be deliberately designed to be inviting and enjoyable to distance learners. Obtrusive, impersonal, insensitive center attributes should be replaced with patient staff, comfortable attractive student-oriented facilities, personable policies, and non-threatening procedures. A Learning Center atmosphere resembling a student union is preferable.

For the educational providers (home and originating institutions) the Learning Center should:

Accurately and efficiently perform administrative, communicative, and support roles delegated by each home and originating institution and IPSE. Each Learning Center represents all IPSE institutions to distance learners. While particular types of Learning Center services will often differ from services available on main campuses, Learning Center services should be performed at no less than the level any distance education student could expect on any of the IPSE campuses.

Reliably and consistently deliver support services with explicit quality control procedures in place to monitor and periodically report distance learner satisfaction with services, facilities, and processes.

For the community in which the Learning Center is situated, the Learning Center should:

Initially and regularly assess community needs for distance education and support services. Learning Centers should be supported by their community. New Learning Centers should not unnecessarily duplicate existing Learning Centers previously established and endorsed by IPSE to serve the same community. In addition to providing support services to distance learners, Learning Centers should engage the community in utilizing academic, economic and social benefits of continuing education.

4. Types of Learning Centers

Learning Centers represent an array of required support services and added amenities offered in settings designed to serve both education providers and distance learners in particular communities. Because centers should be designed around needs of particular communities of learners, it is to be expected that no single design will serve all communities. Learning Centers optimally designed for local culture and needs may indeed be attached to, owned or managed by local agencies, public or private institutions, entrepreneurial enterprises, or corporations. For now, issues of Learning Center finance are subordinate to issues enabling optimal center design.

Rather than predetermine a single model for ownership and setting design, various combinations of ownership and settings should be allowed so long as that combination optimizes: (1) the ability of the center to offer an adequate array of services to local learners, (2) the ability to act as a reliable and effective agent for educational providers and (3) simultaneously maintain quality services as an enterprise valued by the community. Four generic types of Learning Center contractors are envisioned.

  • Type AHome institution contractor offering public access
    This type of Learning Center is managed by an IPSE home institution and is open to anyone taking IPSE sponsored courses. Typically such centers are on-campus but may be off-campus (i.e. Ball State off-campus Learning Centers).
  • Type BCommunity agency contractor offering public access
    Similar to type A, this Learning Center is open to anyone taking IPSE sponsored courses but is owned or managed by a public agency within the local community. Public libraries, educational service centers, or other community organizations are illustrative examples.
  • Type CPrivate contractor offering public access
    Learning Centers owned or managed by for-profit firms who agree to open the center to anyone taking IPSE sponsored courses are candidates for Type C. In order to return a profit, these centers would be expected to offer other auxiliary services designed to provide goods and services for profit (i.e., academic supplies, computer and video equipment rental, child care, food and beverage services, or other personal services enterprises) in conjunction with the centers required support services.
  • Type DPrivate contractor restricting public access
    Large corporations may wish to own and provide special private Learning Centers on-site to their employees. Such centers would necessarily meet all requirements for Type A, B, or C centers, but would limit access to only corporation employees or restrict access to particular schedules or concentrate upon certain support services particularly needed by corporation employees. However, these constraints would not interfere with either the quality of support services offered, or the ability of the Learning Center to serve the education providers.

IPSE might expect Type C and D centers to enter into a contractual arrangement that, in addition to delineating roles, responsibilities, and performance standards, might also involve franchise fees payable to IPSE. Furthermore, such centers would not necessarily be expected to exclusively promote IPSE programs. One would expect such centers to aggressively court other distance education providers in order to diversify offerings to their learners and expand their potential markets and services. Finally, pricing structures for these particular centers could be expected to vary with the market demand for diversified and/or enriched learner support services.

5. Learning Center requirements

Flexibility to tailor functions to particular communities with the ability to adapt to changing community needs and delivery technologies seems to demand that the requirements of a Learning Center should follow its function. Expected functions of any Learning Center are described through 1996 in the IPSE management plan (attachments 3 and 4). There are no doubt many creative approaches to staffing, equipment and facilities that can provide these minimal support functions.

Ultimately, under a decentralized Learning Center network, those who own or manage Learning Centers are responsible for building those forms that best enable them to deliver services. They must decide what they expect to do and how they intend to do it. No doubt examples of how others operate Learning Centers will be helpful, but such models should not be dictatorial. So long as the Learning Center can perform its functions effectively, assure learner and educational provider satisfaction, and manage the process efficiently, the manner in which it is accomplished is of less importance.

For example, if the service function is to assure student access to email and common software, it is not as necessary to require a particular type of computer as it is to require that the student can easily use common software and e-mail. A 486 PC with 8 Mb RAM loaded with Windows, Eudora, and Microsoft office is nearly functionally equivalent to a Power PC running Windows emulation, and/or Eudora and Microsoft office for the Mac. This is particularly important for a Type C Learning Center in a corporation dominated by Mac users, or in a library serving a community divided in computer familiarity. In both instances, more attention to training on the software (the service function) is possible if learners use hardware familiar and comfortable for them.

The essential requirement for a Learning Center is its ability to demonstrate to IPSE/IHETS that it is capable of performing necessary functions effectively, efficiently, and continuously.

