The Future of Higher Education is Federated

Executive summary

The lifelong learning space is four times the size of the graduate school market and is growing at a 10-15% rate annually. Most universities face challenges accessing lifelong learners. Platforms are expensive, taking over half of tuition while building their brands on universities’ reputations and IP. The Noodle Learning Platform (NLP) enables universities to capitalize on this opportunity without forfeiting their brand or autonomy.

The Noodle Learning Platform

Noodle helps universities use technology to increase engagement, capacity, and access. Noodle works with 65 of the best universities in the US (including Yale, Howard, NYU, American, Tulane, University of Washington, UT Knoxville, and Pitt; here’s a complete list), contributing economies of scale, network effects, and excellent people and systems. In seven years, Noodle has decimated a multi-billion market that had evolved to be rigid, expensive, and opaque. 

Noodle has created the Noodle Learning Platform (NLP) in response to our partners' needs and requests. NLP offers a new option for lifelong learning: a federated network through which universities can collaborate to compete effectively against existing platforms. The NLP is transformatively better than the existing options because it is:

Flexible: It can handle massive open online courses (MOOCs) or credit-bearing courses. The NLP accommodates complex learning designs and mixed synchronous-asynchronous learning. It can extend a university’s LMS or replace it.

Powerful: The NLP allows universities to spin out and customize multiple instances of their platforms to better serve corporate and departmental (e.g., alumni office) clients. Unified reporting and financial systems simplify management of all platforms.

Collaborative: Social learning is more enjoyable and more effective. The NLP can group learners into small cohorts and provide the tools they need to work together. Those tools integrate and supplement best-in-class technologies.

Well-supported. Carefully vetted counselors and TAs support the NLP so students can easily find the right programs and then excel in those programs.

Inexpensive: Whether for short courses or months-long certificate programs, the NLP is affordable.

Federated platform

Universities most often adopt the NLP to address two problems. First, they lack the budget or team to market their offerings outside their region. Second, their online content lacks sufficient breadth to compete with other platforms' options. 

The NLP addresses these challenges by creating a learning federation. Each university in the Noodle network may choose to allow any number of other universities to include its program on their platforms in exchange for 20% of tuition. Likewise, a university may augment its content with programs made available by other universities through NLP. 

The result is a cost-effective approach to recruiting learners nationally while offering a broad range of content. The NLP offers:

Global reach: Collectively, universities in the Noodle network have tremendous reach through their student, faculty, and alumni communities and corporate relationships. Each can make a broad set of programs available to that community without spending 50% (or more) of tuition on marketing.

Lower cost of learning design: Shared content provides quality coursework at a lower cost than self-production.

Scalability and flexibility: Access to a broad catalog of course content through the NLP network frees resources previously committed to subject matter experts and content development. In addition to delivering cost savings, the network broadens and speeds institutions' ability to adapt quickly to arising learning needs.

Continuous innovation: Resources saved through network course sharing can be redirected toward enhancing offerings in an institution's areas of strength and differentiation, resulting in deeper, more niched content that enables innovative learning experiences, attracts a broader range of learners, and focuses on the critical needs of its community.

Logistic simplicity: Noodle provides real-time reporting and reconciles all accounts each month.

Strategic and synergistic collaboration distinguish the federated model, which enables the strengths of one institution to complement and enhance the strengths of another. Improved access to the lifelong learning market results.

Corporate partners

The NLP's federated model will include corporate partners who will contribute strong content and large user communities. Universities are free to choose not to include corporate content or market their content to corporate learners—the same option they enjoy regarding other federated universities. If they wish, however, they can broaden their substantial content and reach through access to these corporate assets. 

Federated vs. stand-alone

Universities may use NLP as a stand-alone application. They are not required to offer their programs on other universities' platforms nor offer other universities' programs on their own. That said, the federated approach offers material advantages worth considering. Joining the learning federation should reduce learning design investments—as well as the risks associated with investing in new programs that may generate little demand—by 50-65%. Also, the size of the federation should significantly expand participants' reach, even if most partners include only a small fraction of their offerings on their platforms. 

Federated vs. consortium

The federated model is best understood in contrast to a consortium model.

Identity: In a consortium model, courses from varied universities sit on a separately branded platform. While allowing the same access to programs from other schools, the federated model doesn't diminish the individual identity of each institution because institutions curate their own platforms. NLP enables universities to create unlimited variants of their platform tailored to distinct customers, each with a customized look, feel, set of programs, and user community.

