Contextualizing “Grade Level” To Advance YOUR Agenda


Karen L. Pedersen, Ph.D., Chief Knowledge Officer, Online Learning Consortium

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slider_Babson_Report_600x575Just last week, I started in a new role with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) as their Chief Knowledge Officer. I’m excited to work across the online community to advance our shared agenda.  

It was very fortuitous that the annual Babson Survey Research Group report entitled “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2014” (which is co-sponsored by OLC) was also released last Thursday. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to download the report, just visit the OLC website and you can quickly and seamlessly download the report.

Throughout my career in higher education (serving as a faculty member and administrator at small and large, public and private institutions), reports like this would hit my inbox and I would read them (maybe – depending on the week), file them, and move on. This report may be different. Consider reading it with a critical eye toward contextualizing the insights and findings to advance YOUR institutional agenda. You know your institution. You are keenly aware of the challenges and opportunities you face.

So, how can you turn this report into a conversation starter with key leadership? A centerpiece to showcase your talents and thought leadership within your institution? Or leverage the report to move your institution in new directions?

In some of the positions I’ve held, I was the only leader on the campus advancing the online agenda and I needed a report like this to broaden the institutional view. In other cases, I wanted to shape the conversation and directions forward. Where ever you find yourself today, here are some options which may help you to advance YOUR institutional agenda…

  1. Share the report with key campus/system leaders with a quick note setting up a future date for a follow-on discussion. This showcases your environmental scanning prowess and it also provides a forum for you to shape thinking, institutional planning, and decision making concerning online education.
  2. Use the report as a backdrop to frame a state-of-the-state online executive summary focusing on your current institutional situation (here are the places where we are excelling and conversely here are the places where we are falling behind). Aligning key findings from the report with your current reality provides an opportunity for you to showcase your synthesizing capabilities and take a national perspective and make it relevant locally.
  3. Draft an action plan to send alongside the report for an initiative you have been hoping to advance which is supported by the findings. You know the old saying “just travel 50 miles and now you are an expert”. Sometimes having a report like this allows you to be that local expert. If you have a direction and there has been reluctance on your campus to move, can using the foundations of the report help to advance your case?
  4. Leverage the report for an associated budget request. Maybe you have been thinking about a budget request to advance your competitiveness in the online marketplace (e.g., enhancements to faculty development initiatives). If the timing is right, use the report to provide a backdrop and a compelling ‘why’.  
  5. Celebrate your institutions’ competitive advantage. If you are fortunate to work at an institution where you are trending contrary to the national findings…share that with key leadership. For example, you may have phenomenal support and a high level of buy-in from faculty at your institution for online education. This may be something you want to point to and celebrate.  

Here are a handful of key findings from “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2014”. Consider how you can spin them to advance YOUR agenda…

  • The year-to-year 3.7% increase in the number of distance education students is the lowest recorded over the 13 years of this report series.
  • Public and private nonprofit institutions recorded distance enrollment growth, but these were offset by a decrease among for-profit institutions.
  • The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face remained unchanged at 74.1%.
  • The proportion of chief academic leaders reporting online learning is critical to their long-term strategy reached a new high of 70.8%.
  • Only 28.0% of academic leaders say that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.”
  • The adoption of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) is reaching a plateau, only 8.0% of higher education institutions currently offer one, another 5.6% report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • The proportion of academic leaders who believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses dropped to 16.3%.

Let me know if you leverage the report on your campus using one of the strategies above. Of if you do something different with it, I would love to know that as well.

Karen L. Pedersen, Ph.D.
Chief Knowledge Officer
Online Learning Consortium


Karen Pedersen


Dr. Karen Pedersen recently stepped into the role as Chief Knowledge Officer for the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). Prior to joining OLC, Pedersen served as the Associate Vice President for Extended Campuses at Northern Arizona University. In this role she was responsible for leading a system-wide enrollment management transformation as well as managing marketing, technology, and academic operations. Previously, she served as the Vice President for Professional Studies at Southwestern College (Kansas) for eleven years. Her responsibilities included envisioning and building an online program from the ground up (including seeking regional accreditation approval) and launching over 25 innovative online programs. Additionally, Pedersen had responsibility for expanding military partnerships, engaging in strategic infrastructure projects, as well as positioning the institution in an enrollment growth trajectory. Pedersen also held the academic associate and dean roles at Upper Iowa University’s Extended University. In these roles she was responsible for curriculum development, supporting academic issues, learner success, as well as faculty hiring, training, and evaluation. She also built the foundations for an online operation and traveled internationally to develop partnerships in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia while at UIU. Prior to starting her administrative career, Pedersen served as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Pedersen holds bachelor of science and master of science degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a doctor of philosophy degree from Oklahoma State University.

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