What is needed is a management or business plan delineating exactly how the prospective Learning Center intends to provide those minimum areas of support (IPSE Management Plan: Attachment 3) and those standard services (IPSE Management Plan: Attachment 4), and how the Learning Center plans to assure quality control in providing those services.

IPSE/IHETS might consider developing a business plan template (and/or associated template software) outlining the essential elements of a business plan (and including resource materials such as sample Learning Centers, technology options, educational provider administrative protocols, etc.) necessary for creating a plan and provide such a kit to prospective Learning Centers for their completion. Completed plans could then be consistently reviewed against standard criteria or plans could be competitively judged against other plans.

Successful business plans would likely include:
1. A community needs assessment to measure demand for services,
2. An array of services and support functions expected to be offered
3. A plan for incorporating desirable characteristics into the Learning Center
4. A resource, equipment, space, and staffing architecture
5. A financing plan
6. A plan to integrate a quality control process into the Learning Center

6. Identification and selection of Learning Centers

An IPSE/IHETS system for developing a statewide network of Learning Centers should be predicated upon: (1) a strategy to guide the deployment of Learning Centers statewide, (2) criteria for judging the acceptability of potential Learning Centers within statewide IPSE/IHETS selection guidelines, and (3) a clear process for identifying, judging, selecting, contracting with, and subsequently evaluating the performance of selected Learning Centers.

Statewide strategy for selecting Learning Centers

Assuming that viable prospective Learning Centers meet criteria assuring quality services, statewide guidelines for selecting Learning Centers should be based, with equal emphasis, upon the following (i.e., sufficient selection conditions):

  • Maximize the number of citizens expected to be served
  • Assure an affordable pricing structure for necessary services
  • Assure equitable, non-redundant geographic coverage across the state
  • Document explicit community support for the Learning Center
  • Minimize annual state funding directly subsidizing Learning Centers


Under an open process, IPSE/IHETS should annually invite applications from prospective Learning Centers of all types. Selection guidelines (described above) should be stated in operational terms each year and incorporated with other criteria into that years basis for judging the acceptability of potential Learning Centers.

For example, to operationalize the guidelines for 1997 might require that any Learning Center approved in 1997 must: (1) expect to serve no less than 20 students per semester, (2) exhibit a net pricing structure for necessary services such that the student will pay no more than 60 percent of the statewide average cost of delivering those services, (3) serve a geographic area of the state not currently served by an existing Learning Center, (4) provide documented evidence of community support, and (5) exhibit a financing plan that would require direct state funding of no more than $___ annually.

Criteria for judging Learning Centers

In order for any Learning Center to be accepted by IPSE it must meet certain necessary conditions. These conditions are:

  • A clearly stated, complete six component business plan described in Learning Center requirements.
  • Each component of the business plan must include sufficient specificity for the IHETS/IPSE review team to understand exactly where, how, with what resources, when, and who will implement the plan.
  • The business plan shall clearly describe the type and amount of technical and financial support expected from IHETS/IPSE, and other sources (if so specified).
  • The business plan shall be evaluated relative to the above conditions and within the statewide strategy for selecting Learning Centers.

7. Financing Learning Centers

To assure equitable access to quality Learning Centers designed to meet local community needs across the state (and subsequently beyond), a flexible finance structure is needed. Such a structure should acknowledge the following principles:

  • Opportunity for Learning Centers of various types to coexist and prosper in order that distance learners will have adequate high quality choices to meet their particular needs.
  • Learning Centers provide a service support function to academic program delivery and while they must be connected to program providers, they need not be financed integrally as a part of course and program delivery.
  • Long term success of Learning Centers requires a clear acknowledgment of (1) start up costs, (2) marketing costs, (3) operating costs, (4) upgrade costs . . . and most importantly (5) total costs.
  • To assure consumer satisfaction and long term adaptability of the Learning Center network, structures to finance Learning Centers should emphasize free market competition that is predicated upon meeting consumer needs.

Recommended finance program

Considering the above principles, a network of statewide Learning Centers could be stimulated and partially supported by the state under the following finance program.

This program assumes that:

  • Each Learning Center operates through its own realistic self-supporting finance plan, as defined in its business plan.
  • Revenue sources for each plan shall be some combination of student fees, community or state support, and private resources.
  • Modest start-up competitive state grants would be available for non-profit entities to establish Learning Centers (i.e. for space renovation, equipment, setting architecture)
  • IHETS/IPSE technical assistance would be available for any Learning Center in order to assure adequate communication, training, technical upgrades. Such assistance would be financed both by the state and with franchising fees from for-profit Learning Centers.
  • Fees from distance learners shall constitute the primary source of Learning Center revenue. However, to assure access without jeopardizing choice, a ceiling shall be placed upon the allowable net Learning Center fee charged any student. This ceiling shall be some percentage of the statewide average cost of providing necessary (not optional) support services. The state shall contribute the remaining percentage of the average cost using a Learning Center voucher. Such a voucher would be available to any distance learner to spend in any Learning Center just as cash for necessary support services. Under this mechanism, no student would be denied an opportunity to choose the Learning Center which best meets their needs, and Learning Centers would recognize an incentive to assure that those needs continue to be met.