Learn While Doing: Course Innovations in Real Time

Published by Brett Christie, PhD
on Mar 30, 2021

We recently learned there are approximately 20,000 learning designers in the US compared to over 1,500,000 faculty creating online courses. 

Additionally, a study we conducted last summer with 475 higher ed faculty revealed:

  • Nearly half were simply mirroring their face-to-face instruction
  • Only 22% were designing their courses differently for online
  • More than 40% had never taught online or had only taught online for one to two terms

But here’s an even more startling fact: faculty were spending nearly 49 hours prepping an online course for the first time. Converting an existing course for online? Twenty-three hours. 

With this reality, how do higher ed institutions support faculty development in a way that scales both the reach and effectiveness? In our recent webinar, Learn While Doing: Course Innovations in Real Time, O’Donnell Learn CEO and Founder Carrie O’Donnell and I share best practices, models, and tools for creating a campus-wide shared understanding around learning design – and keeping the development momentum going once it starts.

Formal faculty training is typically provided through seminars, bootcamps, showcases, online how-tos, FAQs, guides, etc. According to Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who specialized in memory and learning, retention for this style of training drops to 75% after just one day. In fact, his “Forgetting Curve” shows retention plummeting to 30% within a week and after just one month it’s less than 15%. Not a great outlook for programs scheduled in June and course development beginning after the summer break.

The good news? While Ebbinghaus’ research was based on personal experience versus empirical date, ongoing research to date (including that of John Dewey and Roger Shank) has demonstrated that taking a “learn by doing” approach and staging it out over time dramatically increases learning and retention. Best of all, learn by doing is not difficult to implement. Simple changes to include hands-on, active learning, collaboration, social learning, microlearning, and 1:1 support can go a long way to increasing retention and affecting change.

Creating a Shared Understanding Around Learning Design

Purposeful Learning Check is essentially the starting point for our Purposeful Learning Framework. This key tool helps faculty rate their courses based on 30 purposeful learning objectives and determine which areas to improve first by coming away with a Course Enhancement Plan. The goal is making consistent and incremental course enhancements throughout the term, learning what works, and iterating adjustments as needed.

The Purposeful Learning Check is a free and open resource for higher education. It provides an excellent first step to creating a shared understanding around learning design on your campus. Register to explore this and the entire Purposeful Learning Framework module on our Learn Platform.

Jumpstart Bootcamp provides a cohort of faculty with a learn by doing sequence of modules around course development. It combines formal training, hands-on learning and real-time 1:1 support. Participants experience learn by doing best practices through the lens of the student in bite-sized synchronous and asynchronous segments. When the bootcamp wraps, each participant leaves with an individualized Course Enhancement Plan and an in-depth understanding of how to create effective learning experiences. 

Lunch & Learns offer an excellent opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and sharing following formalized, group training. Grounded in community and practice, this ‘bite-sized topics’ model helps keep the momentum (and retention) up with ongoing demonstrations or showcases of applying what was learned to existing challenges St. Francis College actively uses this model to expand their Jumpstart training beyond the core participants to other faculty.

Microlearning is designed to provide learning in context, giving the learner what is needed ‘now’ to move forward. Microlearning presents bite-sized segments of content followed by an opportunity for the learner to try what they just learned. For example, for faculty development, this might look like a series around using low stakes assessments to improve the learning experience. What’s learned can immediately be assimilated into faculty’s current courses. To see an example of microlearning in action, explore the Purposeful Learning Framework module mentioned earlier. 

These are just a few models that can be used to begin developing an institution-wide shared understanding about learning design best practices. Remember, scaling your efforts to support faculty will be most successful through an on-going, intentional approach designed for incremental growth over time. 

A replay of the entire webinar is available here.

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