A Strategic Framework for Online Learning: Insights for Developing a Masterplan for Online Learning at Your Institution

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

What framework do leaders use to develop a masterplan for online learning at their institutions? Join us to discuss a strategic framework for online learning that provides a step-by-step process for making key decisions; including examples of best practices, current trends, and lessons learned; and opportunities to share your own.


Firm Faith Watson currently serves as the Director of the Faculty Development Center at Murray State University. In this capacity, she organized various faculty development initiatives including the New Faculty Orientation, Online Course Design Institute, and Fall Faculty Summit. She is also host of the freely available This Works for Me Virtual Summit. She developed a love for teaching while serving as a lecturer at the Jamaica Institute of Management. She completed a Master of Science in Education degree with an emphasis in Workforce Education and Development at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). Subsequently, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Learning Systems Design and Technology at SIUC. She also earned several professional certifications that have honed her faculty development skills. Firm Faith’s faculty development experiences include serving as the Instructional Designer in the University Center for Excellence in Teaching (UCET) at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) for over five years. While serving in that capacity, she developed various professional development opportunities to help faculty design and facilitate face-to-face, blended and online courses. She also conducted the annual assessment of the faculty development activities provided by UCET. Prior to serving at IUSB, Firm Faith served as an online course manager at SIUC, for over five years, where she taught online courses and trained online course managers to teach online.
Dr. Anthony Piña is Associate Provost for Instruction and Online Learning, and Distinguished Lecturer in the Graduate School at Sullivan University, Louisville KY, where he oversees academics, policy and development for over 30 fully online degree programs and more than 500 unique online courses. In his three decades in the field of instructional technology and distance learning, Dr. Piña has been a consultant to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses, local government agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard and numerous educational institutions. He is also an accreditation peer reviewer for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Dr. Piña is tthe recipient of many national awards, including the 2019 Wagner Award for Distance Learning Leadership at the Distance Learning Administration Conference. He is author/editor of six books on online learning, including the award winning "Leading and Managing e-Learning: What the E-Learning Leader Needs to Know,” published by Springer, and more than 70 academic publications. He serves on the editorial review boards of three scholarly journals and has delivered over 200 presentations—including several keynotes—at conferences across the country. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). He is Past-President of AECT’s Division of Distance Learning and is General Editor of AECT’s Instructional Design Standards for Distance Learning. He has recently been elected to a three-year term as a Trustee of the AECT Non-Profit Foundation.
Jonathan Small is a higher education executive and entrepreneur with over 18 years of experience in the areas of online learning and distance education. As a respected leader in the field, he manages efforts at Regis College in Weston, MA to increase access to high quality graduate and undergraduate education through the online modality. Prior to joining Regis, Small worked with universities as an independent consultant and at Meteor Learning, an education technology startup, to create and expand online education and training programs. He also held leadership positions at several Boston area schools including Director of Online Learning at the Wentworth Institute of Technology; Director of Online Programs at Bay State College; and eLearning Program Manager at New England College of Business and Finance. In these roles, Small launched each school's initial online degree programs and built teams, processes, and infrastructure to support online students and faculty. In his six years as a workshop consultant with the Online Learning Consortium he partnered with experts to create online professional development workshops for higher education faculty and administrators. The topics of these workshops included best practices for online teaching and the adoption of cutting edge technologies and techniques related to distance education.

Extended Abstract

How do Higher Education leaders (e.g., University Provosts, Associate Provosts, Deans and Directors of Online Learning) develop a master plan for online learning at their institutions? What framework or best practices do they draw on to guide their decisions? Are there examples of guidelines, roadmaps, blueprints or master plans available for such aims? How do these leaders easily get practical (step-by-step) help and examples from respected experts to gauge their efforts, progress, and achievements? This presentation will reveal a strategic framework for online learning that leaders may use to develop a master plan for online learning at their institutions. 

A major aim of university leaders is to develop and grow online learning at their institutions that will lead to increased revenue without sacrificing quality. However, to do so, these leaders need to be able to make sound decisions. In recent years, some university leaders have been turning to the expertise of online program management companies (OPMs) who propose revenue share arrangements that could, for example, allow the OPMs to develop, market, and launch the universities’ online programs while providing advantages such as increased enrollment and revenue. These packages are attractive to leaders who recognise that there are many pieces to the puzzle of leading online initiatives and they conclude that the OPMs seem to have the puzzle figured out better than they do. In contrast, other leaders have been negotiating their way out of OPM contracts and are trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together themselves by developing in-house systems to lead their online initiatives. Another recent trend for increasing student enrollment has been through corporate partnerships. For example, Arizona State, a university with one of the largest online enrollment in the United States, has formed corporate partnerships to increase their enrollment, the most famous being with Starbucks. 

How do leaders find out about what works with traditional and recent trends for developing worthwhile online initiatives? Join us in this presentation to discuss a strategic framework for online learning that is grounded in research, best practices, and established models such as the Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Programs, the Quality Matters Online Program Certification, and the UPCEA Hallmarks of Excellence in Online Leadership.

Session Objectives

By the end of this session, participants will be able to do the following:

  • Distinguish between a strategic framework for online learning and a masterplan for online learning.
  • Explain the different sections of the strategic framework for online learning.
  • ​Discuss practical examples of best practices that are associated with certain sections of the strategic framework for online learning.
  • Identify specific sections of the framework with supporting examples that may be used to develop a masterplan for online learning at their institution. 
  • ​Share strategies that have worked for them while developing online initiatives at their institution.

Presentation Outline:

After introductions, the presenters will explain what is a master plan for online learning. They will then discuss the relevance of a masterplan, and ask participants to share whether or not they have a masterplan for online learning at their institution. 

Next, the presenters will explain what is a strategic framework for online learning and the development and relevance of the current strategic framework, including the established online learning models that informed the framework. They will also explain the major sections of the framework, including several practical steps that leaders may use to make informed decisions to develop worthwhile online learning initiatives at their institutions. These key decisions may be related, but are not limited, to the following. 

  1. Assure that online learning is in the university’s plan (e.g., vision, mission, and strategic plan)

  2. Determine the institution’s capacity for online learning

  3. Develop online learning policies 

  4. Determine change management strategies 

  5. Determine human resource 

  6. Develop a quality assurance plan (e.g., choosing whether or not to use established rubrics, scorecards, hallmarks, or to build your own)

  7. Develop online programs

  8. Establish online learning visibility

  9. Determine technologies

  10. Evaluate masterplan for online learning

The presenters will also share some practical examples of best practices and trends that are specific to various sections of the strategic framework for online learning.

Next, the session participants will be invited to do the following activities in groups, and report back to the entire group.

  • Discuss challenges they have faced while developing or helping to develop and launch online learning initiative at their institutions.

  • Identify sections of the framework that may be used to develop a masterplan for online learning at their institution.

  • Articulate current trends for growing online learning at universities. 

  • Share strategies that have worked for them in the process of developing online initiatives at your institution.

The participants will also be invited to ask questions, including those related to  the development and application of the strategic framework for online learning.  

The presenters will end the session by offering a challenge and an encouragement to the participants, and pointing them to additional resources that could help them develop a masterplan for online learning at their institution.