eLearning: It's Hip to be Frugal

Twenty years ago I bought a new pickup truck. Nowadays that truck mainly gets driven on weekends, but it’s been a great value over the years. If I take the purchase price and average it over 20 years, it works out to about $400 per year. That’s hard to beat.

In normal times I wouldn’t talk about my truck, but these aren’t normal times and it’s suddenly hip to be frugal. From Wall Street to Main Street, frugal is now chic. In the corporate world, you won’t find the word frugal, but you’ll often see its sophisticated cousin, “Return On Investment” (ROI). Regardless of which term you use, the bottom line is essentially the same: be wise with your money.

I’ve always been comfortable with the concept of ROI, perhaps because of my frugal upbringing. Today, I can hardly sit through a meeting or walk by a business without thinking about ROI. That’s probably why our philosophy at Respondus has always been to offer a great product at a good price. It sounds a bit corny saying it that way, but I’ve heard corny is popular now too.

For mental entertainment, I sometimes look at the value proposition of our products through the eyes of a college or school administrator. I think Respondus LockDown Browser is one of our most compelling values, especially when compared to traditional paper-based testing. For example, look at what it costs to deliver one paper-based test to each student at a university with an enrollment of 35,000:

35,000 tests, 5 sheets each, @ .04 per sheet: $7,000
35,000 bubble answer sheets @ .07 each: $2,450
Total: $9,450

Let’s ignore the overhead costs in this example (such as the person who manages the photocopy shop, the guy who runs the bubble reader machine, the cost of the machines themselves, and so forth). Now compare these costs to an annual, unlimited-use license for Respondus LockDown Browser at the same institution of 35,000 students: $5,000. No matter how you do the math, it’s pretty clear that as instructors shift from paper-based tests to online assessments, the savings are staggering. (A few trees get saved along the way too.) LockDown Browser is just one application that contributes to this cost savings, but it’s an important part because it’s what gives many instructors the confidence to use online assessments in the first place.

Here’s another strong value proposition: StudyMate Class. The “Lite” version of StudyMate Class is easy to calculate – after all, it’s free. Can you think of another feature-rich learning application that is fully-hosted, integrates seamlessly with a course management system, includes technical support, doesn’t include any advertising, and is free? Me neither.

But even the full version of StudyMate Class offers a strong value. The other day I heard about an instructor who uses StudyMate Class in several of her classes. In one month’s time, her students viewed learning activities within StudyMate Class over 15,000 times. I could describe her excitement about students being more engaged in the course materials than ever before. But I'll focus on the point that the annual license for StudyMate Class for their entire university (25,000 students) is just $5,000. That’s a pretty good deal.

We’ve always been a product-driven company, rather than one that relies on a large sales force to push product. So I never worry that our value proposition is interpreted as being “cheap.” And as institutions look for ways to do more with less, it’s particularly important that e-learning companies offer a value proposition that’s clear and measurable. That’s something we’ve always emphasized at Respondus, even when budgets aren’t so tight.

By the way, with value and frugality being so popular these days, I must admit that I’m feeling pretty cool right now. I think I’ll go cruising in my truck this weekend.

David Smetters
CEO, Respondus