Look Up, Look Down, Look Around: Strategies for Realizing Effective e-Learning Programs

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Grad College

My good friend and colleague, Rich Keeling often encourages colleges and universities to look up, look down, and look around. What does this mean?

  • Look up: What is your mission? Your purpose?
  • Look down: To whom have you made commitments? What is your promise to students and other key stakeholders?
  • Look around: How do you collaborate with and support colleagues?

When faced with opportunities for institutional change—at any level—because I believe that small changes can effectively scaffold into broader institutional change—I return to these three strategic questions.

Administrators of e-learning programs have a wide-range of skills, competencies, and professional development backgrounds. E-learning administrators are often those who have been early adopters of distance learning—most have evolved and emerged as leaders and experts. At this very exciting time in education, technological advances have completely changed the face of and opportunities in higher education. Thus, e-learning program development and administration is a vast and rich professional environment for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

And therein lies the problem.

Innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity are not neat and linear. These are iterative processes that need lots of room and space. Much of that room and space is necessarily intellectual and affective. Intellectual, in that it requires clarity of thought, ability to move easily from the abstract to the practical, and produces results. Affective, in that individuals and teams must develop trust, build confidence, and allow for trial and error.

Innovation requires a clearly stated institutional philosophy.

Look Up
Reconsidering the mission of the institution in terms of what it means for e-learning is a useful exercise. Should your college or university invest in e-learning? And if so, why? Put another way, if you took seriously everything you know about how people use technology to learn, what would you do differently on your campus? And how would that support your mission?

Mission statements are supposed to be lofty.

The list goes on. But what do these statements imply for e-learning programs? How can e-learning change lives? Enrich society? Or foster a commitment to lifelong learning?

Effective e-learning can instill in learners many important skills, including those described by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Those skills translate easily into e-learning environments:

  • Online banking
  • Managing personal health records in collaboration with an insurer
  • Making online purchases of goods, including a new home
  • Engaging with social media to plan a family event such as a wedding or anniversary

Look Down
Knowing and understanding the ways in which learning occurs has blossomed into many areas of study.

Advances made in the study of learning have opened a new and exciting world that allows teachers to actually observe the brain changing as it learns. These advances have important implications for e-learning programs. Now, more than ever, teachers—facilitators of learning—can situate content, experience, and learner in online environments that are conducive to deeper learning.

Listen to the lecture?

No more.

Learners—and our brains—want stimulation. We want to be active learners, not receivers of static information.

Look Around
Jim Collins wrote, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

What are the collective skills and abilities of your team? Do you even have a team? Who supports you? What personnel obstacles do you face? Is there a sense of ensemble among your colleagues? What is your role and how much authority do you have? Are you skilled in project management?

These are essential questions to consider.

Realizing effective e-learning programs is complex. It has many facets and the realization must be grounded on a foundation of deep institutional knowledge. Who are we? What are our objectives for promoting e-learning? If everything goes as we plan and hope, how would we be different? How would our students be better off?

Facing thick questions up front and head on is in itself a good exercise to assess institutional stamina. Any college of university can put in place a disparate set of online technologies. You want to be more than that—you deserve to be the best you can be.

Dr. Ric Underhile holds degrees in music (1994, Wayne State University), counselor education (1996, Wayne State University), and health education (2000, Southern Illinois University). His research and practice interests entertain notions of intellectual curiosity and creativity. He is particularly invested in understanding and creating conditions that promote learning. He is an avid user of social networking. He has consulted with over 200 colleges and universities throughout North America on issues pertaining to organizational alignment, strategic planning, and professional development. He is a 2014 alumnus of the Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning and is currently the Director of Foundation Communications and Grants Management at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI.




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