Online Learning Initiative: Strengthening the University of Wisconsin educational experience online

The University of Wisconsin System received a $2 million anonymous donation in spring 2020 to help improve the quality and delivery of online teaching and learning—just as our campuses were scrambling to flip from face-to-face instruction to online instruction. This donation has positively impacted thousands of faculty, instructional academic staff, and students. In fulfillment of this donation, the UW System created the Online Learning Initiative (OLI) to address a critical challenge facing the UW System due to the COVID-19 pandemic: how to deliver high-quality online learning at scale, while ensuring broad access and equity so that all students succeed. The team is excited to build on the success of Phase One and welcomes ideas regarding ongoing needs in the online learning arena. Find details in the UW System news release.


  • Faculty professional development
  • Needs-based student access to information technology
  • Best pedagogical practices in online teaching and learning
  • Access to note-taking software for students in need


The data demonstrate that the donation provided to our UW System campuses significantly improved the quality and delivery of online teaching and learning. Specifically, the data show that:

  • In just four months, the UW System Professional Development Grant Program supported a 108% per-campus average increase in the number of faculty and instructional academic staff trained in research-based pedagogy for online teaching and learning. Between June and September 2020, the UW System went from 3,435 of 11,451 (30%) of total faculty and instructional academic staff trained in online teaching and learning pedagogy, to 6,692 of 11,451 (58%).
  • The UW System Online Learning Certificate Program trained and credentialed an additional 222 faculty and instructional academic staff from all 13 UW System universities in online teaching and learning pedagogy. The total number of UW System faculty and instructional academic staff trained in online teaching and learning increased to 6,914 of 11,451 (60%).
  • Across the entire UW System, 367,721 credit hours in online courses were taught by newly trained faculty and instructional academic staff. On average, 11,443 students per campus directly benefitted from improved instruction in online courses.
  • UW Extended Campus created not only open-source materials but also asynchronous courses for faculty, instructional academic staff, and student support staff seeking to improve student success in online teaching and learning. These resources have been accessed by 2,215 unique visitors, and 599 people have enrolled in these courses.
  • Notetaking software was made available to 741 students with disabilities, who were enrolled in online courses across the UW System during both the fall and spring semesters of the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • The UW System Student Technology Equity Program advanced student success by purchasing and distributing 379 WiFi-enabled laptop computers for at-risk students, beginning in fall 2021.
  • The Wisconsin Idea has been advanced through extending free and open access to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Wisconsin Technical College System to Journey to Online and Keep Coaching courses, as well as the UW System Online Learning Certificate Program.

In the news

U.S. News & World Report

UW System Receives $2 Million to Bolster Online Learning – July 27, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

UW System receives $2 million gift for online education as fall planning continues – July 27, 2020

Wisconsin Public Radio

$2M Gift Aimed At Improving UW Online Classes Amid Coronavirus Pandemic – July 28, 2020

Wisconsin State Journal

UW System receives $2 million to improve online education – July 27, 2020


The scope of OLI required the integration and collaboration of each of the units within the Office of Academic and Student Affairs:

The project team also worked collaboratively with institutional leaders to identify particular resources needed to assist their faculty, staff, and students in online learning during the COVID pandemic:


  • Find resources including courses and reports.
  • Find an FAQ for students, staff and faculty.
  • Contact Project Director Laura Dunek with questions.