Summit on the Future of Online Learning

Summit on the Future of Online Learning

Note: Don’t forget to read all the way to the bottom of this post – there’s a fabulous opportunity for all of you to be involved in this incredible event!

We are seeing an increasing number of individuals, corporations, and government agencies are turning to higher education to assist with addressing many challenges.  One of these challenges is enhancing our country’s competitiveness by increasing the number of people in the US with a degree.  President Obama has issued the challenge of returning the United States to a leadership role by having the highest percentage of adults with college degrees in the world.  This initiative has been echoed by several state initiatives such as Grow by Degrees in Virginia where Governor McDonnell is challenging Virginia to increase the number of individuals with degrees by 100,000 in the next 15 years.

To meet these aggressive goals, we must reach beyond our campuses and expand access to those who have some college credit and those who are often underserved by higher education.  Clayton Christensen and his colleges suggest we need a disruptive innovation and that this innovation is online learning. Online learning is disruptive because it allows us to serve/reach individuals who previously were not served; it can exploit the fact that knowledge has been democratized by the Internet; it provides THE opportunity to “transform curriculum and learning;” and finally, it allows students to customize their learning experiences to meet their individual need.


As I wrote in an earlier blog post,, it is clear that higher education stepped up to the challenge and the need of providing access to higher education online. We compared the 2001 and 2008 NCES reports “Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions.”  In 2001 it was reported that 56% of 2 and 4 year institutions were offering courses using distance education.  In addition, we’ve seen skyrocketing growth in terms of enrollments, 3.1 million in 2001 and 12.2 million in 2007.  Finally, what I believe to be the most telling statistic is the growth in the percentage of institutions offering degree and/or certificates completely at a distance:  19% of the intuitions reported doing this in 2001 and 29% reported this in 2007.

With the increases in enrollments and programs higher education institutions are wrestling with emerging policies and procedures at the local, state, and national level.  With online learning, institutions are reaching beyond their campuses and in some cases beyond their state boundaries. We have been challenged by other policies and procedures on a state by state basis.

Given the above, what is very clear to me is that to further our collective efforts with online learning, our institutions, states, and national associations must work together to address these challenges.

As president of UPCEA, I couldn’t be more pleased that through the leadership of UPCEA’s CEO, Robert Hansen, and ACHE’s James Pappas, we have partnered to offer the first Summit on the Future of Online Learning, which will take place next week, September 15-16, in Chicago.

Bob and Jim have amassed a list of experts that are the “Who’s Who” in online learning, bringing together representation from national associations-UPCEA, ACHE, EDUCAUSE, Sloan-C and policy leaders from the Higher Learning Commission, the Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the US Department of Education.

The Summit will kick off with a panel consisting of Frank Mayada of the Sloan Foundation, Ray Schroeder from the University of Illinois-Springfield, Diana Oblinger with EDUCAUS, and Todd Leach with Granite State College, exploring how online learning has reshaped higher education by breaking down geographical boundaries and introducing greater completion.  This will be followed by facilitated discussions of meeting participants helping to build a three-year vision for online learning as well as a suggested action plan.

On Friday, Russ Poulin with WCET, Sylvia Manning from the Higher Learning Commission, George Mehaffy with the American Association of State Colleges and University, and Joel Thierstein from the US Department of Education, will discuss policy implications of online learning such as state approval, affordability, enrollment capacity, and academic quality.

As on Thursday, this panel will be followed by facilitated discussions in which participants will be creating an agenda for advocacy around online learning and adult and continuing education.

What I find remarkable about this summit is that not only is it a gathering of some of the most influential individuals in the field of online learning, but the summit is also providing a platform for leaders from multiple higher education institutions to join together in setting the future agenda for online learning.

While we’ve had to cap enrollment for the Summit, we are pleased that with the help of sonicfoundry and the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, live webcast and recording will be available.  For more information go to

While we map the future of online learning there will be challenges, but the opportunities are many.  Many thanks to Bob Hansen and Jim Pappas for bringing together a group of leaders who, working together, will be able to take advantage of the opportunities by minimizing the challenges.


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One Response to Summit on the Future of Online Learning

  1. Pingback: Summit on Online Learning Redux | Shaeffer's Forays

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