Over the past 30+ years, online learning leadership has been growing and evolving. But what does it look like to serve a large, entrepreneurial institution as the Chief Online Learning Officer (COLO)? What does life actually look like on the ground for this role? To offer a transparent, behind-the-scenes glimpse, this post draws from three days in the life of a university’s COLO. While some elements may be specific to this institution, the overarching themes reflect the fast-paced, entrepreneurial, and strategic nature of effectively leading online learning initiatives.

Day 1: Balancing Pricing Strategy, Professional Development, and Cross-University Collaboration

The first day highlights a blend of high-level strategic thinking and hands-on problem-solving. These were/are all things worked on during one actual day of work.

  • Pricing Strategy Meeting: Starting with a complex conversation about online program pricing – a crucial decision influencing both revenue and accessibility. The COLO brings comparative data and deft negotiation skills to nudge stakeholders toward a more sustainable price point.
  • External Partnership Exploration: Discussions with business school leadership lay the groundwork for lucrative partnerships to expand non-degree professional development programs.
  • Alumni Engagement: Strategic collaboration with alumni affairs on a new professional development program aimed at alumni, demonstrating the power of cross-university relationships to unlock revenue and audience reach.
  • Bachelor’s Degree Design Innovation: This strategic meeting focuses on transforming online bachelor’s degree design to better meet student needs (e.g., shorter courses, streamlined transfer processes).
  • Online Graduate Business Program Development: Review of online graduate program design, showcasing the COLO’s role in driving ongoing improvement.
  • Enrollment Management & Student Success Partnership with Main Campus Unit Meeting: The COLO plays a key role in facilitating communication and collaboration with other university divisions (like Executive Education ) for shared initiatives and resource optimization.
  • Transfer Student Innovation: A meeting on boosting transfer student enrollment underscores the COLO’s focus on optimizing pipelines into online programs.
  • IT Alignment: Collaborating with the CIO on finding innovative technology solutions reflects a key success factor in the COLO role: building cross-departmental alliances in a technology-driven field.
  • Legal Matters: Navigating a complex situation arising from student concerns about a technology tool demonstrates the COLO’s role in addressing unexpected challenges.
  • Professional Development Vision-Casting : This proactive initiative showcases the COLO’s leadership in empowering faculty and staff with new knowledge and skills.
  • Collaborative Leadership: A broad meeting of academic leaders reinforces the COLO’s responsibility to create shared goals, gather input, and align efforts across diverse stakeholders.
  • Media Project Support: Coaching a talented media producer offers a glimpse into the COLO’s role in mentoring, encouraging innovation, and setting high expectations.
  • Marketing Meetings: Driving online marketing strategy highlights the COLO’s role in developing compelling content to reach target audiences.
  • HR and Staffing: From making hiring decisions to collaborating with departmental leadership on staffing needs, the COLO plays a critical role in building a high-performing team.
  • Multi-Campus Integration: Aligning online learning strategy across multiple campuses reflects the COLO’s role in ensuring a consistent, high-quality experience system-wide.

Day 2: From Conference Attendance to Operational Details

Day two showcases the multifaceted nature of this executive position:

  • Professional Development / Serving on Conference Committee: Active participation in a national conference demonstrates the COLO’s commitment to staying ahead of trends and best practices.
  • Data Analytics: Engagement with a collaborative task force across multiple institutions suggests the COLO’s involvement in broader industry initiatives to enhance online learning.
  • Operational Efficiency: While tackling issues like student concerns around technology, the COLO also focuses on streamlining processes for greater efficiency.
  • Landing Page Creation: Taking initiative with program webpage development (in the absence of immediate capacity elsewhere) demonstrates the COLO’s hands-on, solution-oriented approach.
  • Online Graduate Business Program Meeting: Continued focus on online graduate program design ensures meticulous planning and collaboration with multiple stakeholders.
  • Staffing Success: Celebrating a talented hire highlights another facet of the COLO’s role: building a dream team.
  • Adaptability and Agility: The ability to pivot, like taking a child to the doctor, while keeping projects moving forward underscores how the COLO balances work and personal demands.

Day 3: Building Momentum, Seeking Support, and Driving Innovation

Day three illustrates a focus on building internal support, aligning resources, and creating new opportunities.

  • Leadership Development: Drafting a list of internal and external mentors the COLO plans to leverage for support is a proactive step that showcases their dedication to ongoing development.
  • Marketing Push: Working closely with marketing collaborators reinforces the critical relationship between online learning and strategic outreach.
  • Professional Development Expansion: Planning for both short-term and ongoing professional development series exemplifies the COLO’s vision for a well-supported, continuously improving faculty and staff.
  • Team Leadership: A regular meeting with online learning leads shows the COLO’s role in driving accountability, fostering collaboration, and tracking progress on key objectives.
  • Change Management : Collaborating on a new process for managing Canvas updates shows attention to detail and continuous improvement.
  • Innovation Exploration: Raising awareness about a new collaborative teaching platform shows the COLO’s forward-thinking approach and commitment to cutting-edge tools.
  • Resource Optimization: Coaching a faculty member on utilizing existing resources demonstrates a savvy approach to maximizing impact and avoiding unnecessary expenditures.
  • Student Success : The COLO’s strategic involvement in online student orientation and coordination of student success software shows a commitment to holistically supporting online learners.
  • Partnerships and Funding: Setting up multi-million dollar partnership discussions demonstrates the entrepreneurial skillset a COLO brings to fundraising and revenue generation.
  • Operations and Staffing: From confirming start dates to following up on job offers, the COLO prioritizes building a well-staffed and efficient team.

Conclusion These three days offer just a snapshot into a role filled with strategic planning, relationship building, tactical execution, and innovative problem-solving. It takes a unique blend of vision, entrepreneurial spirit, and collaborative leadership. A successful COLO is essential for universities to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of online education.