The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), formerly the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), is the leading professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of online learning worldwide. The member-sustained organization offers an extensive set of resources for professional development and institutional advancement of online learning, including, original research, leading-edge instruction, best-practice publications, community-driven conferences and expert guidance. OLC members include educators, administrators, trainers and other online learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation had a critical role in fueling the development of online learning in American higher education via its Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program. A most significant initiative of this grant program was the establishment of the Sloan Consortium of Colleges and Universities (Sloan-C).
Starting in 1992, the Foundation funded 346 projects totaling $72 million, most of which were made to non-profit colleges and universities. Major distance and adult learning providers such as the University of Maryland University College and the Penn State World Campus were early grantees. Following on the heels of these institutions, large mainstream public university systems such as the University of Illinois, the State University of New York and the University of Central Florida developed substantial online learning programs. In the early 2000s, a number of online initiatives at several urban-based colleges and universities such as the City University of New York, the University of Illinois – Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee evolved and spurred the move to blended learning environments.
Originally an informal organization of Foundation grantees, the Consortium incorporated in 2008 as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. Sloan-C became the largest recipient of funding from the Anytime, Anyplace, Learning Program, receiving in excess of $15 million over the course of the grant program. Sloan-C has evolved into “an institutional and professional leadership organization dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education, helping institutions and individual educators improve the quality, scale, and breadth of online education.” It provides a full range of member services including annual conferences, professional development webinars, publishing the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, and sponsoring research initiatives. In 2012, it had approximately 300 institutional and 700 individual dues-paying members.
The public sector of higher education was integral to the success of the Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program. This was not an accident but by design as confirmed by Frank Mayadas, former Sloan Foundation officer and current OLC board member:
“In discussing the focus on large public universities with Frank Mayadas, it becomes clear that the Foundation’s early attempts to work with elite institutions such as M.I.T., Cornell, and Brown did not yield tangible results with the exception of Stanford University…So early on, he gained the conviction that if the ALN program was to succeed, it needed to direct grant resources to academic programs at the large public university systems. These institutions were an excellent fit for the ALN program, and most (e.g., SUNY Learning Network, Penn State World Campus, UMASS Online Learning Network) formalized their grant programs into major university operations involving traditional departments.” (Frank Mayadas – November 1, 2010)
Public institutions represent approximately 76 percent of all student enrollments in American higher education and many of them especially the community colleges focus on the importance of access to higher education. Individuals from these institutions who received grants credit the Foundation with making significant contributions to their programs and to development of online learning in American higher education in general.
Most individuals from institutions that have major online learning programs who were not Anytime, Anyplace, Learning Program grantees (public, private non-profit, private for-profit), are not aware of the contribution of the Foundation. As the Consortium developed and evolved, it became an attraction for a number of individuals and higher education institutions that had invested in online education. As a result, whereas the Foundation seeded and gave life to the Consortium, the Consortium is now the vehicle that provides exposure for the Foundation among the broader online learning providers.
Private, for-profit colleges and universities never received any grant funding from the Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program, however, they are an important and growing sector of online learning in American higher education. Their awareness of the Foundation’s contribution to online learning is modest at best and somewhat lower than for other non-grantee institutions. And again, what awareness that does exist comes from their association with the Sloan Consortium.
Present and Future
The Online Learning Consortium has made its presence known to the majority of all major online learning providers regardless of whether they are public, private, non-profit or for-profit. As the largest recipient of funding from this program, it continues to provide a host of services to the online learning community. OLC remains committed to helping institutions create high-quality educational experiences, improving the U.S./international field of online education, contributing to the creation of an educated workforce, and creating mutually-beneficial partnerships with like-minded organizations.
Source: Picciano, A. G. (2012). Report on the Evaluation of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program [White paper]. New York, NY: The Sloan Consortium.