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.

Audience_082417
This royalty free image comes from pexels.com.

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.

author-gwen

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

Three Ways to Become Student-Centered

Our eLearning Team is moving toward student-centered learning in our courses. This approach is often miles away from how the course existed in the past, or how the subject matter expert envisions the online course to be.

I have found three ways to help our team and SMEs move toward becoming student-centered in all of our course development projects.

First, provide onboard training for online/blended instructors. Next, build interaction into every course. And finally, establish and sustain teacher presence while facilitating the course.

1. Step into their shoes.

shoes_public-domain-pictures-1494403416XaB
Image used with a creative commons license.

At the conclusion of the faculty training course that I facilitate for my university, participants consistently express value gained from “being a student” in the course. This constructive approach to training creates a safe space for future instructors to experience the nitty-gritty challenges that their students will also face. This is what they tell me:

  • Initially they are faced with their own misconceptions about online education and are forced to make time management decisions during the first week of training.
  • They experience gratification that comes from timely instructor feedback and encouragement.
  • They discover asynchronous momentum that develops in the discussion forum, and begin to research, practice, and develop strategies to create and sustain this kind of phenomenon in their own courses.
  • They experience tools within the LMS for the first time, and recognize the value of a Wiki activity, a Reflection journal, and publishing a video reflection in the Blog.

Being a student helps them understand the reasons for decisions made in the course design, and highlights strategies they must employ for students to have a successful online experience.

2. Design interaction.

ARE YOU THERE
Created using Adobe Photoshop.

 

Researchers find that designing the course to include social presence is a sure way to become student-centered. Creating opportunities for interaction and communication among members leads the way for social presence, which Richardson and Swan (2003) describe as: “The degree to which a person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication. (p 70).

Julie and Kenneth Kendall, from the School of Business-Camden at Rutgers University, believe that storytelling works well to enhance social presence in an online course. When designing an online or blended course, consider presenting a scenario, a story, or case study through video, audio, or text. Then, ask students to share their perceptions, and interact with one another over them.

The Kendall’s found that four highly valuable functions result from this type of interaction in an online course:

  • members get a feeling for what has happened (experiential),
  • the decisions made and consequences that follow are explained (explanatory),
  • concepts, policies and strategies are validated (validation), and members are guided to a preferred outcome leading to success (prescriptive). (Kendall & Kendall, p. 68).

When designing an online/blended course, be upfront about why you are student-centered and make every decision accordingly.

3. Work hard at communicating.

Adobe Spark(3)
Meme created using Adobe Spark; quote attributed to Roy Williams.

Lala Hajibayova, writes in “Student’s Viewpoint: What Constitutes Presence in an Online Classroom?” that the Community of Inquiry framework informs presence in a practical way by recognizing that both instructor and student contribute to learning. Three types of presence work together in the COI framework: cognitive presence, social presence, and teacher presence.

Hajibayova believes that teacher presence buoys both cognitive and social presence, holding all three together for a strong student-centered online environment. She discovered that students perceive teacher presence when they receive regular communication through varying channels. Think engagement in discussion forums, email messages, course announcements, timely feedback on assignments, and thoughtful responses to questions they have asked. (Hajibayova, p. 22).

It takes considerable time in the first week of a course to establish instructor presence. You will stay busy answering questions via email, posting announcements to clarify expectations, involving yourself in the first discussion forum to model the type of activity students will need to embrace. Once students can trust that you are there, you can ease off a bit and rely on key instructor functions built into the course, like grading, feedback, facilitating discussion, and interacting with students in the private journal. As one training participant in my course put it:

“Teaching online is not a weekend job.”

These are just three strategies for becoming student-centered when designing online and blended courses—of course there are many more!

Our team would like to hear from you – what strategies have you found to be successful, and why do you think they worked so well? Do you have a story to share about teacher presence? Interaction? Putting yourself in your student’s shoes? Leave a comment to start the conversation!

References

Hajibayova, L. (2016). Students’ viewpoint: What constitutes presence in an online classroom? Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 55:(1), 12-25.

Kendall, J. E. & Kendall, K. E. (2017). Enhancing online executive education using storytelling: An approach to strengthening online presence. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 15(1), 62-81.

Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses
in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous
Learning Networks, 7(1), 68–88.

author-gwen

So you want to be a subject matter expert?

Sure. You’d be glad to develop an online course. How hard could it be? You’ve been teaching for years now. This should be easy. Maybe you can focus on the project next weekend.

warning-400px-copyWarning: get ready for a moving experience.
That is, moving away from how you are accustomed to approaching teaching and learning. And moving toward an environment where your curriculum is masterfully designed for interaction and success.

Imagine a course without lectures!
Or a course that is never cancelled!

