The Rising Profile of the Chief Online Learning Officer

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

Facilitators of this roundtable seek to spur further conversation beyond an article they published in 2016 on "The Chief Online Learning Officer: Competencies, Roles, and Trajectories." A discussion around these findings will help continue to shape the role, prepare those seeking such roles, and support those currently in it.


Josh Herron is the Dean of Online and Continuous Learning at Anderson University (SC). In addition to previously serving as an online campus administrator at another institution, he has been a full-time faculty member, led faculty development initiatives, and served as an instructional designer. He has a Ph.D. from Clemson University and an M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He has completed Penn State and the Online Learning Consortium's Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning and has been the recipient of the UPCEA South Region Emerging Leader Award.

Extended Abstract

Even before the facilitators of this session published "The Chief Online Learning Officer: Competencies, Roles, and Trajectories" in the UPCEA Unbound journal in 2016, calls for closer examinations of the increasingly vital role and impact of these leaders reaches back over a decade and a half (Beaudoin, 2003). The role of the Chief Online Learning Officer has only grown in importance and visibility since these conversations started and even since publication of this article three years ago. As the role has expanded, however, the development of a clearly defined career path, skill set, or workplace presence had not coincided in universally agreed-upon terms (Jodene, 2008). Through works like the one written by the facilitators, higher education is only beginning to set a cogent, comprehensive understanding of the responsibilities, priorities, and commitments that generally define the Chief Online Learning Officer, which can be broadly categorized as advocacy, entrepreneurialism, and enthusiasm for both technology and pedagogy.

Despite numerous studies that explore the best practices and the innovative aspects of online education, research and practitioner pieces are lacking specifically on the role of the Chief Online Learning Officer within educational institutions and the field at large (Gopalakrishnan, 2011). Consequently, those seeking to support online learning are hard pressed to delineate the figures and opportunities shaping the future of educational offerings in nontraditional contexts. Without a clear definition of the role and understanding of the skills maintained by Chief Online Learning Officers, potential exists for further confusion and disorganization regarding the professional identity of this key position. This roundtable will seek to define the current role of the Chief Online Learning Officer, discuss its evolution over the last decade, and describe the skills and other characteristics foundational to this leadership position. Case studies will be shared that highlight these competencies and trajectories, and the following questions will be raised:

  • Do the competencies identified by the facilitators’ findings line up with the audience's experiences?
  • What prior experiences best prepare a Chief Online Learning Officer?
  • How does the Chief Online Learning Officer differ from a Chief Information Officer of Senior Academic Technology Officer?
  • What's the trajectory beyond a Chief Online Learning Officer role?
  • How should the Chief Online Learning Officer fit in the organizational structure?

This session seeks to engage participants from a variety of roles and positions in online learning to help shape the conversation around expectations for the Chief Online Learning Officer role on a large-scale for the field while better preparing those seeking such roles and supporting folks in them.