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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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.

Propel: Driving Learner Success Through Purposeful Instructor Support

Published By Carrie O'Donnell
on Mar 05, 2021

In a study we conducted last summer with nearly 500 higher education faculty, we learned most were spending 49 hours prepping new online courses prior to the start of the semester. For existing courses, 23 hours per course. And fine tuning content throughout the term? Eight hours per week. This is in addition to teaching, not to mention other duties like research and service. However, we also learned that while most were confident in their ability to teach online, 42% have little experience and nearly half were attempting to mirror their face-to-face teaching in the online environment. Both of these factors are strong indicators of not understanding the intentionality involved in developing and delivering effective online courses. As we move beyond emergency remote instruction towards improving the online learning experience, how do we ask faculty to do even more preparation? The reality is, we shouldn’t. Instead we should purposefully support instructors to help them more effectively and efficiently develop their online courses.

4 Ways to Use Peer Learning to Increase Learner Engagement

Published By Brett Christie, PhD
on Feb 22, 2021

Peer learning has long been shown to increase student knowledge over lecture-dominant methodologies, particularly when unpacking and understanding difficult concepts. Think about conversations in your everyday life. How dialogue among your peers helped you gain new knowledge and examine different points of view. The same can be true for the classroom. Not only is peer learning effective among students, it is especially well-suited for the virtual environment. The beauty of peer learning is it brings small groups of students together to effectively collaborate, communicate and think in both critical and creative ways. Additionally, fostering peer learning inside the classroom naturally encourages sustained dialogue and authentic learning outside the classroom.