Wednesday, April 25, 2012

19 perspectives on the future of online higher education in America

A NEW NARRATIVE: Steve Hargadon analyzes education shifts
during our Online Learning Conference 2012
With 19 presenters at Post University's Online Learning Conference 2012 last week, there was nothing short of 19 perspectives on the issues, trends, and technologies shaping the future of online higher education in America.

If you were there, you have probably formulated some of your own thoughts on what you saw. And if you weren't able to make it to our event in Waterbury, Conn., you haven't missed out. We recorded all 14 sessions and will be posting them on our blog throughout the coming weeks. You can follow them by bookmarking our Online Learning Conference 2012 tag.

But first, I wanted to sum up a few of the highlights from the conference. This year's theme was "Shaping the Future: Driving Innovation in Online Higher Education." Speakers shared many great insights and guidance on how to take advantage of new strategies and technologies in online education.

Ronald J. Pugliese, Director of Economic Development for the City of Waterbury, opened the event with his thoughts on the future of Waterbury, which he said is extremely bright. Ron cited Post University's leadership in higher education and the city's partnership with the University as one of the most important ways Waterbury will be able to bring positive change to its community in the coming years.

Our keynote speaker, Steve Hargadon, delivered an address about the critical shifts happening today in education. He discussed how a major factor driving these shifts is culture, not pedagogy. For instance, Steve is increasingly seeing a culture of creation.

He explained how there's been a major deinstitutionalization of education in recent years, in which students are gaining a stronger voice and the ability to be creators in their educational journeys. Students increasingly want to pursue what is interesting to them, and make strong connections between what they're learning and what matters most to their lives and career goals.

This, Steve said, flips the traditional narrative of education, which has focused students on acting as compliant learners, adhering to institutions' rules about what and how to learn. The new education narrative empowers students to be agents in their education, acting for themselves, learning how to learn, and embracing self-directed learning opportunities.

New online teaching and learning technologies, Steve said, are helping make self-directed learning possible. These technologies -- social media in particular -- bring agency to students by enabling them to unleash their individual energy and creative potential, build their personal learning networks, pursue their passions, and discover new tools to help them in their lifelong learning journeys. We will provide additional detail on Steve's talk, which generated a lot of discussion throughout the day.

I thought one of the last panel sessions of the day extended some of Steve's ideas. Frank Mulgrew, President of the Online Education Institute of Post University, joined D.R. Widder, Executive Director of Innovation at Philadelphia University; Brian Joyner, Vice President of Marketing from Cengage Learning; and Ronald Black, Academic Program Manager for Higher Education at Post University in a panel discussion about the importance of educational partnerships in the mission to improve and implement online and hybrid learning models that are driven by student needs.

Frank questioned why we should contain ideas and innovations to individual educational organizations. We should instead open ourselves up to collaborations, alliances, and partnerships to maximize the industry's ability to innovate and develop the most effective online education delivery models.

This, Frank said, will help individual organizations hone their expertise in particular areas while tapping other resources to create products and services that best meet student needs and strengthen America's global leadership position.

Those are just some of the major points that resonated with me. Much more to come as we post videos and podcasts of the Online Learning Conference 2012 presentations. We'd love to hear your feedback on them, as well as your thoughts on how the event went and your perspectives on the factors impacting the future of online higher education. Feel free to leave comments.