What is the Responsibility of a Leader in Online Learning?


 John Vivolo, Director of Online Education at the Katz School of Science and Health of Yeshiva University, and session presenter at OLC Innovate 2020

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This is the fourth in a series of blog posts entitled: Leadership in Online Learning. Each post has built toward an upcoming presentation at OLC Innovate 2020. Join me for the Present and Reflect Session entitled: Online Learning Leadership and Support: Building the Structure and Keeping It Together on Thursday, June 25. This is also a Best-in-Track sessionFor those who cannot make it live, the session will also be recorded. Read the first three posts in this series.

COVID-19 and the Role of Innovative Leadership

I would first like to start off by saying thank you to all those who supported, and continue to support, online learning during the COVID-19 crisis. I wish it did not take this horrible time in our country, and the world, to show the value of online learning, but certainly, much of the world now sees the importance of our work. It’s okay to take a moment and think about the leadership you brought to your school. When things suddenly became serious enough for your school to quickly move online, you were probably part of a leadership team, maybe even in meetings that you might otherwise not have been involved in. All organizations needed leadership, not just schools. Even this blog, which was originally written to lead up to the OLC Innovate conference in person, had to adapt to the new virtual conference.

What is the responsibility of Leadership?

In the last few blog posts, I have been talking about leadership coming from all areas of an organization. However, I want to visit the traditional role of managers, directors, deans, VPs, etc. To be honest, before I became involved in leadership, I often asked the question, “What exactly does my dean do all day?” As an instructional designer, I know exactly what my day-to-day job is, but sometimes when people reach a certain level of leadership, it becomes more about “strategic” and “thought leader” responsibilities (whatever that means).

Forget about strategic growth and “big picture” stuff. Instead, let us focus on how a leader engages with their staff. Having been a “one-man show” as well as the director at a large online learning department of over a dozen staff, I have come to realize that a leader has two primary responsibilities when it comes to his/her team:

  1. To provide staff the tools they need to succeed:

The “needs” include technology, training, professional development, budget, and a voice. The “voice” is the most important. Staff need to feel that their concerns are being heard and that they are considered people of value, and even that their ideas are listened to with an open mind. In this, they need a partner who will help them achieve their ideas, not someone who will “tell them what to do”.

  1. To monitor their well-being:

This might seem strange, but I think especially now, we understand the need to reach out to measure the stress level of individual employees. This might be due to a personal concern, workload, or even their relationship with co-workers. A lot of this stress might be due to a lack of vacation time used or sick time. I will never understand any person who does not take all their vacation days or when they are sick, do not take sick days. Why? A good leader will strongly encourage staff to take vacation days and sick days when they are sick. I think we have all learned this lesson now: Stay home if you are sick! Rest!

Leadership and OLC Innovate

I hope this blog series has engaged you to consider how you will lead your team or how you wish to be involved in leadership going forward. It is a nebulous word, but a word that has evolved over the years. Join me for my session at OLC Innovate (or watch the recording). We will talk more and have others share their thoughts.

Want to learn more about online learning leadership?

Pick up a copy of my recently published, best-selling book: Managing Online Learning: The Life-Cycle of Successful Programs.

Also, connect with me on LinkedIn!


Next Post?

That is a good question. This series was intended to lead up to OLC Innovate. However, I am certainly interested in writing more on this subject and others. Only time will tell but keep an eye out on OLC’s Blogs and on LinkedIn.


OLC Leadership Network Event

Join OLC’s spring leadership network event, where we bring together digital leaders from academics, non-profits, and the private sector to discuss digital education strategy across the institution. Learn more.


John Vivolo, Director of Online Education at the Katz School of Science and Health of Yeshiva University, and session presenter at OLC Innovate 2020.


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