Keeping the Humanity in Online Learning: Support Systems Are Not Just Technological


 John Vivolo, Director of Online Education at the Katz School of Science and Health of Yeshiva University, and session presenter at OLC Innovate 2020

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This is the second in a series of blog posts entitled: Leadership in Online Learning. Each post will build toward an upcoming presentation at OLC Innovate 2020 in Chicago, IL. Join me for the Present and Reflect Session entitled: Online Learning Leadership and Support: Building the Structure and Keeping It Together on Thursday, April 2, at 2:15 PM. This is also a Best-in-Track session. For those who can’t make it in person, the session will also be live-streamed. Read the first post in this series.

What support systems does an online program need?

Immediately, people think about technology when I ask this question. “You need an LMS” or “You need Articulate 360” or “You need a proctoring solution” or “A project management tool!”

I get it. It’s obvious. It’s an online program and we need certain technology to support online students. Why is it we don’t think about people when we think about support systems?

Support Systems for Online Learners

Think about how we prepare faculty to develop an online course. How do you prepare them to develop effective content? As leaders, we need to create online development and teaching programs that provide faculty a chance to learn from people. Independent, asynchronous only training isn’t the answer to preparing faculty. When supporting a new faculty member, learning must be led by people, not self-study modules.

Recently, I began thinking about how I want to prepare and support my faculty here at the Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University. I know we have brilliant experts in their field. But I wonder if I’m fully preparing to develop and/or teach online.

Keeping the Humanity in Online Learning

Somewhere along the way, we as an industry lost how to connect with learners as humans. Perhaps we are fooled by the ed-tech. vendors with their flashy promises. Perhaps we are so focused on the motto “learn anywhere, anytime” and forget that learning still needs guidance from real people. Learning is about people connecting with people. We need to take a step back and ensure that there is humanity in our online learning experience. It begins with the support systems we give to faculty. I’m not denying the need for high-quality development of asynchronous content, but when we prepare faulty to develop, we should instill community building as part of development and teaching.

In the past, I’ve created faculty training programs with the following collaborative approach that focuses on keeping humanity in the learning experience:

  1. Create high quality (asynchronous) content that walks them through the development process, how to use the technology effectively, and how to be an effective online teacher. This content is heavy on video. Yes, even in pre-created content you can keep it human. Why hide your face? An online faculty should not be camera shy. A learner can connect with you and all that makes you great (even your flaws) much easier than they can with a disembodied voice on a slideshow;
  2. Create assessments that involve collaboration between their fellow peers, support staff, and past students. No assessment is ever hidden from view. All assignments are shared. The content they create (as part of their assessments) should be useable in their future class; and,
  3. Host synchronous sessions often and even required. Get your faculty to understand the importance of balancing asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Notice that the goal is to create a shared environment. I remove the “teacher-only” assessment and make it a group assessment. Everyone sees what everyone is doing. I add former students and staff. Former students are our target. Who would know better than them whether the experience and/or content created for an online course is effective? Staff, including instructional designers and educational technologists, as well as other staff, provide a unique look from people who are experts in online learning (people like you!).

You might even want to take it a step further and make an official group that is tasked with the mission of ensuring there are multiple eyes on the learning experience. As Robert Ubell (2019), author and vice dean emeritus of online learning at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering states, “To stimulate collaboration, it’s best to establish a high-level oversight committee— or Online Learning Council, as some schools have done— with members drawn from senior faculty, online learning staff, and other stakeholders to achieve consensus on key elements— online program selection, pedagogy, marketing and recruitment, faculty compensations and intellectual property rights, among other essential features,” (Ubell, 2019, p. 92-93).

We need to look at support systems as people, not just technology. Why are the staff or former students not included in reviewing a newly developed course? Think about who is supporting your online faculty. As a leader, you need to expose both faculty and an online course to as many perspectives as possible. Support isn’t just the IT helpdesk. It’s everyone.

Want to learn more about online learning leadership?

I invite you to pick up a copy of my recently published, best-selling book: Managing Online Learning: The Life-Cycle of Successful Programs.

You can read more from Robert Ubell in his chapter: Overcoming Faculty Resistance to Teaching Online. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn!

Next Post

The next post will dig into the role of cultivating successful student workers and learning from them as well. Look for the next post entitled: Leadership and Student Workers: We learn from each other.

If you want to learn more about the leadership in online learning, join me at OLC Innovate in Chicago, IL. See you in the threads!


Ubell, R. (2019). Overcoming Faculty Resistance to Teaching Online. Managing Online Learning: The Life-Cycle of Successful Programs, 92-93. New York, NY: Routledge.

Vivolo, J. (2019). Managing Online Learning: The Life-Cycle of Successful Programs. New York, NY: Routledge.


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John Vivolo, Director of Online Education at the Katz School of Science and Health of Yeshiva University, and session presenter at OLC Innovate 2020.


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