The Power and Importance of Networking in Online and Digital Learning Leadership


Author: Katie Fife Schuster, OLC Director of Programming

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As we approach the 30th anniversary of the annual OLC conference, I can’t help but think back over my 20+ OLC annual conference experiences. My experiences are rooted in the connections I have made with the people I have met along the way. Over the past three decades, OLC conferences have become more than an opportunity to learn new strategies and techniques and more than presenting and sharing your work with a like-minded community. These convenings have become gatherings of friends and colleagues from around the world where we connect and collaborate to lead us collectively into the future of learning. 

One of OLC’s values is to cultivate shared spaces for community members to employ criticality around the field’s practices and methods that prioritize generative change work. In other words, we think providing opportunities to expand your professional network is critical to your success and the success of the community. The networking and engagement opportunities that occur in these liminal spaces between formal sessions are central to OLC’s programming. Having access to and sharing a wealth of knowledge and experience helps us navigate the challenges we face as leaders in online and digital learning. 

In the evolving landscape of online and digital learning, the role of a leader extends beyond traditional management and administration. It requires a robust community to stay ahead of trends, share best practices, and collaboratively solve challenges. Building a strong network of peers is an essential part of leading in the online and digital learning environment. It fosters the exchange of ideas, supports operational strategies, promotes equity and inclusion, and drives innovation in pedagogical methods. 

Over the past few years, we’ve created a gathering space specifically for online and digital learning leaders with the OLC Leadership Network Symposium (Monday, November 18, 2024, in Orlando, Florida). This full-day, immersive pre-conference event features opportunities to connect with other online and digital learning leaders and to collaborate around engaging sessions. The themes of this year’s Symposium are Operational Strategies for Digital Learning Excellence, Equity and Inclusion in Digital Learning, and Innovating Our Digital Learning Pedagogies and Methods. Focusing on these three themes, let’s explore how networking is a critical leadership skill.  

Operational Strategies for Digital Learning Excellence

Effective online learning leadership requires meticulous planning and execution of operational strategies. Networking plays a crucial role in this by providing leaders with access to a wealth of knowledge and experience from peers who have navigated or may be navigating similar challenges. Networking supports operational excellence in the following ways: 

  1. Innovative Budget Models and Financial Sustainability: Developing and sustaining online and blended learning programs often demands innovative budgeting approaches. By connecting with other leaders, one can learn about successful budget models tailored for digital learning. Peer networks offer insights into strategies for financial sustainability, enabling leaders to adopt practices that have been tested and proven effective in similar contexts.
  2. Comprehensive Digital Strategy Development: A well-rounded digital strategy aligns with institutional goals and values and navigates the complexities of digital transformation. Networking allows leaders to share their digital strategies, gain feedback, and refine their approaches. By learning from the successes and missteps of others, leaders can develop more robust and comprehensive strategies.
  3. Organizational Change Management: Implementing digital learning initiatives often involves significant organizational change. Peer networks provide a support system where leaders can discuss change management techniques, share experiences, and gather advice on how to manage resistance and promote acceptance. This collaborative environment helps in ensuring the long-term viability of digital learning initiatives.

Equity and Inclusion in Digital Learning

Creating equitable and accessible online learning environments is a priority for educational leaders. Networking is instrumental in advancing equity and inclusion in several ways:

  1. Designing Inclusive Courses: Peer networks can offer a wealth of ideas for designing inclusive courses that cater to diverse student populations. Leaders can exchange strategies on how to make online courses more accessible and engaging for all learners, ensuring that no student is left behind.
  2. Supporting Underserved and Diverse Populations: Networking with leaders who have experience in supporting underserved and diverse populations can provide invaluable insights. By sharing best practices and resources, leaders can implement effective support systems for these students, fostering a more inclusive learning environment.
  3. Advancing Diverse Leadership: Networking also plays a crucial role in promoting pathways to diverse leadership within higher education. Engaging with a diverse network of peers helps emerging leaders from underrepresented groups find mentors, gain visibility, and access opportunities for professional growth. This, in turn, helps in building a leadership pipeline that reflects the diversity of the community.

Innovating Our Digital Learning Pedagogies and Methods

Innovation in digital pedagogy and the integration of emerging technologies are key to enhancing online learning. Networking supports this innovation in the following ways:

  1. Exploring Cutting-Edge Pedagogical Practices: Peer networks are often at the forefront of pedagogical innovation. By connecting with other leaders, one can stay updated on the latest trends and practices in digital pedagogy. This collaborative learning environment encourages the adoption of new methods and continuous improvement.
  2. Integrating Emerging Technologies: The rapid pace of technological advancement means that leaders must constantly explore new tools and technologies. Networking with peers who are experimenting with AI, AR, VR, and other emerging technologies can provide practical insights and case studies. This shared knowledge accelerates the integration of these technologies into the curriculum, enhancing the teaching and learning experience.
  3. Assessing Learning Outcomes: Continuous improvement of academic programs requires effective assessment of learning outcomes. Peer networks allow leaders to share methodologies and tools for assessing the impact of digital learning initiatives. This collective wisdom helps in refining assessment strategies and ensuring that they are aligned with educational goals.


Networking is a cornerstone of effective leadership in the online and digital learning field. It enables leaders to develop and implement operational strategies for digital learning excellence, promotes equity and inclusion, and drives innovation in pedagogical practices. By building a strong network of peers, online learning leaders can navigate the complexities of digital transformation, support diverse student populations, and continuously improve their educational offerings. In the dynamic and fast-paced world of digital learning, no leader should navigate the journey alone. Networking provides the support, knowledge, and collaborative environment necessary for you to thrive and lead with excellence.

Register to attend the 2024 OLC Leadership Network Symposium to connect with and expand your network of online and digital learning leaders. 

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