Faculty Buy-In: The First Step to Designing Great Learning Experiences

Published by Joana Jebsen
on Feb 22, 2019

Faculty buy-in is critical for any Higher Education Learning Experience Design (LXD) project. Some LX Designers (LXDs) might go so far as to say it is the most important element to a project’s success. In fact, research supports this.

In the March 2018 study on digital learning, conducted by Arizona State University and The Boston Consulting Group, engaging faculty as true partners is among the seven best practices presented in the results.

“…instructional designers described lack of faculty buy-in as the number one barrier to successful implementation of digital learning and attributed that circumstance to ‘part lack of knowledge, part lack of understanding.’ Instructional designers also suggested that some faculty may have difficulty adjusting to new teaching approaches because they are more comfortable with what they already know how to do well. To address this problem, the study recommended involving instructional designers ‘early, often, and throughout your technology transition…’”

My own experience has shown me the same. The most successful faculty-LXD relationships happen when an LXD comes in as a thought partner, not a technician or mere translator. The designer knows how to build great learning experiences and also how to be a guide on the side. The actual experience of working with an instructional designer should be be a partnership of equals – one the subject matter expert (SME) and the other an authority in LXD best practices. Coming into a project as a thought leader lays the foundation of four key guideposts our LXDs operate from at O’Donnell Learn. At any point in the project, if the relationship seems stuck or starts to unravel, (and let’s face it, not everything goes as smoothly as we might hope), we revisit these guideposts to see where the process might be off-track and how we can seamlessly and smoothly realign the relationship.

Enter as a Thought Partner:  Clients seek out an LXD firm because they want to deliver the subject matter online in the best way possible. An LXD’s role is to help transform the subject matter, to reimagine how it could be best delivered, whether in a new way on-ground or in an online modality.  It’s not enough to simply convert the faculty’s classroom content into something that can exist on a screen. Good designers are trained to bring their expertise to the table while at the same time embrace the expertise and significant scholarship of the faculty.

Full Discovery for Full Disclosure: It’s important not to short-change the discovery process. In this phase, the LXD begins to understand faculty expectations, comfort level with digital learning, and potential barriers to online learning; more importantly, this is also where the faculty-LXD relationship really starts to take shape. Here is where the LXD is able to tease out “the heart of the matter,” asking the professor a slew of questions: what he or she loves about teaching or the subject matter, how his/her students are engaged on-ground, what aspects of student interactions are important to teaching the subject, expectations around the types of tools that can be used, etc.

Anchor the Approach in Collaboration: Both the professor/subject matter expert and the LXD bring expertise to the table. The process is one of truly working together to bring the best of both fields into the final project. The design thinking mindset and hands-on experience are just as important to a successful outcome as the subject matter.  It’s not about control, it’s about collaboration.

Guide on the Side: At the core of any LXD project is helping the SME see how LXD best practices, robust tools and technology can enhance both the learning experience and the subject being taught. For example, perhaps the SME teaches a particular concept a certain way, wants add a “wow factor” to increase engagement with the students or is attached to a new tool that may or may not fit the project. Based on experience, design principles, research and more, the LXD will present several options or examples to help guide the SME to the right solution.

One of our LXDs conveys this perfectly, “It’s a kind of dance. We’re guiding the SME through the decision process, helping them see what’s possible – and what’s not – to find the best solution for their course and material.”


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