The Roots of E-Learning
In many ways, the success of more incremental ap-
proaches to the deployment of Internet technologies on
campus should come as no surprise. A careful examination
of the roots of the current boom in e-learning reveals that
its growth lies in several long developing trends of Ameri-
can higher education, some of which have nothing to do
with the Internet per se, and all of which were being ad-
dressed long before e-learning. It is these trends that are
the true drivers of change and successful e-learning pro-
grams are those that are most connected to them. Indeed,
four are identified and reinforced through the book, as
follows.
1. The renewed focus on pedagogy and the learner.
With the explosive growth of higher education enroll-
ments over the past few decades, a growing chorus of
critics and reformers have argued for an increased
focus on the quality of instruction. Although we are
all familiar with the age-old debate about the primacy
of research versus teaching in an institution’s mis-
sion, the issue of quality instruction involves much
more. Issues of faculty training, course evaluation,
analysis of learning outcomes, and increased focus on
the learner and learning
styles are all part and parcel
of an increased con
sciousness of the need to think
Chapter 1 Transformation Through Evolution
5
about how instruction is delivered in higher educa-
tion. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that on
many campuses, the primary support organizations
for e-learning are the centers that were originally de-
veloped to focus on improving faculty teaching skills
in general. The adoption of virtual learning environ-
ments has been largely driven by faculty who see the
Internet as a solution to an instructional problem,
not “technothusiasts” who simply enjoy the tech-
nology. Although some worry that the demands of
e-learning are monopolizing the resources of instruc-
tional support teams, in reality it works both ways.
Indeed, the very act of creating a course Web site is
one that demonstrates thoughtfulness on the part of
the faculty member as to how he or she is going to
teach the course; this thoughtfulness typically leads
to other nontechnology changes in a course’s design.
2. The movement of technology from the back office
to the front office. Although higher education can
rightfully lay claim to a number of critical infor-
mation technology breakthroughs, including the
Internet, conventional wisdom argues that it gen-
erally lags the private sector in the implementa-
tion of these technologies. For example, colleges
and universities took much longer than their cor-
porate counterparts to adopt integrated commer-
The Wired Tower
6
cial systems for managing back office operations
such as student records, finance, and human re-
sources. This trend remained true as corporations
transformed their corporate Web sites from
brochures to vehicles for doing business. Only re-
cently have universities begun to accept applica-
tions, donations, course registrations, and the like
over the Web. Most recently, corporate America
has recognized the need for technology to trans-
form the front office—those services that face the
consumer of the business—investing in systems
that improve activities such as support, service,
customer relationships, and the like. Only re-
cently has higher education begun to think of its
student-centric units in quite the same way, and
e-learning is a core component of this trend.
Today’s student expects a technology-supported
experience from application to registration to do-
nation. Campuses are scrambling to deploy cam-
pus Web portals that offer everything from health
center scheduling to registration for season tickets
to football games. Because the core daily activity
of a student is teaching and learning, creating a
baseline Web environment for instruction has be-
come the core of a broader front office expansion
of technology.
Chapter 1 Transformation Through Evolution
7
3. The high-stakes search for new funding sources.
Certainly a significant context for the growth of
e-learning is money—more specifically, the need to
tap new financial sources. For some institutions, fi-
nancial opportunity has been the primary public ra-
tionale given for the creation of for-profit
subsidiaries that have initial public offering (IPO)
potential. For others, it is less stated but no less im-
portant. At a time when state funding is decreasing,
tuition rates have begun to max out, and the cost of
doing business only increases, colleges and univer-
sities have become increasingly entrepreneurial in
their sources of new revenue streams. The growth
of extension programs, executive education pro-
grams, certificate programs, travel programs, and
other branches of the traditional curriculum all
serve to educate broader audiences, but with the
added benefit of doing so with much higher profit
margins than traditional undergraduate education
provides.
4. The pressure and opportunity to serve new en-
rollments and markets. Perhaps the most fre-
quently mentioned context for the sudden rise in
postsecondary e-learning is the transition of
America into a knowledge economy. More than
ever, human capital is the key asset of corpora-
The Wired Tower
8

Get Wired Tower: Perspectives on the Impact of the Internet on Higher Education, The now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.