Where do digital learning innovation evangelists gather?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

There is a new sort of gig in higher ed: the digital learning innovation evangelist.

Who are these people? What do they do? Are their jobs really different from leadership roles that have come before? What is their professional home? What is their professional association? And where do they gather?

These are all good questions.

One place where I’ll be trying to get some answers is this summer’s SOLA+R: Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable.

This University Professional and Continuing Education Association event brings together folks who are thinking about digital and online learning through an institutional lens.

I’ve gotten involved in UPCEA through my work as an (unpaid) fellow for the association’s National Council for Online Education.

Where does this convening fit in with other meetings for digital/online learning evangelists? I’d classify SOLA+R as a convening that is similar to HAIL Storm (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners), in that the event brings together a relatively small number of digital learning innovators to share knowledge and resources and ideas.

Unlike HAIL, which is purely a grassroots effort, SOLA+R is under a larger professional organization umbrella — UPCEA.

The reason that I’m excited about participating in SOLA+R is that I’m looking for a community of practice that recognizes online learning as a powerful lever for organizational change.

Over the past few years many colleges and universities have created these sorts of roles. They go by different names. Sometimes the position is a dean, provost or a director for digital learning innovation.

Other times the role of institutional digital learning evangelist falls to leaders in online and continuing education programs. Sometimes, the push for digital learning innovation comes from units such as academic computing or centers for teaching and learning (CTLs).

While those serving in digital learning innovation roles have different titles and different job responsibilities, they do have some things in common. Mostly, this is a community that is impatient with incremental improvements in postsecondary learning, issues of access, or business models.

This is a community that looks at digital and online learning as a means, rather than as ends. The ultimate goal is not to create more online programs or digitally enhanced blended courses — although those are good — but rather to drive big changes in the way universities fulfill their mission within a rapidly changing knowledge economy.

These big changes may be about bringing quality higher education to scale, shifting the economics of both learning and credentialing from scarcity to abundance.

Or these big changes may mean leveraging the methods of online learning, such backwards course design and partnerships with learning designers, to dramatically improve learning at traditional residential institutions.

Others who work as digital learning evangelists look at digital and online education as an opportunity to improve the resilience and long-term economic viability of the institutions in which they work.

What all the folks working in the digital learning innovation evangelist role need are communities of practice, colleagues and support/resources to do their jobs (our jobs) more effectively.

The June SOLA+R convening will be an important nexus for discussions at the intersection of digital/online learning and organizational change. UPCEA’s National Council for Online Education is dedicated to convening and supporting this emerging community of practice.

One of the advantages that I’ve found in my work with UPCEA is the associations focus on federal and state policy. It is difficult for those of us outside of the Beltway to understand how policy is made that impacts our world of digital and online learning — much less how to have any impact on the process. I expect that the role of government and online learning will be a big focus at the SOLA+R D.C. gathering.

From what I understand, there is still some space available at the June 18-20 SOLA+R convening in Washington. (Although space will not remain open for long, as this is an intimate and intense gathering).

It will be interesting to see if other professional organizations in our space carve out smaller and more focused convenings/organizations to bring together digital learning innovation evangelists.

Can anyone share what is going on with OLC, Educause, WCET or others in this space?

If you, like me, are searching for your people at the intersection of digital/online learning and organizational change then I hope to see you at SOLA+R this summer in D.C.

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