This phenomenological study explored strategies used by leadership in institutions of higher education to implement online education into their traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. There appeared to be limited research, if any, that looked at the implementation of online education through the eyes of the leadership of the institution. A number of institutions have implemented online, and many researchers have written about online education, but mostly through the eyes of students, faculty, or external sources.
The phenomenon of online education serves as the core for four major topics that provided the framework for the review of the literature; managing change in higher education; online, distance, and e-learning in higher education; faculty in higher education for online education; and leadership in higher education. While the literature review uncovered a large amount of prior research in each of these four areas, it failed to uncover the leadership perspective of online education.
Twenty leaders from institutions of higher education were interviewed for the study. The interview approach was designed using the Seidman (1991) approach of semi-structured interviews. The data was analyzed using the Moustakas (1994) approach of clustering and single-analysis subject theme development.
The results of the interviews indicated that there truly was little, if any, past research available for educational leaders to draw upon in embarking on a project of adopting and implementing online education. As a result, institutions were developing their own methods of implementation which would yield countless struggles and failures in the process.
Conclusions from the research indicated that collaborative strategic planning, institutional-fit with university buy-in, and a comprehensive training program for all individuals connected to online education, along with orientation and support, were the three most recommended leadership strategies cited by the participants. System-wide communication, sound sustainable financial support, and a standard platform for the online programs also ranked high on participant responses.
The following three areas were identified as potential opportunities for future research: Hidden costs associated with online education, sustainable sources of funding for online education, and pedagogical analysis of online education.