Governance and Execution 4 Minute Read

How Academic Administrators Can Improve Online Learning: The Administrator Experience

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This article is part of a series on the impact of administrative decisions on the online classroom. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series, which address the student experience and the faculty experience.

George Washington University recently came under fire because some of their online students believed they received an inferior experience to their on-campus counterparts. In an internal review, faculty members found that lack of guidelines and oversight had led to disjointed online programs and high student–instructor ratios. In part, these problems were caused by the institution’s decentralized approach to governance, which allowed individual schools and departments to create their content in a vacuum.

This is just a small example of how administrators can impact the classroom-level experience even though they may never log in to the learning management system. Academic administrators such as deans and program coordinators have many opportunities to positively impact the faculty members and students at their institutions. This article discusses some of the best practices that administrators can implement at the institutional level to set themselves up for success.

Administrator Experience Factors

To combat the types of problems that Georgetown University faced, administrators need to be a stabilizing force in their online programs, creating policies and procedures driven by best practices and ensuring that all programs, courses, and instructors are working in unity to create a powerful student experience. The following sections are factors that administrators should consider toward that end.

Institutional Learning

Nothing slows down growth like a closed mind. This is especially true in the rapidly changing world of online education. Therefore, it’s essential that online program leaders are open to feedback and willing to change, and also regularly engaging in industry trends and best practices. Here are some strategies institutions can use to ensure administrators stay abreast of the latest techniques:

  • Train all online leaders in existing best practices.
  • Identify any existing policies that need to be adjusted or redrafted to properly lead an online initiative.
  • Define an ongoing learning and feedback process for reflecting on and adjusting policies as needed.

In much the way that faculty members need to stay up to date on what’s occurring in online course design and delivery, administrators also need to remain focused on evolving best practices and industry trends. By creating a culture of institutional learning and improvement, you help ensure that all facets of the institution—administrators, faculty members, and more—are evolving to continually meet and exceed industry standards.

Institutional Decision Making and Ownership

Clear, consistent leadership that has a track record of effectiveness is key in any aspect of higher education. In online education, where a centralized approach to governance is ideal, this is even more crucial. Consider implementing the following practices to support decision making for online programs:

  • Identify a single individual to oversee the entire online initiative and approve policy implementation.
  • Identify individuals to establish and implement accountability and support procedures for faculty members.
  • Determine levels of LMS permissions, and identify which personnel will receive what level.
  • Craft an independent organizational structure to support all decisions and execution related to online learning.
  • Create a transparent process for decision making regarding online learning that involves appropriate stakeholders from faculty members and administrators.
  • Create an independent department within the institution that assumes primary responsibility for the execution of all online initiatives.

Although these practices may seem extensive, setting up support structures for individuals, teams, and processes is key to ensuring that your programs excel.

Program Planning and Management

Ensuring program rigor and consistency is critical for online learning. Courses should have specific learning outcomes and goals that directly support the outcomes and goals of the program. In addition, institutions should have uniform standards for course quality and academic honesty to encourage a culture of academic integrity among faculty members and students. As institutions develop each program, the following should be considered:

  • Create a unified program map and sequence for all course offerings that aligns program- and course-level outcomes.
  • Implement a across the institution, ensuring a more consistent student experience from course to course.
  • Regularly involve deans and department chairs in the development of online curriculum.
  • Determine and address all programmatic requirements and expectations prior to online course development.
  • Create and enforce program standards for all online offerings during course design and facilitation.
  • Create academic integrity policies and discuss them with faculty members and students frequently.

Committing to course and program quality is critical to the success of any online program. Following the suggestions above will help ensure that students receive a fair, high-quality experience from course to course.


Administrators have the ability to create and support a foundation committed to academic excellence and critical improvement in an online program. By instilling and supporting a culture of institutional learning, ownership, and planning and managing the online programs, these individuals will be able to set the stage for an effective online program.

For more information on how academic administrators can positively impact the online classroom experience, explore the other articles available in this series:

Posted January 12, 2018
Author Nate Ackerly