Right Now, External Partners Might Be Higher Ed’s Greatest Ally
Published by Joana Jebsen
on Mar 09, 2021
A recent Hechinger report raised the alarm on the increasing amount of OPM contracts secured in 2020. While there seems to be great concern over the cost and number of these contracts, there also seems to be a lack of correlation between this increase and the pandemic. Have we all forgotten the sudden shift to online learning every university across the nation had to make? Whatever online learning institutions had in place at the time, if any, had to be scaled on a massive level.
As a mother of two college age daughters and the president of a learning design firm, I applaud higher education for their efforts to go the distance in changing and improving the online experience for their students, while also investing in developing their faculty. This has been no small feat.
Many have done so by making the decision to hire expertise for those areas that are weak or under-resourced. For some, their faculty had not taught online before nor were they skilled in creating an effective online learning experience. Our own study with 475 faculty showed 42% were simply mirroring their on-ground courses.
I can’t speak to the inner workings of an OPM, but I can peel back the curtain and share how a learning design firm like O’Donnell Learn operates. We occupy the white space between outsourcing entire degree programs to OPMs on the one hand, and relying on typically under-funded internal learning design resources, on the other. Partnering with a firm like O’Donnell allows universities to accelerate the shift to digital learning in various and flexible ways:
- When we work with an institution, we embed ourselves in their mission. We work very closely with faculty and administrators to ensure their branding and personality shines throughout the learning experience.
- Frequently, through our Propel product, we take this a step further and embed our design teams into a university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, existing learning design center or other departments focused on online Programming. This allows schools to ramp up resources without the burden of full-time expansion.
- In every case, the intellectual property always remains with the institution. As do tuition fees. We never intrude on instruction. In fact, with our Jumpstart product, we train faculty to create quality online learning experiences on their own.
- Through our Purposeful Learning Framework, we empower faculty to incorporate learning design best practices into their courses. Using our clear, jargon-free approach, they examine their content and instruction under the lens of eight key design components, including active and authentic learning, accessible content and technology, and learner empathy.
- Often the online experience is as engaging as in the classroom. Sometimes, even more so. Faculty, once resistant to online learning, become the “in-house” champions for more digital teaching.
Just as important: our focus is learning design. We seek to bring the most current knowledge and technology to the table. We actively invest in continuous training around learning design best practices, in using the latest tools and artificial intelligence, in honing our in-house media team, while also ensuring the greatest efficiency in the use of resources.
The cost to a university to internally develop and/or expand that kind of expertise can be enormous. Outsourcing expertise does not mean institutions have to give up control. I see outsourcing as fulfilling a commitment to lead students to their future. Leaders always surround themselves with those that make their leadership stronger and more effective. Even if that means outsourcing.
At the end of the day, our mission and love for great learning design will always align with higher education’s non-profit heart and mission. I suspect this is true of most learning design firms. Always focused on creating engaging and effective learning experiences, whether on ground, online or blended, for both the student and the faculty.
Now I ask you, where’s the bad in that?