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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“See each other for the humanity that holds us” Lessons in Trauma Informed Pedagogy from Mays Imad

Published By Cathryn Mattimore
on Oct 20, 2021

O’Donnell Learn recently hosted a webinar led by Mays Imad, Ph.D. as a part of its recent Purposeful Learning Festival focused on mental health and wellness. Dr. Imad is a thought leader in trauma-informed pedagogy and a professor at Pima Community College based in Tucson, Arizona where she is also the coordinator of the Teaching & Learning Center. As a current Master’s of Education student at Northeastern University who also lives with mental illness, I was excited to learn more about using the classroom, virtual or traditional, as a safe place for learners to heal and grow. I met virtually with Dr. Imad to hear more about her teaching philosophy, beliefs surrounding mental health, and ways to ensure student success in uncertain times.

Higher Ed Has the Toolset, But Do They Have the Mindset to Future-fit?

Published By Joana Jebsen
on Aug 12, 2021

Imagine a fresh-faced eighteen year old, naive to the great big world ahead, hoping for an acceptance into an accredited two or four year college. They’re navigating the long hall towards their college counselor’s office, reviewing the list of schools in their mind, while envisioning a future of friends, inspiring courses and eventually a career, a life. College, whether community or four year, will be their first steps towards adulthood, towards maturity, or so they think.  What they don't know, what they aren’t told, is that most higher education is unequipped to prepare them for life. The real responsibilities they’ll meet when they exit campus are not delineated, explored or taught in school.  To make matters more complicated, the notion of the “traditional student” no longer exists. Students are opting out of four year residential colleges for two year schools and online programs. They’re also delaying the start of college in pursuit of a career. Additionally, there’s been an enormous uptick in adult learners, with families, who start school later, or attend school in tandem with a job. It’s clear: there’s a broken talent pipeline. And an enormous question: is higher education fit for the future?

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.