With the advent of the internet and social media communication the world is experiencing a social and economic revolution that is manifest in a new order for organizations as they shift from rigid to permeable organizational structures and processes. Ashkenas (1995) calls this the dawning of the boundaryless organization for the 21st century. While emerging organizations may take on a number of different forms, the constant will be that they will act differently depending in their organizational goals, theories, and experiences. No longer will organizations use boundaries to separate people, tasks, processes, and places; yet instead these learning organizations will focus on how to infiltrate boundaries, to move ideas vertically and horizontally, create informational data basis’s , create decision formats, establish a reward system, and create actions where such responses are necessary to meet the educational institution and student/client demands

A learning organization is a term given to an organization that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. Thus learning organizations develop, and continue to develop its organizational structure, as a result of the pressures facing similar organizations, to adjust their delivery methods which will enable them to remain competitive in the business environment. In the virtual world of education the factors driving the virtual education business is the access, adaptability, consumer driven, learning opportunities and profitability of Web-based education.

As the world changes around us we are to make the most of new opportunities and we must embrace the necessity to change ourselves. We must not continue to try and use yesterday’s answers to deal with the different problems of the future. Changing has to become a newly acceptable part of life. Organizations must become more flexible. In order to compete in the ever expanding global world of business and education organizations, good organizations, effective organizations, are essential (Handy, 1989). An organization could miss a great opportunity if they do not look beyond their formal organizational structure and, through a creative forecast, create new opportunities. In his book The Age of Unreason, Charles Handy (1989) states, “Education has become the single most important investment that any person can make in their own destiny. But, education needs to be re-invented.” As technologies improve, access to those technologies increase and skills to apply them are enhanced. Thus, the explosion in the virtual world of education.

The educational strategies being deployed in response to virtual or distance learning may variously be called “virtual education,” “distance learning,” “distributed learning,” “on-line learning,” “e-learning,” “Web-based learning,” “e-learning,” or any number of other labels commonly referred to for internet formatted educational processes.

Virtual education is defined in two ways:

    • The application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to core institutional technology functions such as administration, materials development and distribution, course delivery and tuition, and the provision of learner services such as advising, prior learning assessment and program planning (Farrell)

    • Any organization that has been created through alliances and partnerships to facilitate teaching and learning to occur without itself being involved as a direct provider institution.

The American Council on Education stated, “The new distance education force transforming higher education may not be controlled by traditional structures or providers of education or by traditional academic policies. Not only do the new forms of education portend a change in student populations, but also they will force faculty to develop new modalities of teaching and administrators to provide a new infrastructure for support. As a result, the advent of distance education is forcing many institutions to review and amend many of their existing policies and procedures” (Parrish & Parrish, 2000).

The National Educational Technology Trends Report: 2011 (SETDA) reports the following initiative:

“Building the 21st century education environment for equity, innovation, and improvement requires a technology infrastructure that includes access to devices and sufficient broadband; data systems, and interoperability standards; as well as content standards and high-quality assessments…high-quality professional development on how to use and incorporate technology into the curriculum is necessary in order to transform pedagogical practice. Students need higher order thinking skills to succeed in the 21st century global environment.”

The international environment has changed as well to embracing all levels of education with respect to the application of ICT’s at all levels of education. Many national and international institutions are developing, or planning to create, Web-based course delivery capabilities. In addition a significant number of government, institutional, corporate and private Web sites have emerged to meet the demands of virtual education initiatives. An explosion of interest in virtual education over the past fourteen years underlines the point made by the Commonwealth of Learning in 1998 in support of the development of virtual education. It stated that “the provision of education will be the biggest challenge for most governments as they attempt to attain the idea of peace, freedom, and social justice, while striving at the same time to position themselves to generate more wealth and compete on a global market.” In support of that statement we are observing the advent of governments, and international development and aid organizations, experiencing a growing sense of urgency to respond to the challenge of providing virtual education in a changing global market.

There are several global forces that supports the urgency to effectively support the initiative to develop a virtual education network (UNESCO, 1998):

  • According to the UN, between 2012 and 2025, the world population will increase by 20% to reach 8 billion inhabitants (compared to 6.5 billion in 2012 of which 97% of this growth will occur in the developing countries of Asia and Africa). Globally people around the world will live longer which will add to the demand for access to education as well as health-care and other services.

