Guest post by Suzan Harkness Ph.D., Director of the Center for Academic Technology, University of the District of Columbia and ACE Fellow, Mount St. Mary’s University Class of 2012-2013

No matter how endowed or respected the institution, there are five essential elements of equal importance that bind together to affect the functioning of the other in a successful online initiative. Successful online initiatives require a basic understanding of how core elements work together and separately to create a sound and successful online education program or college. Building a successful online model is much like baking bread – there are really five key ingredients that make or break the recipe.

Flour – Flour provides the foundation for all other ingredients – Colleges and universities need a sound strategic plan, supportive infrastructure, policies and procedures, and dedicated budget to support the strategic initiative.

Yeast – Yeast is a living organism that grows and reproduces – Colleges and universities need their strategy and key administrators, faculty and staff to grow the initiative through peer review, peer-to-peer learning, collegial collaboration, collaborative support structures and shared services, vision, and continual improvement. A program, staff, faculty, and vision in the technological paradigm that does not grow and stay current will rapidly become out-of-date and insignificant.

Liquid – When liquid is added to the flour it causes the gluten to form long elastic strands with kneading. This represents a commitment to student success across a comprehensive learning environment that begins when a student shows initial interest in the college or university by visiting its webpage all the way through graduation and alumni relations. How institutional employees who come in contact with the student population support students, is fundamental to student success, time to degree, matriculation, career preparedness, well-being, and learning.

Salt – Salt provides balance and flavor, it also slows down the yeast process and controls the way the bread will rise. Dedicated faculty and instructional designers are the introspective salt in any successful online initiative.  Faculty and instructional designers balance actions to safeguard high quality course design and delivery. Their work is to ensure that the best interests of student learning and institution integrity are at the forefront of every step. Moreover, the diversity of faculty, majors, programs and sharp thinking, provide ample opportunity to thoughtfully and with great purpose, implement online delivery strategies in collaboration with administrators.

Fat – Fat coats and tenderizes the gluten and gives bead the elasticity it needs to reach its full potential. Without fat, the gluten would keep expanding to a breaking point and collapse. As much as some look with animosity toward the administration and finance/budget office, without a fiscal plan, oversight, and careful financial planning, any initiative could easily grow out of control, expand in areas without a return on investment, and undermine an otherwise successful model.

Keeping these five key elements in mind and attending to the manner in which each is added, supported, recognized, and rewarded will help ensure a successful online initiative.

Suzan Harkness earned her Ph.D. in political science (public policy) from the University of Hawaii (Manoa) in 2000.  Dr. Harkness has a strong skill set in the areas of higher education management, e-learning, experiential education, faculty professional development, and assessment. In her current position, Dr. Harkness is responsible for managing and directing the Center for Academic Technology and Online Learning initiatives. This includes system administration of teaching and learning platforms and instructional technology, faculty professional development and strategic planning in the area of online and distance education. She was awarded the Quality Matters “Making a Difference for Students” Award (2011) and a Blackboard Platinum Catalyst Award for Staff Development (2012). For more support and tools from  from the Center of Academic Technology at UDC, visit:

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  • Kevin

    Online education has become a very popular way to improve knowledge skill and to learn new things as well. I am really very impressed by the way you have explained the main factors of online education.