Inside Higher Ed Interview

Last month, Inside Higher Ed was kind enough to post an interview that Joshua Kim, Dartmouth, and Eddie Maloney, Georgetown, did with me regarding our recent move to a remote officeThe Office of Digital Learning has gone remote. For good. And we are hiring. A lot.. I highly suggest that you read the interview in full, but I wanted to both a highlight a couple of different items that we touched in the piece.

One question was about what led to the permanent move to a remote office. I gave a couple of practical reasons such as a distributed client base of instructors as well as real estate, but I also added this to the response:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remote work allows us to hire and retain talent from a broader and more diverse pool of candidates. Remote work is particularly attractive for talent with family care obligations and disabilities, and it eliminates location bias. You could say that, in many ways, this shift will allow our team to be more reflective of the people we aim to serve: the online adult learner population.

We are in the midst of making some hires, and I can confirm that most candidates–including locals–find the guaranteed remote option to be an attractive feature. As I mentioned above, remote work might allow our office to be more reflective of adult online learners. I was reminded this week by a tweet from Jon Becker of a misnomer that I often hear. Faculty often assume that an online program means they will suddenly have a global footprint when in reality there is a local market of potential learners who are interested in a program but simply can’t fit within the limitations set by a traditional program. Reports show that a significant number of online learners live relatively close to campus:

In 2019, 67% of online college students are enrolling at schools within 50 miles of their residence, and 44% of those students live within 25 miles of their school

Online College Students 2019: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences, Wiley

Of course, you have to imagine that the demand response to the pandemic has shifted those numbers even higher.

Similarly, a recent McKinsey report points to the growing desire from employees in corporate and government settings to remain flexible post-pandemic.

Graph: What employees are saying about the future of remote work
What employees are saying about the future of remote work

Lastly, my belief is that flexibility is not as much the goal as it is a feature that promotes a positive and healthy work culture. Simply being fully remote is not going to satisfy the majority of employees. Most of the folks that I talk to want to do meaningful work alongside a good team embedded in an organization that cares about them.

In a similar vein, online learning’s best feature is not simply being online, but rather the opportunity for time and physical space to play a smaller role in the educational experience. It’s an outcome of de-prioritization. Many of the best online courses position the learner as a more central figure in their learning journey simply by restructuring the role of the instructor. They also extract an immense amount of value from the opportunity to network with like minded peers. Just like above, most students want to do meaningful work alongside a good group of peers embedded in a school that cares about them.

Any way, I’ll end by reiterating how grateful I am for the opportunity to chat again with Josh and Eddie. I so admire their commitment to thinking about the future of institutions and the space in which academic innovation occupies inside that larger conversation. If you haven’t picked up a copy of either of their 2020 published books, Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education or The Low-Density University, I highly suggest that you do.

I am also grateful for their friendship. Did I mention that I’m ready to get back to these cross institutional conversations? I’ve deeply missed hearing happenings at colleague’s institutions and simply talking shop at conferences. I relish the opportunity to move beyond treading water. If, indeed, these conversations are happening outside of the traditional spaces of academic conferences, please let me know as I’d love to participate.