If you have experience in distance higher education, you’re likely aware of the various phases of growth and expansion the industry has undergone and the unique way in which this has globally impacted the existing online educational model. This has influenced the areas of accessibility, affordability, growth and scalability, pedagogy, design, development, and delivery. On one hand, it’s making education flexible, inclusive, and equitable to meet students’ needs with high-quality technology, telecommunication, and high-quality learning management systems that have specifically allowed media-rich content to be delivered remotely. On the other hand, it has posed many challenges caused by internal and external forces, such as the digital divide between the rural and urban student populations, high attrition rates, and lack of social, economic, and academic support in online learning. The impact of technological advances and global competition has created a new agenda for higher education to ensure that all students can succeed in a complex and rapidly changing technological world. However, online education administrators cannot comfortably say that we have sufficient resources to assist with this transformation.
This global transformation is influencing not only the instructors’, students’, and administrators’ thinking, but also have allowed parents, academic leaders, politicians (policymakers), and other educational communities to learn about new policies, procedures, best practices, and other nuances that make online education successful. As we think about growing and scaling online programs, it has become difficult not to notice how online learning has become a part of mainstream education. And continuing to cling to the brick-and-mortar model, without considering how to provide the same or similar resources to online students, would be to our disadvantage. All stakeholders and constituencies, within an institution or outside an institution, responsible for making decisions about policies, procedures, personnel, infrastructure, adoption of technology, training, and curriculum development need to work hand-in-hand to create structures of support, build relationships, assist each other in understanding the implications that these new models of teaching and learning have on both traditional and non-traditional students. This article will share some effective and innovative strategies and practices for online education that can address diverse institutional needs while growing, managing, and maintaining quality online programs.
Dr. Shanta Varma currently serves as the Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Collaborative Partnerships and Distance Education Initiatives at Auburn University at Montgomery. Dr. Varma has over 20 years of experience in National and International Higher Education in Academic Administration.