Karen Swan Has Passed Away!

Dr. Karen Swan

Dear Commons Community,

Over the weekend, I received news that Karen Swan, the James J. Stukel Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, at the University of Illinois – Springfield, passed away suddenly.  Karen was a major figure in the scholarship and teaching of education technology and made innumerable contributions to this field of research. 

Karen and I first met in 1991 when both of us were asked to present on our work on multimedia models at Syracuse University.  We had received grants from IBM to develop education software using a M-Motion Board enabled PC that allowed micro-channel control of videodisc equipment.  After our presentations, we were asked to demonstrate our work and sat next to each other for a day during which we shared common interests in technology.  It was the beginning of a relationship that would last for thirty years. 

In the mid-1990s, we both delved into the brand-new arena of online learning.  Having received grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop online learning applications, Karen at SUNY Albany and me at CUNY, we again found ourselves presenting at conferences around the country.  We would share our work and would have dinner on a regular basis also sharing stories of our children and grandchildren. We would go on to be founding members of the Board of Directors of the Sloan Consortium of Colleges and Universities (now the Online Learning Consortium).  As part of our work with Sloan-C/OLC, we gave presentations, planned conferences and workshops, and published together with colleagues Chuck Dziuban, Mary Niemiec, Patsy Moskal, Eric Fredericksen, Peter Shea, Tanya Joosten, Liz Ciabocchi,  Frank Mayadas, and Joel Hartman. Karen, our colleagues and I would continue to have dinner every time we met at various Sloan-C events.

When I heard of Karen’s passing, I felt a jolt and an emptiness, and realized I had lost a dear friend and colleague.

May she rest in peace.


Below is a bio of her work that was published when she was inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.



Dr. Karen Swan

Hall of Fame Class of 2015

Dr. Karen Swan is a premier scholar focused on media and learning and more particularly on the world of online learning. She has taught online for more than 15 years and her experiences have guided her scholarly work on learning effectiveness, interactivity, social presence, learning analytics, and learner support in online environments. Her scholarly publications include 150 published articles and book chapters, three books, and a variety of multimedia programs. and she has made more than 100 presentations since 2010. ; Swan has served on more than 35 dissertation committees, including students from around the world. She argues that adult learning theory and methods apply to all adult students, including teaching professionals. Her national and international teaching, advising, research, publications, workshops, presentations, consultancies, and service on boards of directors are grounded in adult learning theory and practice and have significantly influenced and changed the broad field of education.

Swan received the Sloan-C award for Outstanding Achievement in Online Learning by an Individual and is a member of the Sloan-C Inaugural Class of Fellows. She was named the 2010 Distinguished Alumni from Teachers College, Columbia University and received the 2014 Burks Oakley II Distinguished Online Teaching Award. She has served on the editorial review boards for the Educational PsychologistInternational Journal of InstructionInternet and Higher EducationJournal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, and Journal of Distance Education.

Swan has made large-scale contributions as an individual scholar to the understanding of what constitutes quality online learning and how adult learners and professionals in higher education, libraries, K-12, and other learning environments can be successful. She helped develop and disseminate the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a model with social, teaching, and cognitive presence components, and her research shows how the CoI model may be used to inform course design to improve learning outcomes. Longer term, she will be known for her complex and holistic scholarship and for publications and presentations focused on the design of quality online learning environments, including understanding blended learning.

Swan has served as conference, program, track, manuscript review, and workshop chair for organizations such as Sloan-C (now the Online Learning Consortium, OLC), American Educational Research Association, Ed Media, International Society for Technology in Education, Association for Educational Communications and Technology, European Distance and E-Learning Network, and Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Swan is an active member of the University of Illinois—Springfield community where she serves on a number of faculty committees and advisory councils. Prior to this, she was a research professor in the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State University where she led pioneering work on ubiquitous computing in K-12 classrooms.

Swan has demonstrated how powerful and useful engaged scholarship can be across all learning populations, especially professional adults in the field of education.



  1. Dear Tony (and others),
    I am Karen’s youngest daughter, Gilly, or you may know me as the one who lives in China. Though I am heartbroken, it brings me such joy to see all the lives my mom touched through the years. She worked and fought so hard for her students, and as a teacher myself I hope I have some of her moxie in me. It is so comforting to know she was so loved and admired. My mom was the greatest teacher I ever had, and I know that I carry her lessons with me, as I always have. I hope she gave you her generosity, her intellect, her humour, and her extraordinary nerdiness, too!
    Thank you for sharing your emotions and memories and stories, it means so much to me to know she will be remembered!

  2. Karen was truly an icon in the online learning community and her legacy and phenomenal research will live on. It is so difficult to lose such a valued mentor, colleague and friend.