Flux in Online Learning Excites, Gives Apprehension for Online Learning Administrators

Online education is in a constant state of flux—and in many respects that's a good thing. New technologies continue to enter the space that improve learner experience. But the speed of change is enough to keep online administrators up at night.

In order to adapt and evolve, online learning administrators need to continue to ask themselves the tough questions, said Dave Cillay, vice president of the Global Campus at Washington State University. "I still think there is quite a bit of growth potential," Cillay said. If you really want to position yourself for the future and you are engaged in online education, don't just make it something that your university does. Make it part of the foundation of your university."

To learn more about the issues that keep online learning administrators up and night and approaches to help them sleep more soundly, check out our video interview with Dave above, or read through the text version of the Q&A below.

You'll be giving one of the keynote addresses called "Issues That Keep Online Learning Administrators Up at Night and Approaches That May Help You Sleep More Soundly." Can you give us an overview of some of the things that keep these online learning administrators up at night?

I think if anybody has read any of the national press, even the local press, you know what we're talking about. We're talking about open education, adaptive learning, alternative credentialing, massive open online courses.

And then other things, too, that might be particular to individual campuses, like: How does your online learning operation fit into your on-campus operation? And how does the on-campus operation take advantage of the online operation?

So there's a number of things out there that I think there really isn't one answer for everyone to every question and I think part of this session is really digging in to the different types of characteristics that make up the university leaders that are in the audience and talking through what sort of solutions make sense for your campus.

Online learning as an environment is constantly in a state of flux and that rate and scope of flux has only increased in the last year and a half. Can you talk about the factors that have led to that increased rate of change?

I think one of the things that's obvious is if you look at our society in general, online is really the way many of us live. We bank online, we shop online, we date online; we do all of these things online and I think it's just a natural extension that education is going to be expected to follow suit.

And then, if we also look at the fact that were looking at educating more of our citizens in society. We're looking at how we reduce costs to that education and I think online education is something that more and more people gravitated toward to at least help answer some of those questions or address some of those issues.

We've done a good job laying out the issues. Now administrators are wondering: What are the solutions? And more than that, what are some key things that they can tangibly implement at their school, regardless of size, regardless of money?

I don't want to give away the farm. You've got to come to Boston and have some fun there. The key I think to all of this is to solve or at least to answer the questions. Individual leaders on each campus really have to understand what makes up their campus, where their strengths are, how they fit on the national scene or the local scene.

And it sounds obvious, but sometimes it's some really difficult questions that you have to ask yourself: What type of university are you and what can you do? And depending on the types of topics we were talking about, each one of those answers is going to vary for each member of the audience.

And so one of the things that we will do is talk through specific examples for specific universities and talk about I wouldn't call them a solution, I would call it an approach. How do you approach adaptive learning? How do you approach alternative credentialing on your campus?

In the last month, this year's Babson Survey came out and the research shows there the slowest growth of online enrollment since they've been conducting this research for more than a decade. Now, it's still surpassing increases in enrollment levels for all of higher education, but it's something that caused pause in the industry. Given this new reality, what do you think online learning administrators can do to ensure this continued success in a potentially changed situation?

I don't think I would take the counterpoint, but I think if I recall from the last survey to this survey, we still had 400,000 new students taking online courses and previously it was 500,000-600,000. So I still think there is quite a bit of growth potential.

I would offer that if you really want to position yourself for the future and you are engaged in online education, don't make it something else that your university does. Make it part of the foundation of your university. It's just another way of extending higher education, another tool in the toolbox.

And being able to identify those strategies that allow you as a leader on that campus to help others understand the value of online education, not just for an online audience or students at a distance, I think positions you well for the future.