Competition: In a consortium model, courses from multiple universities—and corporations—compete for a learner’s attention, causing confusion and commoditizing universities' offerings. The NLP's federated model allows institutions to curate their own site, resulting in a coherent course catalog that highlights their own programs.

Control: Over time, a consortium’s agenda may diverge from an institution. Since the consortium sits between the institution and its learners and employers, this often ends badly. The NLP empowers universities to address the lifelong learning market efficiently without ceding control.

The federated model: meeting the rising global demand

The federated model excels at creating highly customized experiences for different student populations. Consider international learners and their unique needs for academic and social support services. To accommodate this population, NLP offers the capacity to:

• Gate pages for specific populations, enabling institutions to deliver to international learners course content relevant to them only

• Create cross-institutional teams or community groups to bring together and support learners of different nationalities, backgrounds, and interests, letting them connect and take courses together

• Customize offerings chosen from flexible content catalogs to allow universities to enhance the overall learning experience with content from other departments, such as an ESL class

• Accommodate learners in their native languages, as NLP is working on developing the capability of delivering content in the user's language of choice

The federated model allows institutions to come together to deliver these services to attract, support, and retain international learners and enhance their overall experience.

The global demand for higher education is set to experience unprecedented growth, with the heart of this growth pulsating from Asia and Africa. How does the federated model fit into this narrative?

• Rising international student mobility: HolonIQ forecasts a surge in international learners this decade. The federated model's enhanced accessibility can meet this demand, reducing geographical barriers.

• Capacity challenges: As global demand outstrips top-tier institutions' enrollment capacities, the federated model presents a solution. By pooling resources, universities can effectively serve the rising demand for English-taught degrees, predominantly in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

• Strategic shifts in international education: Today's fast-moving employment landscape requires closer ties between education and employment skills, diversified learning channels, and evolving credentials. The federated model's adaptability is critical in meeting these demands. Collaborative resource-sharing allows institutions to promptly address these changes, positioning them at the cutting edge of educational trends.

• Financial implications: HolonIQ projects student spending on international education to reach US$433 billion by decade's end. The federated model's efficient resource use positions institutions to capture a share of this growth, maximizing benefits and efficiency.

Championing best practices in federated higher education

The federate model offers a collective approach that fuses the power of collaboration with institutional autonomy. To maximize its potential, institutions need a reliable platform. This is where the Noodle Learning Platform (NLP) stands out.

• Customization and control to ensure unified vision and goals: It is vital that an institution's offerings reflect its vision. NLP enables institutions to craft tailored educational experiences—from specific landing pages to comprehensive learning sequences—that align with overarching network goals while retaining full control over their content.

• Central platform for consistent content delivery: Best practices for federated networks include the use of a central platform for consistent content delivery. NLP serves this need impeccably, allowing institutions to pool resources and offer diverse courses. The platform's centralized nature ensures seamless and consistent delivery, eliminating disparities in content dissemination.

• Open channels of communication: NLP promotes open dialogues by fostering a shared space where institutions can discuss pedagogical strategies, relay administrative updates, and review student feedback. This promotes agility and responsiveness.

• Regular assessment and feedback: Periodic evaluations are crucial to gauge the success of shared resources and programs within a federated network. NLP’s analytical capabilities empower institutions to undertake regular assessments, ensuring shared offerings resonate with the evolving needs of learners and the educational landscape.

• Flexible resource allocation for broader offerings: The federated model allows participants to pool resources, a significant advantage. Flexibility in allocating those resources is critical. NLP facilitates this by allowing institutions to dynamically adjust and redistribute resources based on shifting needs and priorities. The end result: Learners benefit from a rich catalog of courses without institutions' bearing the heavy costs of new content creation.

The Noodle Learning Platform isn't merely a technological aid; it's a conduit for best practices in federated higher education. 


Higher education is evolving, with a shift towards more collaborative and interconnected models. Noodle aspires to be an effective network hub powering a collaborative ethos. The NLP’s federated model plays a central role in facilitating this model, enhancing content delivery and the potential of individual institutions. Sharing content and outreach can create great value for both your institution and your learners.

1 Martirosyan, N., Bustamante, R., & Saxon, D. (2019). Academic and social support services for international students. Journal of International Students, 9(1).