  • Globalization, the largely unrestricted flow of information, ideas, cultural values, capitol, goods and services, and people, which is driven by the global networked economy, will enhance not only the demand for more diversified content, but create need for more diversified content and greater flexibility of access.
  • The globalized economy, with a growing demand for standardized products, services and technical infrastructure, and sophisticated communication systems.
  • The demands for greater access to tertiary education fuelled by rapid changes in the economy, the need to maintain and upgrade skills for employment, and industry’s demand for “work- ready” graduates.
  • The growing reluctance on the part of governments to fund the increasing demand for higher education.

Flexible delivery modes, using CD-Roms and the Internet, are being used as much as a solution to on-campus problems as they are off-campus access. Tapsall and Ryan (1999 ) claim that, as a result, face-to-face with distance and open learning modes are converging. Students in all types of venues are increasingly learning through the use of technologies. Peter Dirr (1999) states the use of video-conferencing has enabled instructors to retain many of the old pedagogical methods, but has done little to accommodate the learner’s need for flexibility. Stephen Ehrmann (2000) contrasts the concept of the “campus-bound” paradigm with the “campus-based” paradigm. The former assumes that the quality of a program depends entirely on the books, laboratories, faculty members, students, etc. But the latter, which is called the new paradigm, assumes that some of the resources and some of the learning are off-site. Networks enable staff and students to use a World Wide Web of academic resources and, as a result, they may be on campus part of the time (Farrell).

Universities are going through troubled times as they are under pressure to provide more and better education for an increasing number of students. One would ask if the university of the future, with all the electronic communication methods at its disposal, will be able to continue the values of more traditional universities. The future for the next 25 years, for universities as currently structured and the commercially oriented developments taking place in higher education in the United States, have begun to emphasize the Internet, distance learning, and globalization of the educational opportunities and its effect on the structure of the university of the future.

21st Century Organizational Strategy

It is forecast that increased commercial input will bring about many changes and by 2025 we will see corporations awarding degrees. Partnerships will flourish between publishers and universities; collaboration with industrial research and, with the capability of virtual learning, the opportunity will exist to create mega-universities. Partnerships with employers, such as large commercial companies, will become commonplace. In 2025 employment will be possibly less secure and students will be looking for higher education that allows flexible study and lifelong learning. Most educational processes will be accessed and completed on the internet, educational software, and electronic communication will become the norm between the student and faculty. Software development will become a necessity. These new organizational forms are the result of partnerships between businesses and institutions, joint ventures between and among institutions and organizations, new consortia arrangements and a huge increase in the number of new “for profit” education and training organizations. Such scenarios are developing for a number of reasons: to gain market share in a globalized educational world, to take advantage of value-added partnership opportunities, to reduce overhead costs and share risk, and to profit from a demand for life-long learning.

But how will this paradigm successfully shift from traditional brick and mortar educational facilities to a virtual (or evolutional form of education) and transition successfully? Is complexity theory applicable in understanding how organizations adapt to their environment and how to cope with conditions of uncertainty? Should we consider how variable dynamic networks of interactions, and their relationships, become adaptive in individual and collective behavior of transition? Organizations can be treated as complex adaptive systems (CAS) where strategy seeks to understand the nature of system constraints and agent interaction and generally takes an evolutionary approach to strategy.

Ashkenas (1995) states there is a shifting paradigm for organizational success:

  • Old Success Factors New Success Factors

  • Size Speed
  • Role Clarity Flexibility
  • Specialization Integration
  • Control Innovation
Old Success Factors New Success Factors
Size Speed
Role Clarity Flexibility

The most significant change(s) in the virtual delivery system, as opposed in the traditional educational delivery methods, is the speed in everything they do. Bringing new products to market faster, and the ability to change strategies more rapidly than ever before, is significant to success. This trend will continue into the 21st century. Secondly organizations that move quickly are flexible. People will do multiple jobs, constantly learning new skills, and willingly shifting to different job positions, locations, and assignments to ensure organizational success. Thus hiring instructors with vast experience from around the world enhances the education process. Organizations that can shift directions quickly, with flexibility, have processes that carry concepts of change into the institutional bloodstream, disseminates new initiatives quickly, and mobilizes the right resources will make things happen. This integration will focus more on how best to accomplish business and work processes by quickly adjusting to market demands, corporate training agendas and educational trends. Finally, organizations that succeed in a world of rapid change will find innovation essential. Boundaryless organizations constantly search for the new, the different, the unthinkable.

