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  • Creating a Culture of E-learning Quality: The Case for Continuous Innovation

    Thursday, June 12, 2014



    As e-learning continues to gain traction, distance administrators are under increasing pressure to ensure that it serves students well – both personally and professionally. In meeting the challenge, we will need to move the campus discussion beyond technology’s transactional value as a flexible medium for academic delivery, by focusing on its experiential value, as a transformative tool for active, authentic, and personalized learning. That will mean cultivating a culture of e-learning quality, which empowers us to create, capture, and deliver ever more effective approaches for technology-enhanced learning and teaching.

    In her keynote, Drexel University Online President Dr. Susan Aldridge will offer a practical framework for fostering this culture, grounded in a proactive process for continuous innovation that not only encourages new insights and collaborative experimentation, but also mobilizes campus resources and mission investment.


    Thank you for that very warm welcome. I am indeed honored to be here in beautiful Jekyll Island, with such distinguished and accomplished colleagues. Like pioneers in any evolving field, you continue to blaze new trails in distance education…which have made it possible for your institutions to transcend the boundaries of time and space with high-quality academic and professional development opportunities.

    And today, there are millions of students, in many parts of the world, who are beyond grateful for your tremendous innovation and unwavering commitment. Even in the face of what has often been at best, blatant disbelief…and at worst, scathing criticism.

    In fact, here’s a true story from the annals of distance education about a talented woman named Genevra Webb-Conlee…who back in 1999 decided it was high time to finish the four-year degree she had started years earlier…but put on hold indefinitely to work full-time and raise a family.

    So she began looking for a program that would somehow fit her busy lifestyle…which included a significant commute, a 10-hour workday, and occasional travel as the business development manager for an aerospace company in Virginia.

    After researching her options, she came up with an online degree program that seemed like a good prospect…but her company refused outright to pay for because it wasn’t accredited. Undeterred, she started looking for one that was. Genevra’s search led her to a regionally accredited public university with an academically rigorous online degree program that met her criteria.

    Gearing up to sell her managers on the idea…she prepared an exhaustive presentation in four, two-inch binders, complete with section tabs. And armed with this information, she headed into a marathon, two-hour meeting on the merits of online learning…ultimately emerging with a tenuous agreement.

    Still determined to prove her point, Genevra went on from there to graduate three years later with an impressive 4.0 GPA…subsequently earned a master’s degree…and has since enjoyed enormous professional and personal success.

    As we all can attest, traditional academics were even more resistant to e-learning than employers were back then…and at times, could be downright unpleasant.

    Long-time faculty member and fellow distance pioneer, Scott Freehafer, ran into a real brick wall some years ago at a college where he once taught business education. After uploading major portions of his course into an online format…a move he saw as a real benefit for his students…he received a nasty rebuke from his boss about this bold initiative…pointing to, among other things, Scott’s “obvious propensity for deviant behavior.”

    Needless to say, it didn’t take him long to pack up his laptop and move on to a more progressive campus environment at the University of Findlay in Ohio…where as an associate professor, he is still teaching graduate courses online…and with increasingly positive results, given both his enthusiasm and his expertise.

    I’m sure that for most of you, these stories are hardly surprising. But I use them to show how much progress we’ve made since then…with employers, academic leaders, and students alike rapidly coming around to the idea that online and traditional education are indeed created equal.

    For example, in an often quoted survey conducted by Excelsior College and Zogby International, 83 percent of the 1,500 business executives polled agreed that an online degree is every bit as credible as its campus-based counterpart, when provided by an accredited institution with a reputable academic brand.

    Likewise, the Sloan Consortium’s 2013 Online Learning Report noted that nearly three-quarters of the academic leaders it surveyed…from among 2,800 colleges and universities…rated e-learning outcomes as the same or superior to those in the face-to-face classroom.

    And let’s not forget the millions of students…both traditional and non-traditional…for whom digital technology is a way of life. To be sure, most of them rely on it almost exclusively for meeting their day-to-day information, entertainment, and communication needs…while many also see it as an indispensable tool for learning.

    After polling 3,000 undergraduates from nearly 1,200 colleges and universities, the Educause Center for Applied Research found that students frequently favor and may actually learn more in technology-enhanced courses…citing such academic benefits as greater engagement…easier access to resources…and higher quality work.

    No doubt, this shift in attitudes across the board has led to a steady uptick in the number of public and private institutions either entering the online market or expanding their share. And even among those that aren’t…a growing number of their faculty members are using digital technology in some form to complement the face-to-face learning experience.

    But the e-learning boom is also being fueled in large part by the ever-increasing pressure on higher education to produce a measurably greater value on academic investment…in the face of rising student loan debt, shrinking public resources, and evolving workforce demands. Consequently, presidents, provosts, and trustees on campuses across the country are beginning to see technology as a magic bullet for reinventing their business models.

    That’s why in making their case, far too many of these academic leaders are fixated on institutional survival…rather than focused on student success…out of their desire to teach more students with fewer resources, while rapidly uploading courses ahead of the competition. As a result, access and affordability are still driving the change in most schools…when quality should be taking the wheel.

    To continue reading Dr. Susan Aldridge's Distance Learning Administration Conference 2014 keynote speech, please click here


    Dr. Susan Aldridge is president of Drexel University Online and senior vice president of online learning at Drexel University. She is a frequent keynote speaker at national and international conferences and a consultant to University presidents, government officials, and business leaders regarding international education initiatives, strategies associated with developing distance education models, aligning student services with growth strategies, and retention/degree completion opportunities. For more information on Dr. Aldridge and a collection of her keynotes and other speeches, please visit www.drsusanaldridge.com.  

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