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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Looking Back/Learning Forward: Lessons For the Now Normal

Published By Brett Christie, PhD
on Jul 20, 2021

Looking Back, Learning Forward, a motto and mindset to utilize as we envision the future of distance education and fuse historic learning practices with modern lifestyles. I recently co-hosted a webinar with Dr. Jim Julius, Faculty Director of Online Learning at Mira Costa College, where we walked a group of educators through insights gathered over the last fourteen months of online learning. If one thing is clear, it is that it’s been a journey for everyone: faculty, students, education consultants, learning designers, institutional leadership, and families alike. 

Launching Faculty Learning Communities: Participation is All About Perceived Value

Published By Brett Christie, PhD
on Jul 14, 2021

In an earlier webinar, O’Donnell Learn CEO, Carrie O’Donnell and I shared practical ideas and examples for building learning communities among faculty. These communities provide a rich opportunity for faculty to gather around a common goal, learning together and from each other while accomplishing a desired outcome.   Faculty learning communities can provide the time, space and resources for mission-critical efforts related to teaching and learning. Teaching expertise is most often not part of the faculty background, nor is instructional design a common skill. Plus, faculty often develop courses in isolation. In contrast, gathering faculty around learning design can create vibrant exchanges of what’s working, what’s not, and problem-solving around how to make improvements.

Learning Trends for the Now Normal

Published By Brett Christie, PhD
on Jul 08, 2021

I recently co-hosted a webinar with Dr. Jim Julius, Faculty Director of Online Learning at Mira Costa College and previous panelist to the EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition. This year's annual report, 2021 Educause Horizon Report, describes trends and developing sectors in the modern and rapidly changing education system. We led a group of educators through insights and analysis of trends in technology to advance higher education delineated in this year’s issue of the Report. For this discussion, we focused on the social, technological, and economic trends based on the Horizon Report research. Here are some key takeaways.