What does it mean to be an online learning leader?

By Meris Stansbury, Managing Editor, @eSN_Meris
November 4th, 2015

EDUCAUSE panelists discuss the hallmarks of excellence in online leadership that will be critical in the future.

online-learning-leaderIf online learning is to succeed as not only as a legitimate option for learning but as a respected platform within an institution, leadership has to build that respect through calculated risks and building multi-departmental relationships.

That was the main takeaway from an EDUCAUSE conference panel on the “Hallmarks of Excellence in Online Learning,” based on a newly released report from UPCEA (University Professional and Continuing Education Association).

“We wrote this report to serve as an aspirational model for the approach to online learning,” said Vickie Cook, director of Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield and one of the authors of the report.

At the beginning of 2014, UPCEA launched a process to spell out what it considers to be the Hallmarks of Excellence that will ultimately characterize entities on America’s campuses dedicated to online learning.

“At this point when we’re still in the early phase of online learning (and institutions are still exploring efforts in pedagogy, technology, and finances), our goal was to identify the range of what will constitute successful online leadership—not merely what many might be doing now, but those standards, aspirations, and principles essential far into the foreseeable, and not so foreseeable, future,” Cook explained.

The report notes that while the Hallmarks listed may be “truly daunting,” they are not only necessary to make online education “worthy of the highest ideals of higher learning,” but “infuse idealism into a budding, dynamic profession.”

The 7 Hallmarks of an Online Learning Leader

  1. Advocacy and Leadership within the University: It’s all about building relationships. Those charged with leading an enterprise must build internal alliances and reflect the larger goals, values and strategies of their institutions.
  2. Entrepreneurial Initiatives: Since online education is “inevitably about innovation, experimentation, risk, and imagination, emerging leaders must have the skills and creativity to facilitate responsible change,” notes the report.
  3. Faculty Support: Online learning is an instructional process requiring support and resources, so an online learning leader must empower faculty with the tools they need to create equal to, if not exceeding, that of the traditional classroom. Cook noted that faculty support also includes encouraging faculty development and creativity.
  4. Student Support: Online student must have a learning experience at least comparable to that on-campus, states the report, so an online learning leader must be an ongoing advocate for students earning their degrees remotely from their institutions.
  5. Digital Technology: Leaders must provide an environment that is current, dependable, and rich in the creative use of tools to enhance learning, interaction, and program integrity.
  6. External Advocacy and Leadership Beyond the University: Since online enterprises must represent their institutions to an “often skeptical public, leaders must be an authoritative voice to regulators, accreditors, alumni, members of the business community, and other,” explains the report.
  7. Professionalism: Understanding that emerging entities need policies and practices that demonstrate the integrity of a profession still establishing itself, the report says that online learning leaders spurring online learning’s growth must exemplify the “highest ideals” and contribute to a growing professional community on a national scale.

For more details on these hallmarks, including overarching goals of each, key elements of internal advocacy, practical implementation suggestions, strategic steps, sustainability guidelines, communication goals, assessment and evaluation rubrics, and key performance indicators, read the full report here.

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