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The 10 most influential people in online education

Technology is reshaping higher education, bringing knowledge and opportunity to more people in more ways than ever before. Digital media has expanded the scope of learning. From online elementary schools to online colleges, more and more classrooms are becoming virtual. Teachers are incorporating more visual and video presentations, project collaboration and online discussion in their lessons. Flexible and engaging, the virtual classroom has gained traction rapidly in the past decade. One in three college students take at least one class online, according to data from the 2010 Sloan Consortium Survey of Online Learning.

Pioneers of online learning

Online education would not be as deeply integrated in the college experience today if not for the efforts of pioneering administrators and instructors. These individuals have applied innovations in educational technology to the classroom, making the virtual learning experience as good or richer than the traditional campus format:

Michael Horn

Michael Horn, founder of Innosight Institute

Michael Horn (pictured) is tackling the problem of failing K-12 schools with creativity and resourcefulness. The non-profit think tank Innosight Institute, of which Horn is co-founder and education executive director, applies the theories of disruptive innovation to address social problems. Under its auspices, Horn is developing influential ideas for using online education to "customize an education for every child in the way she learns." Tech&Learning magazine recently named Horn one of the 100 most important people pioneering the use of technology in education.

Chris Dede, professor in learning technologies, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Professor Dede is shaping online education through research and practice, applying his theories of how interactive media and emerging information technologies support learning. Current studies explore "immersive" multiuser virtual learning environments and wireless mobile devices as a means of engaging students. Dede is not only leading debate on the use of emerging technologies to improve education, but also modeling IT-powered learning in his own classroom.

Chip Paucek, president and COO of 2Tor

Chip Paucek is "passionate about transforming online education," a commitment evident in his work with 2Tor. As the former CEO of Hooked On Phonics and now as head of 2Tor, Paucek has worked with many universities to establish innovative online degree programs. Paucek and 2Tor bring together instructional designers, technology platform developers and university administrators to create compelling online learning experiences.

Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U

Anya Kamenetz earned distinction in 2010 as a "Game Changer in Education" by the Huffington Post for "reporting a way out of a failed system." The senior writer for Fast Company magazine points to "online collectives" as a compelling alternative to "stuffy, expensive, overrated Ivy-coated classrooms." Her 2009 book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education celebrates the visionaries who are working to lower the cost, improve quality and expand access to higher education in the U.S. using new educational technologies.

Joyce Valenza, teacher and librarian at Springfield Township High School

Joyce Valenza was an early adopter of online technology as a means of enhancing learning opportunities in the K-12 classroom. She created a Virtual Library in 1996, which won the IASL School Library Web Page of the Year award in 2001. Valenza has since founded a variety of online learning resources for students and educators, and published a series of videos and books on information and communication technology (ICT) skills for the classroom. Her creations include the popular wiki TL Virtual Cafe, which serves as an online venue for "transformative conversations about educational technology."

John Bourne, Ph.D., executive director of Sloan Consortium

John Bourne leads the influential Sloan Consortium, an advocacy and resource association committed to promoting quality online education. Under Bourne's leadership, the Sloan Consortium has taken dramatic strides to boost the legitimacy and adoption of online technologies in higher education. Bourne founded the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN) and the Asynchronous Learning Network in 1996 with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of Knewton

Jose Ferreira's Knewton powers continuous adaptive learning with the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform. The platform creates customized education, optimizing students' "daily work to fit their unique learning profiles." Ferreira has some of the best venture capitalists in the country--Accel Partners, Besemmer Venture Partners, and others--behind him and seems like a good bet in the years ahead.

John Ebersole, founder of first online degree program and president of Excelsior University

John Ebersole was an early advocate of online learning, developing the first fully online degree program, an MBA. Adding to his credentials as founding father of online degrees, Ebersole developed online programming at Boston University and U.C. Berkeley. As president of the United States Continuing Education Association, he foresaw the value of online education for working adults.

Curtis Bonk, Ph.D., writer and professor of instructional systems technology, Indiana University

Dr. Bonk is an enthusiastic champion of distance learning and innovative online educator. He has written several influential books on blended learning, the Web 2.0 and best practices for teaching online. His accolades include the Most Outstanding Achievement Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association and the Most Innovative Teaching in a Distance Education Program Award from the State of Indiana.

The Internet is a powerful tool for learning, empowering knowledge transfer and collaboration--the"dominant infrastructure for knowledge of all types," as Dr. Pepicello puts it. These ten pioneers recognized the potential of online technology early, and are working to make good on that promise at both the K-12 and university levels.

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