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?

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Resiliency in the Now Normal: Spending for Sustainability and Scale is Key

Published By Carrie O'Donnell
on Apr 22, 2021

Earlier in April, Matt Reed proposed the best use of the $12B included in President Biden’s infrastructure legislation for updating infrastructure in community colleges, would be “ways that situate colleges to be more resilient in future economic headwinds.”  For those of you unfamiliar with Reed, not only does he write the “Confessions of a Community College Dean” blog on Inside Higher Ed, nearly 18 years of his career has been in community college leadership positions. Dr. Joshua Kim, director of online programs and strategy at Dartmouth College, fondly refers to him as “Dean Dad.” In fact, Kim penned a response in support of the infrastructure spending recommendations Reed made in his post and offered an additional recommendation of his own: learning designers. 

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.