Zero Cost of Searching in Online Learning – Universidad Privada del Norte


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This post was guest authored by Carlos A. Villanueva, Academic Director of Online Learning at Universidad Privada del Norte (UPN).

UPN is the largest university based upon undergraduate enrollment in Peru. Before joining UPN, Carlos lead digital transformation projects for Peru’s top 100 companies. His passion for education has grown along his 15 years-experience as undergraduate and graduate students professor. Now, as the Academic Head of UPN’s Online Learning Department, he seeks to inspire lifelong learning to all the academic community throughout innovation.

Universidad Privada del Norte is a 2021 “Training & Professional Development” Catalyst Award winner. 



It is mesmerizing the way data has changed our decision-making processes and points of view.  

In 1998, Harvard University researcher, Lisa R. Klein, analyzed how access to online information can influence the purchasing patterns of consumers. As the cost of searching becomes lesser and more information about a good is known, it is more likely to experience the good’s benefits. That is the reason why shopbots, ratings and reviews drive sales to anonymous brands. Information gives confidence and reliability over the unknown. It gives a face to what is unfamiliar. It makes closer what is remote. 

Now, let’s imagine that, instead of a consumer, we have a teacher who is assigned to an online classroom of 80 undergraduate students. Moreover, let’s pretend that these students receive a hybrid education. Thus, these learners are enrolled to online and face-to-face classes during the same semester. Believe it or not, even though each type of class follows a different delivery method, these students expect to receive an analogous kind of experience, which means, among other expectations, to have a rapid response in an online class such as the one they would receive when talking to their in-person tutor.  

Just like the reliability in goods, in order to leverage students’ experience in online learning, it is necessary to reduce the cost of searching. We must eradicate the need of the students to search and try out diverse means to obtain a response that fulfills their anxiety. Academic experience has shown me that there is a positive correlation between the time it takes to respond and the perception the students have about their teacher’s willingness to support them. Consequently, to have influence on this psychological pattern, we must build confidence using information. We must make adjacent what is afar.  

Universidad Privada del Norte (UPN) is aware of the importance of accountable information to successfully manage the education of 100,000 students enrolled in online classes. The connection between the teacher and their students is a key driver of success in virtual environments as it makes tangible the presence of a human being at the other side of the screen. Thus, it gives self-confidence to first-generation students who are in the process of immersion into autonomous learning and offers the opportunity to address knowledge gaps. 

This is the reason why, in 2019, UPN empowered its online teachers with academic data from Blackboard Analytics for Learn (A4L). UPN mapped all the students’ classroom contact points such as forums, videoconferences, grading system and messaging services and built a digital dashboard with useful information. Throughout this interactive solution the teachers could keep track of their performance and of their students’. 

By giving away the right tools and training, the teachers were able to ensure the execution of all their academic activities, reply to their students’ questions in less than 24 hours, give assertive feedback in graded evaluations, and assess their students’ involvement during the academic period. Furthermore, by empowering educators, their satisfaction level augmented as they felt in control over their classrooms as they were capable to respond rapidly to their students’ needs.    

In 2020, we aligned the Blackboard A4L’s dashboard KPIs with the faculty assessment criteria. As a consequence, UPN included data-driven analysis skills training into the Online Teachers Development Program. These sessions were planned not only to instruct how to access and use Blackboard A4L’s digital dashboards, but to instill the importance of information in online learning.  

We were conscious that it meant a change in our staff’s mindset and that we had to make evident that the information was available and useful. That is why we began sending weekly emails congratulating the teachers who had accomplished 100% compliance in their academic activities. They needed to know that the information was being revised on a regular basis until they interiorized the benefits of data usage in their professional career and in their relationship with online students. 

As a result, the takeaways achieved during 2020 were:  

  • 95% of faculty members achieved the distinction of “excellence,” the highest one according to UPN’s scholar quality matrix. 
  • 99% weekly activities compliance. 
  • 99% attendance to the teachers’ Training Development Program. 
  • 4.6 out of 5.0 in the Teachers Satisfaction Index. 
  • 52 NPS (net promoter score) student satisfaction with their teacher. 
  • 90% of approved students in online classes. 

It makes me proud to see the level of commitment that our faculty members have demonstrated to encompass these changes and transform the lives of their students though innovative educative processes that sprout learning, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship.  

More mesmerizing than the influence of data is the influence of educators who dare to use it wisely.  


Klein, L. (1998). Evaluating the Potential of Interactive Media Through a New Lens: search versus experience goods. Journal of Business Research , 195–203. 



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