March 2021, a Month Celebrating 25 Years of Online and Blended Research Excellence


Dr. Peter Shea, OLC Board Member and Editor-in-Chief of the Online Learning Journal

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March 1, 2021 is a big day for research here at the OLC. This marks the 25th volume of the Online Learning Consortium’s open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Online Learning (OLJ). This is noteworthy for a few reasons. The journal has been published continuously since 1997, first as the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN) before merging with the MERLOT’s Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT) and changing names to the simpler Online Learning. Publishing on this topic for 25 years makes OLJ the first scholarly publication dedicated to the topic of online education. The journal has also been open access since before open access was an organizing concept.

The journal grew out of a recognition that we needed systematic evidence of the feasibility of offering online instruction in higher education. The use of computer networks in education combined with browser-based interfaces was still a novelty in the late 1990s. Did a more ubiquitous and user-friendly internet change the rules for offering distance education? The Sloan Foundation’s Frank Mayadas suggested that it did in one of the first papers published in the journal.

There were also concerns about the efficacy of online instruction. This early rationale motivated the publication of initial studies on student and faculty satisfaction with online learning as well as organizational issues related to launching online courses and programs. Gradually the journal gained prominence and attracted then rising stars in the world of online learning research such as Terry Anderson and Randy Garrison who brought us a widely used conceptual model for online learning, the Community of Inquiry framework.

As the years went by it became apparent that the journal could not be published on a simple website and needed a purpose-built platform. In keeping with JALN and OLJ’s roots as free and open educational resources the organization decided to move to the Open Journal System in 2007. Moving two decades of issues was completed in 2018 and the journal has had one consolidated home on OJS ever since.

In 2014 we began an ongoing effort to improve the standing of the journal in the world of scholarly publication. This included adding new members to our then core editorial team of Karen Swan, Tony Picciano and Katrina Meyer. Early new recruits to OLJ included Charles Graham, Shanna Smith Jaggars, and Jennifer Richardson. Our editorial team continues to grow and improvements have led to OLJ being ranked as the top journal in online learning by Google Scholar metrics. True to our open access foundations, we also now rank in the top 5% of all open access journals in the broader field of education.

The world has changed dramatically since the early days of online learning. Our 25th Anniversary issue reflects some of these changes. On March 1 we will publish a full issue on online learning in the age of the pandemic. The articles in this special issue provide a rich portrait of the teaching and learning challenges which characterized the initial COVID-19 emergency transition in Spring 2020, and detail the approaches of administrators and teachers as they attempted to overcome those challenges.

Along the way, these studies provide lessons in terms of how to better prepare for future public emergencies, as well as how to improve student success more generally, in both online and in-person settings.

Please join us in celebrating our first 25 years of online learning research with OLJ!


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