Educational organizations that remain designed to meet the old set of critical success factors are increasingly incapable of thriving or even surviving in the new world of virtual, e-learning, We-based educational initiatives. By doing nothing to meet student (or client, purchaser, life-long learner) demands such old school tactics will ultimately cease to be a viable alternative to the age old formula of attending on-site classes, living in expensive dorm rooms, and following a strict schedule of classroom availability. In today’s world, there is no longer a dichotomy between domestic and foreign entities. Global boundaries between companies, markets, and people have become irrevocably blurred. Virtual education brings clarity to education.

The challenge for educational institutions, and new competitive for-profit centers for learning, is to avoid getting comfortable with the anxiety that change can effect. This is especially true for those who are used to dominating residential learning. Universities will have to move away from teaching to learning and the “me” university will be replaced by putting the student first and providing a lifelong learning network. One option is for the university to do nothing and universities that adopt this strategy will probably disappear.

The future of virtual education could, plausibly, be in the hands of educational software makers who will dominate the curriculum of virtual education. This up-side down order must be righted: educators need to play a more active, determining role in the development of the next generation of learning technologies to ensure that a richer environment is created for all students and placed at the top of the e-learning agendas.

Effective, competitive, and boundary less organizations are possible only when leaders accept the responsibility to overcome their own self-limiting walls and believe that nothing is impossible

With every new process of change and product enhancement that are inherent difficulty. Many expressed concerns come down to the time consuming nature of learning and teaching online using new systems. It has been estimated, for example, that online instruction requires approximately three times more preparation time that face-to-face instruction. Pirani (2004) draws attention to the fact that instructors (and students) often underestimate the time required for e-learning, and that the time involved in writing rather than speaking their thoughts can be very demanding.

Effective, competitive, and boundaryless organizations are possible only when leaders accept the responsibility to overcome their own self-limiting walls and believe that nothing is impossible. Creating a successful virtual learning organization is attainable when motivated people seek to achieve their highest goals. Organizations in the twenty-first century will only be constrained by those elements that are self-imposed upon themselves. Technology alone will not make it happen; strategy will never be enough; luck is not dependable. But leaders that push, inspire, innovate, motivate, and demand creativity among their people, can move mountains and meet global demands for accessible education. And when these mountains are moved, there are no boundaries (Ashkenas, 1995).




Ashkenas, R. (1995). The boundaryless organization: breaking the chains of organizational structure.

San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Dirr, S. (1999). Distance and Virtual Learning in the United States. In the Development of Virtual

Education: A Global Perspective. Vancouver: The Commonwealth of Learning.

Erhmann, S. (2000). Ivory Tower, Silicon Basement: Transforming the College. The Learning Technologies

Group 2000. Washington, D.C.

Farrell, G. (2001). The Changing Faces of Virtual Education. The Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada.

Handy, C. (1989). The age of unreason. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

Parrish, D., Parrish, A. (2000). Developing a Distance Education Policy for 21st Century Learning.

Division of Government Public Affairs, American Council for Education.

Tapsall, S., Ryan, Y. (1999). Distance Learning: The Fifth Generation. Paper presented at the 19th ICDE

World Conference on Learning and Distance Education, Vienna.

UNESCO. (1998). Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action. World

Conference on Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century.

Pirani, J. (2004) Supporting e-learning in higher education. Roadmap. Colorado: Educause Centre

for Applied research. Retrieved 10/25/2012 from

http://www. educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS0303/ecm0303.pdf [14th February, 2006]

About the author:

Michael B. Russell holds a Masters Degree (MA) in Communication and Research from the Fulbright College at The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas and a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from The Webster University School of Business and Technology located in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds an earned Doctorate from the Regent University School of Business and Leadership located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Dr. Russell resides in NW Arkansas and is President of Mike Russell & Associates, Inc., a risk management consulting firm specializing in the religious sector. He can be reached at mike@mrains.net or 1-479-268-4471.

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