As "Push" Turns to "Pull" in Higher Ed, Online Learning Reaches Tipping Point Q&A with #RUOnlineCon Speaker Ray Schroeder

“We’re really in the middle of a revolution,” says Ray Schroeder, one of the most-experienced, innovative thinkers and leaders in online higher education.

“We are moving from what for centuries has been teacher-centered learning (that is, learning driven by the faculty member) in a push approach to student-centered learning—which is more of a pull approach,” says Schroeder, a keynote speaker at the 7th annual Rutgers Online Learning Conference Mid-Atlantic Region (RUOnlineCon) January 11-12, 2016.

The “push” and “pull” over learning will be the focus of Schroeder’s keynote speech titled “Students at the Center: Redefining Higher Education” at the conference.  The event serves

faculty and staff who want to create enhanced learning environments using online and hybrid instructional resources.

One of higher education’s most-active bloggers, Schroeder is founder and director of the Center for Online Leadership and Strategy at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). Rutgers is partnering with UPCEA’s mid-Atlantic region and NJEDge, a consortium of practitioners in online learning and educational technology.


Ray Schroeder, University of Illinois Springfield Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning & director of the UPCEA Center for Online Leadership

He previewed his presentation, which argues that teachers and teaching are no longer at the center, but learning and learners are now the centerpiece of higher education:

1. What does it mean that students are at the center?

Once upon a time, courses were scheduled at the convenience of the instructor. In fact some courses at the graduate level were offered based on the research of the faculty members rather than needs and demands of the students.

[That research] really might not hold much interest to the students today who are looking for employment. So [higher education] was really driven in this way. And faculty members would develop their course syllabi based on their preferences and schedules and perhaps even requiring their own textbook, rather than student needs. That’s changing.

2. What is the role of online learning within the revolution you speak about?

We’ve reached this kind of tipping point with online learning. So institutions like Rutgers and University of Illinois no longer have that virtual geographic monopoly that we used to have for students in our state, because we’re in each other’s states offering classes.

Students have become much more consumers. At the same time we now have $1.3 trillion in student debt and as consumers students broadly are saying:

‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to indenture ourselves for $50,000 or $75,000 whatever dollars of debt for a college education. But to the extent that we do go into debt we expect that learning to be responsive to our needs and to result in careers, satisfying careers and great remuneration in the jobs that we do receive.’

3. What’s a practical takeaway for today’s faculty members?

I think the first is: Understand your students. Know those students. Know where they’re coming from. At the University of Illinois, we have a rather large program and in fact at our Springfield campus 97% of the students who graduated in May had taken at least one online class.

Our students that are in the online degree program … are in 48 states and a dozen countries. Their average age is 35. We know their average income is about $50,000 to $60,000. We know that about 68% of them are female. We know most of them are employed. We know many of them are motivated for career advancement. So in understanding the students it can help us frame the courses, help us set the context for the degrees, help us establish learning outcomes that will meet those needs for those students progressing through the curriculum.

And by saying that I don’t mean that we should diminish or dilute the quality of our curricula at all. But what we need to do is focus what we are doing so that it maintains rigor at the same time as it provides meaningful experiences for the students.

About Rutgers Online Learning Conference Mid-Atlantic Region: RUOnlineCon is designed and open to any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education. The event, held Jan. 11-12, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency is New Brunswick, N.J., provides educational opportunities, peer networking with peers, access to leading providers of products and services, and talks and presentations about industry trends and how they’re implemented.

RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).

Event Date

RUOnline 2017
13 March 2017
200 Atrium Drive

Somerset, NJ 08873

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COHLIT supports Rutgers academic units University-wide in creating and delivering hybrid and fully online courses, and is heavily involved in both for-credit as well as non-credit online and hybrid education. Find out more.

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