Twenty Years of Research in Online Learning


Peter Shea, PhD, Editor in Chief, Online Learning Journal, and Associate Provost and Associate Professor, SUNY Albany

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This blog was posted in early April 2016 to commemorate the Online Learning Journal’s (OLJ) 20th anniverary.  During Global Leadership Week, we continue to celebrate OLJ as a leader in the dissemination of research in the field of online learning.

With the release of the current issue of Online Learning (OLJ) I am pleased to announce the achievement of a major milestone.  The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) has been continuously publishing OLJ for twenty years! Now that may come as a surprise to some reading this blog.  The journal may seem to be a recent addition.  Indeed, much has changed from the first issue of the journal two decades ago.  Twenty years ago OLC was composed of a small group of dedicated individuals many of whom had been recipients of funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the organization was the nascent Sloan Consortium back then.  At that time John Bourne, the original editor of the journal and the Executive Director of Sloan-C had an idea for a new publication.  The Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), predecessor to OLJ was born and the first issue was published in March 1997.

The early years of JALN reflected the state of the field of online learning with many articles covering the challenges of that era. Articles and special issues of the journal were written and edited by pioneers in the field. These papers outlined the state of the art in the emerging field of “anyplace, anytime online education”.  The idea of asynchronous networked interaction for distance education was relatively new and took center stage – hence the name of the journal.  More recently with the transition of the Sloan Consortium to the Online Learning Consortium the Editorial Board of OLJ recommended to the Board of OLC that we update the name of the journal as well.  In reviewing options for a new name it became apparent that “Online Learning” was both available and more fitting.  The journal was first published under the new name with the release of issue 18-3 in October 2014.

In the past two years the journal has again become the focus of a renewed effort to elevate the place of research in OLC.  The appointment of a new editor (me) has led to several initiatives to improve the profile and ranking of OLJ.  Among these were the recruitment of new Associate Editors and the passing of the torch of valued colleagues who have served the journal since the early years.  Charles Graham of BYU, Shanna Smith-Jaggars formerly of Columbia University Teachers College and now Ohio State University, and Jennifer Richardson of Purdue University joined our team of Associate Editors in the last two years.  Additionally, Beth Meigs joined our ranks as our very able Managing Editor. Outgoing editorial board members, who depart with our deep gratitude, include Gary Miller, formerly of Penn State University (Interim Editor), Don Spicer of the University of Maryland System and Craig Hislop of Drexel University (Associate Editors).   Tony Picciano of the Graduate Center at CUNY, Karen Swan of the University of Illinois and Urbana Champagne, and Katrina Meyer, Emerita of the University of Memphis continue to provide stalwart leadership and service as our senior Associate Editors. 

Alongside these changes we have pursued additional strategies to enhance the standing of the journal as a major vehicle for cutting edge research.  Simultaneous to the editorial board changes OLJ and the MERLOT organization (the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) entered into discussions to merge academic journals. OLC and MERLOT have had a long history of collaborating on conferences and events and working together on research presented great synergies for the two organizations and the field. Last year OLJ and MERLOT’s Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (JOLT) thus became one publication retaining the name Online Learning, common to both.

Going forward the major challenges include managing the size of the combined journals, cultivating our audience (including the more than six thousand readers and reviewers registered for OLJ), identifying the most critical research topics for special issues, and enhancing quality of all our editorial processes. One example of our efforts to enhance our services includes the Digital Scholarship Webinar Series that we are now implementing.  

To accomplish these goals more broadly, we are also currently engaged in an extended effort to solicit assistance of the most qualified reviewers in the field. We envision a new set of roles within the journal and it is our plan to elevate qualified reviewers and to name a new tier of Assistant Editors for the journal.  If you are interested in being considered for the newly reconstituted editorial team as an OLJ Certified Reviewer, Assistant Editor, or Associate Editor, please register and complete the new profile page in the Open Journal System.  We plan to review qualifications of editorial board applicants (including those of our current reviewers) on a rolling basis in the coming year.  This is a terrific opportunity for emerging scholars, advanced practitioners, and senior researchers to demonstrate service to the premier professional organization in the field of online education.

It is important that we pause to celebrate this significant milestone in the history of scholarly publication in OLC. But we also look forward to the future with a renewed spirit of innovation, continuous improvement, and growth for our next twenty years. 

Happy 20th Birthday OLJ – and many happy returns!

Peter Shea

Editor, Online Learning

About Peter Shea

Dr. Peter Shea is Associate Provost for Online Learning and Associate Professor in the School of Education and the College of Computing and Information at the University at Albany, State University of New York. His research focuses on the development of communities dedicated to learning in online environments. He has published widely on this topic in journals such as Computers and Education, JALN, Internet and Higher Education, The Journal of Educational Computing Research, Interactive Learning Environments and others. He is past director of the SUNY Learning Network, the online education enterprise of the 64 campus and 400,000 students in the SUNY system. Peter’s research has been supported by the US Department of Education and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He has been co-recipient of three national awards for online learning, faculty development and online programs from EDUCAUSE and the Online Learning Consortium.


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