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Online Learning’s Latest Tool – Talent

It takes a team of players to succeed.


Humble Beginnings

The world’s first televised commercial broadcast took place in July 1941, right before the opening pitch of a Brooklyn Dodger’s game at Ebbet’s field against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The ad was for Bulova Watches and it showed an image of a ticking Bulova watch with a voice over calling out the time. This ‘Bulova Time Check’ lasted just a few seconds but it ushered in a new era and industry for televised advertising.

What’s interesting about this first foray into televised advertising is its simplicity. It’s a mash-up of a radio spot and a print ad thrown up on a screen. The only thing that makes it unique to television as a medium is the real-time ticking of the clock. It’s a far cry from the slick, cinematic, sometimes gimmicky, but highly produced television ads of today.

Online Learning’s Ticking Clock

The early days of online learning were not that different. Educators thought it was enough to record a video of the classroom experience — a professor lecturing in front of a board or slideshow — put it onto an LMS with some companion material and assessments and that was that — online learning.

What the Beluga ad and early online learning have in common, is a failure to understand the full potential of their particular mediums to impact an audience in specific and powerful ways.

Just like television advertising has evolved to embrace the visual production values and storytelling that make the medium so emotionally persuasive to viewers, online education is beginning to embrace all the potential digital technology has to offer learners.

“Creating a great course can be a bit like making a film, each course is unique in the particular mix of specialists needed to produce it.”

David Lindrum is the cofounder of Soomo Learning, a company that designs and creates online courseware for students. His business came of age during the transition from traditional course materials and textbooks to the new world of digital learning.

“People didn’t really see the potential back in 1994 when I was starting out, and many still don’t see the full potential today in 2019. Think about the very best online courses out there, the ones that are really engaging, perform well and take advantage of the latest digital tools. These were not created in a single semester, by a single professor, in their spare time.”

Whether it’s interactive web texts, broadcast quality video and graphics, machine learning, mixed with the latest cognitive and behavioral research, not to mention flexible pathways, badging, and last-mile training — online learning is advancing at an incredible pace. Gone are the days of a Professor designing and producing low-tech courses in isolation — today it takes a team to harness the opportunities the digital learning space can provide. That also means a whole new way of working.

Reify is an award-winning digital media company and we work with many not for profits and startups creating digital products to promote or educate.”

Founders like Sarah Glova are at the convergence of digital technology, learning design, brand, and content strategy. Her business depends on bringing diverse and flexible talent to the table to create the products her clients need.

“We have developers and designers on staff, we also contract with learning designers and video and media production crews. At one point we had as many as 9 employees and 75 contractors. Right now, we’re leveraging the flexibility of contractor teams, with over 50 active contractors supporting projects. At any given time, that number can increase or decrease depending on the client and project needs – which is one of the biggest advantages of contract support for project-based businesses.”

It’s the same in online learning.

David Lindrum — “For the products we create we may bring on subject matter experts, experts in pedagogy, learning designers, content producers like writers, videographers, animators, graphic designers, back-end developers, web designers, it truly takes a team.”

But it’s not just the talent that’s changing, the approach to collaborating with clients to create innovative and effective tools for learning is changing as well.

Sarah Glova — “Our process works best when the client starts with the problem they are trying to solve, not trying to name the solution. When clients describe the problem we can work with our incredible talent to develop the right solution, the one that is going to help them reach their goals.”

Why It Matters

In the first few months of 2019 alone, nearly two dozen notable public and private universities announced plans to expand their digital learning offerings, including programs that support continuous education for adult learners. When you dig into the statistics, it’s easy to understand why. According to the most recent Babson report, “distance education enrollments increased for the fourteenth straight year in a row” while “the total number of students studying on campus dropped by over one million or 6.4%” over the same time period. Changing preferences and advancing technologies all present an opportunity for colleges to serve their students better.

David Lindrum — “It’s an exciting time. The tools and technology that are out there are providing incredible opportunities for learners’ and there are a lot of people chasing that.”

“These course creators have a chance to approach their design and build cycles in a whole new way. And institutions have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by understanding their students and the job market they going into to create highly purposeful and effective online learning.”

David Lindrum — “I’d say to anyone trying to get into this space, to use what learning designers would call backward design. Design with the end state in mind. People at schools know the issues, they know their needs. Start there and then ask yourself, what kind of a course would make me delighted and proud, and chart a course to that.”

Just remember, as in baseball, it’s going to take a team of players to succeed.

Coming Up

In the next article in our series on Talent in EdTech we’ll look at key considerations in the design and development of digital learning programs and products and who you should be bringing to your team, starting with Strategy.


About the Authors

Sarah Hutt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and author. Her writing has made the NY Times Best Seller list and she is a Publisher’s Weekly Starred Reviewed author of nonfiction works for children and young adults.  She has brought storytelling to the online courseroom and classroom for educational clients like Girls Who Code, McGraw-Hill, Focus Curriculum, and is a founding team member of SEI Studios, Strategic Education Inc’s in-house production studio and story lab. Sarah is the owner of Cave Productions, offering design thinking workshops, content strategy, creation, and story consulting services.

Ashley Lonie is the Founder of Teamed, a staffing agency and talent marketplace for the online learning and development industry. She is an experienced educator, learning designer, and leader in online learning design and development.

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