In case you hadn't seen it, the Guardian is running an interesting model with some local versions. Cardiff Guardian is one of the first ones (Edinburgh and Leeds being the others). It is ostensibly run by one person (Hannah Waldram), who covers local news, and then pulls in Cardiff related stories from the existing Guardian stock material. Added to this there are guest posts from local people, some crowdsourced content (eg Flickr photos) plus third party tools, such as MySociety.Org and FixMyStreet. The outcome is a very useful site and, if you live in Cardiff, very engaging too.
What is interesting about it is that it offers a potential model for how many sectors can combine new and existing approaches (I'll come to education in a minute). It takes existing content, which you have a system producing anyway, and gets an additional use from it. This is combined with quality contributions from a dedicated (and employed) person to generate enough content, but also draws on the wealth of content created by those with an interest. Here is my summary of how I think it works:
You could see how this might be a model transferable for education also. In my Academic Output as Collateral Damage post I suggested we could view higher education as a long tail content production system. This is equivalent to the big Guardian content the local version draws upon – there is a pool of academic related content being produced. If you want to create a specialised course then you have one dedicated academic to draw this together and add in additional material. They then combine this with third party content and services. A course, almost by definition, has an interested group of participants, so the course content becomes populated by student contributions, but also by small invited pieces from other academics.
If you have such a model in place, then you could see how you could quickly create course for niche interests, timely events, specific employers, etc. And at little extra cost. The trick I suspect is putting in place a system that allows it to happen easily. The Guardian example is permitted because of all the prior work that the Guardian has put in to becoming a web-savvy newspaper.