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Sloan Goes Online

July 7, 2014

The Sloan Consortium is shedding the name of its original benefactor to become the Online Learning Consortium, the last step in a 22-year-long journey to break off on its own.

The name change has been in the works for months, teased and tested during conferences, in focus groups and through market research, and represents a symbolic move of independence. The online education consortium, which previously relied on funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2008, and became a member-supported organization this fiscal year.

The consortium’s leadership is expected to discuss the changes during this week’s conference on blended learning, in Denver, and a refreshed website will launch later this month.

As the new logo shows, the Online Learning Consortium isn’t rushing to drop the Sloan name completely. “Formerly the Sloan Consortium” will remain as an official tagline through October of 2015 -- a mutual decision made by the consortium and the foundation “so people aren’t totally confused,” said Joel Hartman, president of the consortium’s board of directors.

The renaming process began in earnest last November, when the consortium began discussing how to come up with a name that honored its decades-old history while creating an identity of its own.

“Would it be like Google -- which is a name that didn’t really mean anything until Google came along -- or did we want to be a little more traditional?” said Kathleen S. Ives, acting CEO and executive director.

The organization also debated how broad and overarching the new name should be. At one point, “Digital Learning Consortium” was on the table, but the name didn’t exactly capture the consortium’s focus, Hartman said.

“Digital learning is a little less easy to understand and not as widely used,” Hartman said. “When you think about it, online learning is digital, but not all digital learning is online.”

In the end, Hartman said, the consortium was able to pare down a list of dozens of suggestions by looking at Sloan-C’s range of projects -- including its conferences, programs and research publications -- and how they were all organized “around a thing called online learning.”

“The Sloan Consortium was created ... as a vehicle for engaging other institutions and supporting them to build successful and quality online programs,” Hartman said. “I would say, at the end of the day, there was a general feeling that we wanted something that was not totally, radically different than the past, but had a more modern look and feel to go along with the 21st-century organization as opposed to the 1990s organization. I think we accomplished that.”

Under its new name, the consortium won’t change its priorities overnight, but rather continue to evolve them, Hartman said. Ives gave a practical example: When she joined Sloan-C in 2006, the organization offered 12 online workshops. Today, it offers more than 150.

One sign of the where the consortium intends to expand its influence has been visible on its website for weeks. In June, Sloan-C for the first time joined forces with the University Professional and Continuing Education Association and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies to present a unified voice of concern about the Department of Education’s proposed rules on state authorization.

Both Hartman and Ives said the OLC will continue to emphasize education over advocacy. Instead of aiming to become the de facto voice of higher education on policy matters related to online education, it will discuss how best to communicate the issues brought up by its members with other higher education association.

“Particularly in the area of policy, which is something that’s keeping presidents and provosts up at night, we will join forces with other entities and really advocate for our members,” Ives said. “We feel that there is strength in numbers. Collectively, our voice will be heard more effectively than individually.”

For now, the name change is largely cosmetic. Sloan-C becomes OLC, the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks becomes Online Learning: A Journal of the Online Learning Consortium, and the International Conference on Online Learning will celebrate its 20th anniversary under the new name.

“The name is important, but what is more important is what we do under that name,” Hartman said. “That will define us going forward, and sooner or later people will forget that we were the Sloan Consortium.”

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