How We Got Here: The Evolution Of OLC And Why It Matters
Concurrent Session 1
The story of OLC from its beginnings in Sloan Foundation grants to the present as told by the people who made it happen. Special attention will be paid to how that history made online learning in the US what it is today and what it might mean for the future.
A panel of pioneers in online learning will reflect on the last 25 years and how online learning has evolved in a quarter century. Panelists will discuss the ways in which the Sloan Consortium (which became OLC) supported the early development of online learning and online learning research, as well as how online learning has changed as it moved from the margins of higher education to its center. Special attention will be paid to how that history made online learning in the US what it is today and what it might mean for the future. Audience participation will be encouraged.
In 1992, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation established the Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program to explore educational alternatives for people who wanted to pursue higher education but who could not easily attend regularly scheduled college classes. At the time, small numbers of motivated individuals studied by themselves away from university centers through distance education, whose pedagogies involved little or no human interaction. In 1992, the Internet was not accessible to most people, and the digital education resources that did exist could usually only be accessed at terminals on university campuses.
None-the-less, Ralph Gomory (who was then President of the Sloan Foundation) and Frank Mayadas (whom Ralph tapped to lead the Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program) believed in the capacity of computer networks to support interaction among students and instructors separated by time and distance. They called such networks “Asynchronous Learning Networks” or ALNs. Mayadas (1997, p.2) wrote, “In an ALN we can think of every person on the network as both a user and a resource. This concept is crucial to the power of an ALN, making it not just an electronic network but a network of people -- an interactive learning community that is not limited by time, place or the constraints of a classroom.”
And Gomory and Mayadas set about to prove it by funding experimental classes and programs that were delivered online. Most importantly, they insisted that the quality of classes offered online should be at least as good as comparable classes offered in face-to-face settings, which to their minds meant they should be interactive. The importance of this approach cannot be overstated as it is arguably what has distinguished online learning in the United States.
As time went on, institutions who received funding as part of the Anytime, Anyplace Learning Program were brought together informally to share ideas and strategies. They met for the first time 25 years ago and that meeting grew into the conference we know today as Accelerate.
Starting in 1992, the Sloan Foundation funded 346 projects totaling $72,000,000, most of which went to non-profit colleges and universities. Major distance and adult learning providers such as the University of Maryland University College and the Penn State World Campus were early grantees. Following on the heels of these institutions, large mainstream public university systems such as the University of Illinois, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Central Florida developed substantial online learning programs. A good example of such a program Consortium was the SUNY Learning Network (known today as SUNY Online) which was led by Eric Fredericksen and brought online learning to the 64 institutions in the State University of New York system.
Perhaps the most significant initiative of the grant program was the establishment of the Sloan Consortium of Colleges and Universities (Sloan-C). Originally an informal organization of Foundation grantees, the Consortium incorporated in 2008 as a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) organization. Sloan-C became the largest recipient of funding from the Anytime, Anyplace, Learning Program, receiving in excess of $15 million over the course of the grant program.
The Sloan Foundation continued to fund classes and programs, but also funded research on online learning and supported the dissemination of online learning research through the Sloan Consortium’s conferences and the first journal concerned solely with online learning, the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (Online Learning today). In the early 2000s, large urban universities in New York, Chicago and Milwaukee were funded to develop and expand blended learning environments and the Consortium developed a Blended Learning Conference under the leadership of Mary Niemiec to bring together educators exploring the efficacy of that delivery model.
In 2014, as a self-sustaining worldwide organization, the Sloan Consortium rebranded as the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) to better align with our mission, a dedication to providing access to high quality online education to individuals, institutions, professional societies and the corporate community. A good example of that dedication to quality is the Quality Scorecard Suite. The original Quality Scorecard, created by Kaye Shelton, was designed to help institutions determine the strengths and weaknesses of their programs, and initiate planning efforts towards areas of improvement. It has been used by over 400 institutions and translated into Spanish.
The story of Sloan-C/OLC will be told by five people who played important parts in its history. Panelists will also be asked to reflect on how the organization affected the evolution of online learning in the US and how they believe it will continue to affect online learning in the future. Audience participation will be encouraged through questions to the audience and prizes for correct answers as well as time for audience questions to the panelists.