Servant-leadership: the Online Way! E-learning where community building is key

Sylvia van de Bunt-Kokhuis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Nabil Sultan, Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom


The digitalisation of educational communities has increased rapidly in the last decade. Modern technologies transform the way educational leaders such as teachers, tutors, deans and supervisors view and manage their educational communities. More often, educational leaders offer a variety of gateways, guiding the e-learners in their search for finding and understanding information. A new type of leader is required for understanding the needs and requirements of geographically dispersed e-learners. This calls for a compassioned kind of leader, able to reconcile the dilemma of high-tech versus hi-touch in the online classroom. This article examines servant-leadership and its implications for e-learning in the 24/7 classroom where community building is key.


The role of the teacher in online education is often described as the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage. Servant leadership concepts bring nuance and depth to the role of guide or facilitator.

In this article the authors stake out promising new ground for research. “In literature (amongst others Greenleaf, 1977 and 1991; Keith, 2011; Nuijten, 2009; Trompenaars and Voerman, 2009; Sarayrah, 2004; Vargas and Hanlon, 2007 and Spears, 2000) servant-leadership qualities can be found like listening, forgiveness, empathy, humility, care for people and the organization, healing of relationships, awareness, persuasion, courage, giving feedback, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, authenticity, commitment to the growth and empowerment of others and building community. Teachers with some or more of these servant-leadership (high-touch) qualities can make the difference in the e-learning environment. In the (high-tech) online classroom the teacher, more than ever before, needs to be qualified to amongst others listen, care for the e-learners, encourage awareness raising, give feedback and, last but not least, build a vivid learning community. This calls for a compassioned kind of educational leader, able to connect high-tech (technology mediated learning, multimedia infrastructure) opportunities with hi-touch (contact, human interaction, commitment to the growth of others, etc.) opportunities in the online classroom.”

The e-learning environments envisioned in this internationally oriented paper describe many of the values driving the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s E-Learning and Online Teaching Graduate Certificate.

van de Bunt-Kokhuis, S., & Sultan, N. (2012). Servant-leadership: the Online Way! E-learning where community building is key. [Electronic version]. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012/1.


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