Imagine a course with:

  • a syllabus that is complete before class begins and is NOT subject to change
  • a readable list of criteria and points awarded for successfully attaining each requirement in every assignment.
  • space for meaningful and specific content-focused interaction between students
  • space for one-on-one interaction with each student at the point of need

Warning: you have to answer some questions.
The good news is that teaching and learning is not fundamentally changing. It’s always been about leading students to a new level of knowledge. But today, through the process of developing online learning, instructors have no choice but to re-think every corner of the content and employ refreshing and engaging routes of delivery.

In our eLearning department, the first questions we ask a subject matter expert (SME) are:

“What is it that you want your students to come away with from the course?”

“Who will your students be at the conclusion of this course?”

“Ten years from now, what will your students say they gained from the course?”

In reality, those are difficult questions to answer. But the answer becomes the learning outcome. Once it is clearly articulated, every course decision must align with it. Here are some learning outcomes from some of our university’s online courses:

Doctrines of the Christian Faith:

Discover the relevance of Christian doctrine for personal life and the practice of ministry in church and society.

Human Biology for Social Work:

Demonstrate the ability to guide my clients in making appropriate and informed decisions regarding their personal and family health issues.

China, India, and Japan:

Use evidence from selected readings on China, India, and Japan to defend the conclusion that individual human beings are both shaped by and shaping events that define their cultures.

Warning: it’s not about you.
Traditionally, the college professor is on stage for an hour dispensing knowledge. In the online and blended environment, the professor is on duty for the duration of the course – facilitating discussion, providing feedback, inserting relevant media to support the weekly topics, and interacting with students with questions and concerns. You will be busy, but it’s really not about you.

Student-centered is becoming a buzzword — but the eLearning world is convinced that it is the future. When you develop an online course, you must address who the student is, and make adjustments to get on his/her level. Teaching becomes a process of leading students from Point A to Point B. The journey that you take with your class will result in a milestone – a learning outcome that will be lasting for your students (and rewarding for you).

Warning: after this course development, the way you teach may improve.
Instructional designers often hear their SMEs say things like:

“It’s wonderful to see students participating in discussion that relates to what they were assigned to read and study. This course has so much value!”

“Can I use that video we developed in my face-to-face class as well?”

“Those rubrics worked so well, I think I’m going to provide grading rubrics for every assignment in my face-to-face classes from now on!”

So if you want to be a subject matter expert — we can’t wait to meet you!

author-gwen

Course Development: It’s not magic

It’s tempting (and common) for members of the academic community to think that converting a face-to-face course to an online or blended course produces a special brand of magic. It’s just not true.

After building over 100 online courses, I have come to believe that the process is anything but magic! Of course, I’m always looking for that one spectacular experience…but honestly—even if it is spectacular—it involves hard work.

It is good old-fashioned respect and communication that seems to be the magic—not the new 5-week format, the online portfolio, or the 5-star learning management system. Of course technology needs to be there and work well, but it’s the human involvement that makes it sparkle. The next time you face a course development, incorporate these five tips for success!

1 Mutual Trust

Can you begin with mutual trust? The instructional designer (ID) and subject matter expert (SME) are often placed together without introduction or a previous working relationship. If you are starting from scratch—work hard on establishing trust. Believe that your partner knows what they are talking about, and decide to listen and consider their contributions seriously.

2 Establish Clear Guidelines

Can you define the project? Do you both understand the back story? What kind of course is it? What purpose will it serve? When will it be running and who will be taking it? Talk openly about what you know. The SME often has more information than the ID, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Come together to understand exactly the project’s parameters. Before you begin, take the necessary time to get clarification from others if needed.

3 Workable Time Frame

You must develop a workable time frame for both ID and SME. Melding two demanding work schedules can be problematic. Be open about the time you have to give to the project. Is it better to do it all in one week or spread it out over a few months? Then, acknowledge that circumstances out of your control may impact your plan. Consider several options before landing on a schedule and agree to go all in.

4 Communication

Why is it that we never talk about how we’re going to talk about it? In your very first encounter, establish communication paths. There are many paths to take today—choose one or two. Keeping communication lines clear and accessible in one place is important. Will you text, email, instant message, or make phone calls? Will you schedule face-to-face or virtual meetings? Make a plan for communication that respects comfort and accessibility.

5 Use Web Tools

Keep things manageable by using Web tools for sharing information. Email attachments are a default information-sharing tool—but other options can work much smoother. Think tools like Google Drive, BOX, Trello, and Dropbox. A web tool gives you both access to the same filing cabinet, at any time of day or night. Decide on one and use it.

So the next time you are told that converting a face-to-face course to an online or blended course requires a quick wave of the magic technology wand, take a deep breath, because you know it isn’t so!

It takes good old-fashioned respect, trust, and intentional communication to make the project shine.

And well, everyone else will think it’s magic.

author-gwen