Our society is quickly evolving into an era characterized by shared purpose and meaning. Leaders must be willing to create an atmosphere of sustainable innovation designed to continuously move organizations forward while connecting employees and clientele to meaningful experiences and their definitions of personal fulfillment.
How many distance-learning leaders are adding value to the lives of learners, faculty and staff from a holistic perspective?
Personal fulfillment is a growing trend and may be a growing trend in distance education as well. Research on the “entrepreneurial learner” in the distance learning environment demonstrated an increase in credit hour completion as learner motivation associated with personal fulfillment strengthened (Reimers-Hild & King, 2006). People are looking to decrease their levels of stress and strengthen their healthy habits while finding greater fulfillment. Minimalism is one of the trends shaping the Living with Purpose and Meaning megatrend because people are seeking less stuff and more life. At first glance this may seem like an odd topic for administrators in the distance learning arena to consider; however, minimalism is gaining popularity in trend-setting places like Silicon Valley and is influencing everything from living spaces, to workplaces and web design. The Living with Purpose and Meaning megatrend will continue to grow as the global population increases and places more demands on the planet’s limited natural resources. How can future-focused distance leaders create a better experience for learners and employees alike? Leaders can connect with individuals’ beliefs while helping them find purpose and meaning in their educational endeavors and careers while living fuller lives with less clutter and greater health and well-being.
Technology may help distance learning administrators holistically add more purpose and meaning to the lives of both learners and employees. For example, a forecast by Carbone and Nauth (2012) describes the evolution of the “cloud.” They discuss the cloud evolving from a place to store data to an intelligent resource that will actively help people improve their lives:
Virtual agents will migrate from being an automated form of phone-based customer service to a personalized form of support and assistance that provides information and—more importantly—performs useful tasks. For example, such agents might design a weekly menu based on a family’s health profile, fitness goals, and eating preferences, and automatically order ingredients.
This forecast provides an example of how distance leaders can use technology to help their organizations innovate with a focus on the future. A transition from cloud-based computing to cloud-based living and learning might be help institutions focus on both learners and employees in a more holistic manner.
Two trends supporting the Living with Purpose and Meaning megatrend include: 1) life increasingly flowing together instead of being compartmentalized into work, family, recreation, etc., and 2) the quest for greater well-being, health and vitality. People are increasingly learning and living on the go in both the virtual and physical senses, which blurs the lines between family, self-care, work and play.
How do these trends influence distance learning? As more people want to connect with their purpose, find meaning in their lives, and increase their vitality, educational institutions should take a more people-centered approach focused on meaning, well-being and the mind-body connection supported by the right social networks, experiences and technologies. A few ideas might include:
- Integrating holistic, healthy living and self-care principles into distance learning programs in an effort to create better learner experiences and to create more value in courses, programs and the lives of learners (including the lives of their families).
- Providing coaching for learners and employees to help them uncover their purpose and create strategies and structures to support meaningful actions designed to improve their educational endeavors and lives.
- Adding physical activity and fun to courses or programs in an effort to stimulate creativity, decrease stress, build camaraderie and strengthen overall wellness (perhaps an App or the intelligent cloud can help).
It’s time to move beyond the traditional grading scales, discussion boards and homework assignments and focus on the whole person and what life means to them. Helping people find their fulfillment, purpose and definition of success may provide distance-learning administrators with tools to innovate their institutions. Competition for learners, along with their precious time and dollars, will continue to increase. Distance-learning institutions will have to find new ways to add increased value to the lives of learners, employees and their families. Not only can people choose to learn anytime from anyplace, people can choose what they want to learn and from whom they want to learn it. Institutions that add the most value will have the competitive advantage.