Innovating Faster and Better in Online and Blended Learning to Achieve Institutional Goals

Concurrent Session 1
Blended Leadership

Brief Abstract

As lines between online, resident, blended, synchronous and asynchronous education blur, we are bringing the benefits of each mode of learning to all students. Let us tell you about key lessons and successes in developing an approach to systematic, operationalized, scalable innovation that meets the needs of faculty and students.


Chris has 20 years of experience in the fields of educational technology and online learning. He is currently the Director of Learning Design for Penn State's World Campus, an organization that has been at the forefront of online learning for over 20 years. Chris was previous assistant director for Education Technology Services at Penn State, where he created the Penn State Media Commons. He also co-lead the creation of the IMS Caliper learning analytics standard. Chris oversees the design and development of online courses for a portfolio of over 45 academic programs and 500 courses. He provides leadership around university policies and organizational processes related to online learning and educational technology, with interests in areas such as learning analytics, virtual and augmented reality, interactive media, process improvement and change management, agile project management, and developing passionate and engaged teams.

Extended Abstract

Penn State University has overcome significant hurdles over the past decade in making online and distance education successful at our institution. An emerging challenge is that the lines between online, resident, blended, synchronous and asynchronous education are blurring and overlapping. We are pushing ourselves to bring the respective benefits of each of these modes of learning to all students. We are increasingly seeing resident students desire the flexibility of online learning, and online students seeking the connection to their peers and institution that resident students enjoy. Our faculty and students are asking for less silos and more fluidity across modes, and we are responding to their needs. This requires creativity and innovation in instruction, learning design, and program management. However, significant barriers exist in policy, organizational structures, culture, financial models, and more. 

At Penn State, like many institutions with a goal of achieving sustainable growth in online learning programs in this current highly-competitive education marketplace, a disciplined but bold strategy to program management is essential. Developing online or blended courses can be costly, and there is often little margin for investment in innovation. This further reinforces the need to make as large an impact as possible, in multiple disciplines and modalities, with what resources are available. We have developed a systematic process of iteratively maturing and selecting technological and pedagogical innovations that rapidly moves an organization from idea to implementation while tightly controlling overhead. The process also affords us to the ability to engage with partners at scale in order to maximize impact. This approach has evolved over many years and multiple unique projects, and its elements are clearly defined and reproducible.

The session will present practical strategies for operationalizing innovation at any institution, based on lessons learned at Penn State. We will share information on the needs driving this approach, some of the innovative initiatives we matured through this process, how we leveraged technology and sound learning theory, engaged with stakeholders, and built partnerships to create an increasingly cohesive teaching environment for our faculty who work across modalities.