Online education has a presence in most Australian universities, and its uptake has been broadly understood as being driven by external imperatives associated with intensive competition within the global knowledge economy. However, the implementation of online education does not take place uniformly, and tensions can arise as a consequence of the considerable variation in approaches taken by institutions, faculties, departments and individual educators. In this paper, we analyse interview data from five Australian universities to consider how senior administrators, teacher educators and educational designers interpret the drivers of and barriers to online education. Our findings indicate that there are considerable tensions between the economic considerations driving online delivery, the pedagogical approaches embraced by many teaching academics, and the practicalities associated with financial and human resource costs, technological supports and succession planning. We argue that minding the 'P's of purpose, pedagogy and practicalities can be a valuable and productive way forward for addressing ongoing issues of quality and sustainability in online education. Copyright © 2010 Edith Cowan University.