I’ve been thinking a lot about the higher education situation, specifically for-profit universities. One of the things I see is that somehow no one’s really addressing the quality of the learning experience, and it seems like a huge blindspot.
I realize that in many cases they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They want to keep costs down, and they’re heavily scrutinized. Consequently, they worry very much about having the right content. It’s vetted by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and has to be produced in a way that, increasingly, it can serve face to face (F2F) or online. And I think there’s a big opportunity missed. Even if they’re buying content from publishers, they are focused on content, not experience. Both for the learner, and developing learner’s transferable and long-term skills.
First, SMEs can’t really tell you what learners need to be able to do. One of the side-effects of expertise is that it gets compiled away, inaccessible to conscious access. Either SMEs make up what they think they do (which has little correlation with reality) or they resort to what they had to learn. Neither’s a likely source to meaningful learning.
Even if you have an instructional designer in the equation, the likelihood that they’re knowledgeable enough and confident enough to work with SMEs to get the real outcomes/objectives is slim. Then, they also have to get the engagement right. Social engagement can go a good way to enriching this, but it has to be around meaningful tasks.
And, what with scrutiny, it takes a strong case to argue to the accrediting agencies that you’ve gone beyond what SMEs tell you to what’s really needed. It sounds good, but it’s a hard argument to an organization that’s been doing it in a particular way for a long time.
Yet, these institutions also struggle with retention of students. The learners don’t find the experience relevant or engaging, and leave. If you took the real activity, made it meaningful in the right way, learners would be both more engaged and have better outcomes, but it’s a hard story to comprehend, and perhaps harder yet to implement.
Yet I will maintain that it’s both doable, and necessary. I think that the institution that grasps this, and focused on a killer learning experience, coupled with going the extra mile to learner success (analytics is showing to be a big help here), and developing them as learners (e.g, meta-learning skills) as well as performers, is going to have a defendable differentiator.
But then, I’m an optimist.
Jason D. Gray says
An excellent article Clark, which reminds me of a classic challenge for most people building products (learning materials/routes/programmes I still see as products essentially).
In essence we build the whole product thinking we know what the customer needs and wants as opposed to trialling the ideas & concepts, then building small and passing the ‘prototype’ around for feedback to ensure the final article is built using the needs and wants of the customer as the specification; Not what we think is best for them?
There is a book “Nail It Then Scale It” (NISI) which details a process for doing this, and has found quite a following. Although it’s written for entrepreneurs I believe it would work very well in the situation you outline to automatically short circuit the assumptive process of going all the way through to delivery before checking in with the ‘real’ user (as opposed to the SME)!
I’m interested to hear how you think adoption of the Tin Can (Experience) API, with its significantly better analytics, might lead to quicker revisions of learning content, and suggested ‘routes’ through it?
I think there might be two options to arrive at the best product. One could be to adopt the NISI ‘beta’ approach, while the other could be to be build quickly using Agile learning development methodology, but then rapidly revise it in light of analytics before releasing further content.
What do you think?
Best wishes, Jason D. Gray.
Jason, I think Michael Allen’s SAM approach addresses you design issues. I think we need to do a better job even thinking whether a course is the best answer, but then we do need a more ‘sensitive’ approach.
Also, I think Tin Can *could* lead to better iterative design (and other emergent outcomes), if we use it well. Though I think some more focused prototype testing might be better in the initial cycles of iteration, then we might go to analytics.
Jason D. Gray says
when you say “thinking whether a course is the best answer”, do you mean whether we badge up the learning intervention as a ‘course’ or actually whether there should be any formal agenda for learning in the name of that subject / need at all?
I’m interested in the thoughts behind the words!
Best wishes, Jason.
The MOOC’s being created at Coursera are a good example of this. These schools have quickly put up classes to be in the competition and they are just re-creating what is being taught in the classroom. I have taken several of these MOOCS and even been interview at Duke CIT for working with professors creating their online classes for Coursera. I did not get the job because I said what you just said and I also have not seen peer assessment work in any of these MOOC’s. (I have a Masters of Education in eLearning) I am not saying peer assessment does not work – I have used it in both face-to-face and online classes I have taught. But my students were very similar in many ways but most importantly they had similar previous knowledge about the subject. In these Coursera MOOC’s the students are 14-85, from many different countries and many different languages. Plus their previous educational background is also as varied. Many schools are using the information from Coursera to create accredited online classes for their universities. When these students have a bad experience, it reflects back to the university and instructor.
I have also seen too many so-called ID’s come from IT, and not education. The people leading the transfer from classroom to online are also not experienced in any form of online learning. They are the administrators of a very traditional education and do not see that what they are creating is very wrong. I have not been able to find a job and I know it is because I am saying things that administration does not want to hear. But this is what you and other educations are trying to say.
Daniel Christian says
Thank you very much for putting this posting/these thoughts out there. Great call on creating an effective experience. Personally, I’m wondering if we should move more towards a team-based approach where story/narrative might be utilized more — along with interactivity, multimedia (and more choice/control over which media is preferable to the learner), learning analytics, and opportunities for interacting with others.
Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for this posting and hope you can put some more thoughts regarding K-12 and higher education out there. We need all the fresh ideas/help we can get! :)