How We Got Here: The Evolution Of OLC And Why It Matters

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

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.


Premiere online scholar and James Stuckle professor, University of Illinois Southern; OLC Fellow and Outstanding Achievement Award in Online Learning; member of IACEHOF and significant role in development and dissemination of the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework. Karen Swan is the James J. Stukel Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and a Research Associate in the Center for Online Learning, Research, & Service (COLRS) at the University of Illinois Springfield. Karen’s research has been in the general area of electronic media and learning for the 25 years since she received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. For the past 20 years, she has been teaching online, researching online learning, and writing extensively about her experiences. She received the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, National University Technology Network (NUTN) Distinguished Service Award, and the Burks Oakley II Distinguished Online Teaching Award for her work in this area. She is also an OLC Fellow and a member of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. In 2010 she also was given the Distinguished Alumni award by her alma mater.
Ralph E. Gomory was born May 7, 1929, in Brooklyn Heights, New York.  He graduated from Williams College in 1950, studied at Cambridge University, and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University in 1954.  Gomory then served in the Navy (1954-57) and then was a Higgins Lecturer and Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Princeton before joining IBM's newly formed Research Division in 1959 as a research mathematician. In his student and graduate student years (Williams, Cambridge, Princeton), Gomory did research on nonlinear differential equations, but his years in the Navy turned his attention to the applied mathematics of operations research.  Back at Princeton he obtained the first general cutting-plane algorithms, which established the field of integer programming. It remains an active area of research today. At IBM Research in the early 1960's, Gomory published papers with Paul Gilmore on the knapsack, traveling salesman and cutting-stock problems, and with T. C. Hu on flows in multi-terminal networks and continua. In the late 1960's, he developed the asymptotic theory of integer programming and introduced the concept of corner polyhedra.  In the early 1970's, he collaborated with Ellis Johnson in investigating subadditive functions related to corner polyhedra that could also play a role in producing cutting-planes. Gomory served as Chairman of IBM Research's Mathematical Sciences Department from 1965-67 and 1968-70 during an important period of its growth and evolution.  This period saw the beginning of Samuel Winograd's work on limits of algorithms and of Benoit Mandelbrot's work on fractals. Gomory became Director of Research for IBM in 1970, with line responsibility for IBM's Research Division. During his 18 years as Director of Research the Research Division made a wide range of contributions to IBM's products, to the computer industry, and to science. The Zurich Research Laboratory did the work that resulted in two successive Nobel Prizes in physics, Yorktown Heights Research was the birthplace of what is now known as RISC architecture, and San Jose was the birthplace of the concept, theory and first prototype of relational databases. Gomory, who had become the IBM Senior Vice President for Science and Technology retired from IBM in 1989 and became President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During his tenure as President he led the foundation into a long list of fields relevant to major national issues. The foundation pioneered in the field of on-line learning supporting this work before there was even a public Internet, and then supported its growth to more than three million people taking courses for credit. They started the now widespread program of industry studies, and engaged a major program advocating a more flexible workplace. The foundation developed a novel and successful approach to the problem of producing minority PhD’s in scientific and technical fields. The foundation was early in perceiving the threat of bioterrorism and was active in that area for years before the events of 9/11. On the scientific side the foundation supported the widely recognized Sloan Sky Survey, which has made major contributions to the problem of dark energy and initiated a major worldwide effort to survey life in the oceans known as the Census of Marine Life.   In December 2007, after 18 years as President, Gomory became President Emeritus. Gomory has served in many capacities in academic, industrial and governmental organizations. He was a Trustee of Hampshire College from 1977-1986 and of Princeton University from 1985-1989.  He served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) from 1984 to 1992, and again from 2001 to the present.  He served for a number of terms on the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP). He has recently joined STEP, the Board on Science Technology and Economic Policy of the National Academies.       Gomory has been a director of a number of companies including the Washington Post Company and the Bank of New York. He is currently a director of Lexmark International, Inc., and of two small start-up companies.  He was named one of America’s ten best directors by Director’s Alert magazine in 2000. Gomory has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Philosophical Society. He was subsequently elected to the Councils of all three societies. He has been awarded eight honorary degrees and many prizes including the Lanchester Prize in 1963, the Harry Goode Memorial Award of the American Federation of Information Processing Societies in 1984, the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1984, the Medal of the Industrial Research Society in 1985, the IEEE Engineering Leadership Recognition Award in 1988, the National Medal of Science awarded by the President in 1988, the Arthur M. Bueche Award of the National Academy of Engineering in 1993, the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment in 1998, the Madison Medal Award of Princeton University in 1999,  the Sheffield Fellowship Award of the Yale University Faculty of Engineering in 2000, the International Federation of Operational Research Societies’ Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Harold Larnder Prize of the Canadian Operational Research Society in 2006. While continuing his research on integer programming Gomory has written on the nature of technology development, research in industry, and industrial competitiveness, and on models of international trade involving changing technologies and economies of scale. He is the author, with Professor William Baumol, of the book Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests (MIT Press 2001).
