Who is Your Audience?

Instructional designers agree on one fundamental concept of course design: you must know your audience. This article focuses on an emerging audience and proposes a not-so-new strategy for designing eLearning that works for it.

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WHAT WE KNOW
Today, we consult a large body of research dedicated to the design of online learning. We have come to know this audience of learners fairly well—including three distinct subgroups: K-12, adults working full-time, and post bachelor students. Research consistently points to interactivity and student engagement as key components for successful online learning—and instructional designers get that. A 2007 article states:

The success of an online course depends greatly on how actively engaged students are with the instructor, with their classmates, with the content, with technology, and with course management tools. (Mingsheng Dai, Online Cl@ssroom).

Businesses hire instructional designers to develop onboard training and incremental training that features libraries of topics designed to help employees do their jobs well. According to one eLearning blogger, for eLearning to be effective with an audience of employees, it has to “look and sound great,” “be real,” and “flexible.” (Young, Meghan, July 29, 2013, eLearning Industry).

Leaders recognize that eLearning has found momentum and led to an increase in material learned, retention rates, revenue, and savings. (Karla Gutierrez, 2016, April 7, SH!FT). Course designers have tailored eLearning to the student and employee audiences at a 900% growth rate since 2000. Are you ready to meet the needs of an even newer audience?

WHAT’S EMERGING
Early in 2017, Julie and Kenneth Kendall, Rutgers University, published an article stating that more and more executives are “being groomed to serve as organizational leaders.” Their study shows that executives make up a slightly different audience from the learner/employee audience that we see featured in most eLearning research. (p. 62). Now, the Kendalls are calling for a new kind of online learning, one that reaches an “executive” audience. These folks are seasoned professionals, rising to leadership roles in corporations, and have had success in their companies, with loads of real-life experience. Sounds like a new twist on what we understand the “learner” to be.

THEY HAVE STORIES TO TELL
Taking what we already know about eLearning design and tailoring it to an executive audience, the Kendalls discover from their research that executives engage well with story. They have stories to tell. They know the ins and outs of how the business runs. They know how to set company standards, and can give you a list of best practices from memory (and experience).

The Kendalls propose incorporating storytelling to innovatively enhance executive education. By addressing the following elements in every great story, learners can engage by telling their own stories, while others discover new learning or validate their own experiences.

  • The call to adventure
  • The quest
  • The struggle
  • The transformation
  • The resolution
  • The moral
  • The epilogue

By now you’re thinking: storytelling is nothing new! But incorporating story as a method/strategy for course design to reach professionals who have valuable experience strikes me as innovative and fresh. Kudos to the Kendalls for featuring this emerging audience and finding a strategy that works!

Can you even imagine what could be accomplished with story? I’m going to spend some time figuring that out. Be sure to come back here for more!

Have you been looking for a way to make executive education work for your client? Have you discovered strategies that work well? Do you expect to be designing executive education in the future? I’d love some feedback.

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References:

Dai, Mingsheng (2007, December). 10 ways to engage students in an online course. Online Cl@ssroom, Retrieved from https://www.hartnell.edu/sites/default/files/llark/online_classroom_newsletter.pdf

Gutierrez, K. (2016 April). Facts and stats that reveal the power of eLearning [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/301248/15-facts-and-stats-that-reveal-the-power-of-elearning

Kendall, J. E. & Kendall, K. E. (2017). Enhancing online executive education using storytelling: An approach to strengthening online social presence. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 15, 62-81.

Young, Meghan (2013, July). E-learning and employee onboarding: Designing the right blend from start to finish. eLearning Industry, Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/e-learning-and-employee-onboarding-designing-the-right-blend-from-start-to-finish

The MOOC: Window into our Pedagogical Soul

Remember the “Year of the MOOC” of 2012? What would possess us to even consider such a thing as a Massive Open Online Course? Maybe the MOOC captured our life-long-learner imaginations with the potential to enable free university-level education on an enormous scale.

This royalty free image is from pexels.com
This royalty free image comes from pexels.com.

Even the least of us could take a MIT or Stanford course from the leading expert of the world. Or, maybe the MOOC captured our mind’s eye because at our core we are teachers with an absorbing yearning to share our insightful understandings with as many as possible. But alas, the MOOC luster faded quickly.

There were irreconcilable differences; a feeling of betrayal of our basic values coming from staggering low completion rates. We left “divorce court” feeling the MOOC was nothing more than “mere marketing” hype or, at its worst as abject failures.

There were many explanations for the low completion rates but the principal cause centered on a basic pedagogical necessity for learners to be active and receive personal attention and interactions from their teacher. Being a student in a MOOC was much like being a dazed-video–watching-couch-potato in an infinite virtual lecture hall. It didn’t take long for our eyes to glaze over as we faded into the sunset.

But wait – maybe it’s premature to shut the MOOC door and send it to the “it was a nice idea … but” file. Coursera, the biggest MOOC provider, is investing in R&D, trying to find solutions. Their research led them to embrace an innovative active learning style trying to lift students off those binge-watching couches and have them face their screens and interact.

An experimental section of a Coursera coding skill MOOC requires students viewing a video and immediately demonstrate mastery by building a piece of software. The R&D Team teased out some 20 to 40 coding errors learners commonly make. If the student’s submission reveals common conceptual coding mistakes, a pop-up window appears with a clue, suggesting why they may have made the error.

“(Its) like a … (teacher) looking over your shoulder, giving immediate feedback associated with your mistake,” said Coursera R&D scientist Zhenghao Chen. “Students should have a clear idea why they failed,” Chen said. “Feedback prompts them to correct their misconceptions, to think along different paths.” (Ubel, 2017).

Coursera is not alone. Sense, a New York-based tech start-up with R&D labs in Tel Aviv is testing pattern recognition and semantic analysis methods that automatically bundle student answers to gather common results. The instructor might feed in 50 or more quiz solutions at any time.

The system analyzes student responses and reveals common patterns – successful responses, common mistakes, and even novel solutions – shared among submissions. With the Sense automatic batching in a MOOC, with even thousands of students, faculty can quickly pinpoint useful responses to learners who give similar answers – personalizing faculty-student interaction at scale.

What is the MOOC take away? The MOOC is a recent phenomenon but it is confirming the foundations of our understandings of learning we have understood for decades – authentic learning is active. Think: John Dewey and Jean Piaget.

It is easy to point our self-righteous finger at the MOOC– the truth is we are all sinners.  We know the power of active learning but get caught up in our own MOOC (Massive Onslaught Of Content). We resort to lectures and multiple choice assessments rather than encouraging active learning.

Maybe the research coming from MOOCs will cause us to stop, reflect, and discover new tools helping us reconnect to our pedagogical souls.

Ubel, R. (2017, July). There’s no success like failure.  Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2017/07/19/moocs-test-personalized-online-learning

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