Research is for Everyone!


Lynette O’Keefe, Sherri Restauri, Tracy Cosker, OLC Accelerate 2019 Steering Committee Members

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Have you ever been looking for Best Practice Guides, lessons learned, or helpful takeaways online, at conference sessions, and in other areas of professional development? You probably chose what to use or attend based on how well the resources address your needs and how effective they have been demonstrated to be. We all know that quality instructional and institutional resources of all types are grounded in research and inquiry, but we don’t all think of ourselves as engaged in or even directly impacted by research – especially those of us in applied or administrative positions. So – is that true? Are we, as a community, engaged in research? Should we be? How do we do that? A few weeks ago, OLC Interim CEO Jennifer Mathes shared a blog post about recent successes, the OLC strategic vision, and a bit about exciting developments to come, all focused on providing high-quality and relevant resources to both OLC members and the broader online learning community. These resources are all research-driven, pedagogically-proven, and grounded in theoretical support within the SOTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) disciplines. Research isn’t just conducted in a laboratory or traditional academic formats. It includes a wide range of methodologies, has many applications, and encompasses many diverse populations – including the researchers and their roles. You are likely conducting various forms of research with your courses and programs, now, without recognizing the many possible applications and opportunities where you may distribute your findings or results out to the global digital learning community.

Should we all be engaged in research? Digital and online education are continuing to grow rapidly as a result of increased enrollment pressures, limited physical space, and the increasing student need and/or preference for more flexible options. In addition to effectively serving a growing student population, demands for accountability at local, state, and federal levels have increased in recent years. These circumstances mean a few things for the field of digital learning: high-quality, effective course design and delivery are more important than ever; leaders in online learning must be both knowledgeable about the field today and additionally, forward-thinking enough to lead digital growth and transformation; and data on everything from enrollments and outcomes to costs to program and course information is increasingly important for making informed, long-term investment choices. These many variables all combine to provide a unique opportunity (and imperative!) for professionals across the field to engage in research in a variety of ways.

How do we engage in research? That’s a seemingly simple question, but digital and online learning encompasses such a variety of professionals, the answer varies quite a bit depending on institutional and professional roles. Some answers are obvious; scholars and researchers tend to follow established research design based on theory, data collection, experimentation, etc. Other answers are less obvious but no less important, such as the tremendous increase in SOTL-related research out of the academic disciplines in the last two decades. For example, instructional designers must understand design and pedagogical theory and translate that knowledge into effective, immersive learning environments – and they are often on the front lines of gathering or accessing information about implementation and outcomes; program directors and administrators overseeing campus-wide initiatives must investigate, pilot, validate, correct, and improve methods for strategically supporting student-focused digital learning programs and platforms, and a plethora of data and research has come out of these projects globally to date. Finding the best means for both collating and sharing this collective knowledge with colleagues is essential – and that’s where OLC’s integrative Research Center, Conferences, and various professional development opportunities come into play.

Are we engaged in research? Increasingly, yes! Not only is this true across the digital and online learning landscape, but it’s also visible within the OLC community. There has been an increasing number of proposals for the Research track at conferences, a marked increase in the diversity and quality of research-based proposals, and more interest and feedback from conference attendees about their interest in more representation research on teaching and learning, as well as leadership and organization in online areas. The Online Learning Journal (OLJ) provides high-quality, peer-reviewed research in an open-access format, and for the past three years (and on track for a fourth), has nearly doubled readership each year. The OLC Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership was established in 2017 with the goal of disseminating high-quality research, and is now transitioning into not just dissemination, but knowledge creation, new partnerships, critical thought resources, and exciting new opportunities for member engagement with research (look for more information over the next few months!).

OLC is committed to providing ongoing, relevant research and research-driven community resources that serve members across the variety of roles they hold. Whether you’re already engaged in research, interested in being more engaged, or simply interested in learning how research impacts you, Accelerate 2019 is a great place to start and has research options for everyone!

We’ll have another blog post in a few weeks with some details about the many research-related engagement opportunities at Accelerate – but in the meantime, consider whether these options may fit your needs or interests.

  • The Research Summit is focused on online STEM education and will provide not just a timely and relevant discussion on successes, challenges, and strategies, but participants will play an important role in shaping the development of the upcoming national survey on the state of online STEM education.
  • Keynotes by Talithia Williams and Ross Dawson will respectively include topics such as using data-informed decisions to drive student success in higher education and online learning, and looking beyond surface-level data and the constant influx of information we receive to inspire, catalyze, and align our diverse community to result in meaningful transformation for the future of online learning.
  • The pre-conference workshop Deconstructing Education Research: Applying a 4-Step Process to Your Practice is an interactive workshop that will lead participants through a systematic process to design and construct their own educational technology research.
  • The Research Center Focus Group provides participants with an opportunity to actively help shape upcoming topics and opportunities that are valuable to them from the Research Center. 

Be on the lookout for the upcoming blog post with additional tips and ideas on how to get involved with OLC at our upcoming Accelerate conference in Orlando!


Tracy Cosker
Tracy Mullen Cosker, University of New Hampshire – Conference Co-Chair
Sherri Restauri, Coastal Carolina University – Conference Co-Chair
Lynette O'Keefe
Lynette M. O’Keefe, Ph.D. Director, Research & Innovation, Online Learning Consortium

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