Lumen Learning, a company that sells low-cost OER textbooks and courseware, plans to start offering professional development services for faculty that can be bundled with its titles. In other words, some of its textbooks are now sold with coaching on how to teach with OER more effectively.
Announced this week, the new offering was made possible because Lumen Learning purchased the higher education assets of a coaching company for instructors called Faculty Guild. It was the first ever acquisition by the Portland, Ore.-based company, which did not disclose details of the deal.
OER, which stands for Open Educational Resources, involves course materials that are openly licensed, meaning that professors are allowed to change or adapt them. Their proponents tout them as a lower-cost alternative to traditional commercial textbooks, but adopting them can involve more time by professors to select and adapt materials to fit their courses.
Faculty Guild had about 40 college customers for its online faculty development service, which centered around placing faculty members in small virtual communities to guide them through improving their teaching techniques. But its pricing structure “did not scale well,” said Kim Thanos, CEO of Lumen Learning. In particular, the pricing made it difficult to convince colleges to purchase the service for adjuncts, she added.
Lumen streamlined the pricing and scaled down the number of offerings, which will now be run as a service called Lumen Circles.
The idea is that instructors participate in the coaching service while they are trying a new teaching approach in their courses. Participants are placed in a cohort of 10 to 12 instructors, led by a faculty mentor—a coach who can be consulted on teaching design and research about what works in teaching. During a seven-week period, the instructors in each “circle” write weekly reflections on how their teaching is going and share those with the group—and give each other feedback and encouragement.
After that, the service shifts to more of a “sustaining” phase, said Thanos, where faculty are less active with the service but can still draw on a library of resources and share with other participating faculty members through a virtual community platform.
Colleges pay $750 for each faculty member that participates, plus $50 a year for the sustaining service. They hope the service will appeal to colleges and professors even if they aren't using any of Lumen Learning's courseware.
The service can also be purchased as a bundle with a textbook adoption from Lumen Learning. Typically, the company’s OER product costs $25 per student, but Lumen is charging $33 per student if the professor also wants to participate in Circles.
The company offers Circles in five themes, including how to use OER, foundations in online learning, and diversity, equity and inclusion in teaching.
Thanos said the acquisition grew out of discussions with leaders at the State University of New York system, which was a customer of Faculty Guild. “It was definitely a kind of need-based acquisition aligned with our mission,” she said.
She added that making acquisitions is “not a specific part of our strategy” as a company.
Correction: This article was updated to clarify that the new service is available even to those who do not buy Lumen Learning courseware.