Eric E. Fredericksen is the associate vice president of online learning at the University of Rochester and professor in educational leadership at the Warner School of Education. A national leader in online education, Fredericksen provides leadership for the exploration of online learning initiatives across the University. Previously, he was the associate vice provost at the University, where he provided leadership and services that supported the academic and research missions of the University. Prior to the University of Rochester, Fredericksen served as the director of academic technology and media services at Cornell University. As a senior manager in Cornell Information Technologies, he helped craft Cornell's presence and direction in the use of contemporary technologies to support research, outreach, and teaching & learning both in and out of the classroom. Before Cornell, Fredericksen was the assistant provost for advanced learning technology in the Office of the Provost in the State University of New York System Administration, where he provided leadership and direction for all of SUNY's system-wide programs focused on the innovative use of technology to support teaching and learning. This included the nationally-recognized SUNY Learning Network - winner of the EDUCAUSE Award for Systemic Progress in Teaching and Learning and Sloan-C Awards for Excellence in Faculty Development and Excellence in Institution-wide Online Programming. It also included the SUNY Teaching Learning and Technology Program and Project MERLOT, which were designed to complement the classroom with technology-supported instruction. Fredericksen was also a co-principal investigator and administrative officer for three multi-year, multi-million dollar grants on Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN) from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He was responsible for the fiscal management, strategic planning, policy development, faculty development, marketing & promotion, a technical support center for faculty and students, and operations and technology infrastructure. He managed a distributed statewide staff of IT, administrative, instructional design, and faculty support professionals. Under his leadership, the program grew from two campuses offering eight courses to 119 enrollments to 53 campuses offering 2,500 courses to more than 40,000 enrollments in just seven years. He has also designed, developed, and taught online courses for the Department of Educational Theory and Practice in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Albany for the past 12 years. Fredericksen is active in national efforts, including EDUCAUSE, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, and the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C). He was chair of the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning and previously served as chair of the Sloan-C Awards Program for Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning. He also served on the advisory board for Enterprise Learning at NYU. In 2012, Fredericksen was elected to the board of directors for the Sloan Consortium and served as the President of the Board of OLC in 2018 and 2019. He was honored as a Sloan-C Fellow in 2013.
Mary Niemiec is the Associate Vice President for Digital Education and Director of the University of Nebraska Online. In her role at the University of Nebraska, she coordinates the system-wide collaborative initiative that pulls together the 150 plus online programs offered by the four campuses of the NU system. She has worked in the areas of higher education continuing, online, and blended learning for more than twenty years. In addition to her University responsibilities, she represents and serves the University within the state of Nebraska and nationally by serving in leadership roles in various professional organizations. She currently serves as President for the Board of Directors of the Online Learning Consortium. She also serves as a member of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission’s Education Council and a member of the Policy Committee for UPCEA. She was named an OLC Fellow in 2011.
Kaye Shelton, Ph.D. is a Professor of Educational Leadership in the Center for Doctoral Studies in the College of Education at Lamar University. Previously as the Dean of Online Education for Dallas Baptist University, she led the development and ongoing operations of their online education programs with over 55 majors and degrees offered fully online. She is certified as an online instructor, teaching online since 1999, and also an online education consultant. Winner of the both the Blackboard and eLearning exemplary online course awards, she has published over 40 articles and book chapters in the field of online education, including a coauthored book entitled An Administrator's Guide to Online Education. Dr. Shelton was also awarded a Sloan-C Effective Practice award for her research on the Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Education Programs, the John R. Bourne award for Outstanding Achievement in Online Education and the NCPEA Morphet Dissertation award.  Dr. Shelton has been involved with research in online education since 1997 and has spoken at numerous conferences and workshops and advised peer institutions regarding the creation of an online education program and best practices for teaching online and faculty support.  Recently, Dr. Shelton has been involved in the national and international use of the OLC Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Programs as it has been adopted by institutions in Latin America. She is also an Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard program evaluator and teaches workshops regarding its implementation.  

Extended Abstract

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.