No one knows for certain when, exactly, online learning first appeared in higher education. The best we can say is that the field has entered its third decade. Early innovations at places like the University of Maryland University College and the Penn State World Campus are now well-established, and many institutions—from public universities to small private colleges—are adopting online learning as one way to serve an increasingly diverse student population.
The experience of the Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL) over almost a decade has demonstrated that a new generation now taking its place in the leadership roles at our institutions. Two years ago, a group of first-generation leaders—most of whom had served as faculty in IELOL—joined forces with Stylus Publishing to develop a book, Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education, that describes the scope of skills needed by new leaders as they take command of this increasingly important field. I was proud to be one of that authoring team, along with the late Bruce Chaloux; Meg Benke, professor of education at Empire State College and co-director of IELOL who has served as Acting President and Provost at ESC; my old Penn State colleague Larry Ragan who leads the Center for Online Innovation in Learning at Penn State and is the longstanding co-director of IELOL; Ray Schroeder who just recently was accepted into the USDLA’s Hall of Fame; Wayne Smutz, another Penn State colleague who is now Dean of Continuing Education at UCLA; and Karen Swan, distinguished professor of educational leadership at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
As we look ahead to a new academic cycle, I want to encourage colleagues who are new to leadership in the field—or who have that role as a career target—to take a look at what this great team of pioneers has to say about helping institutions achieve the full potential of online learning.