Beyond Authenticity

Values that drive good online learning experiences

Authenticity and learning design banner

At Construct, authenticity is fundamental to our design and development methodology. More importantly, authenticity is the key that opens the door to our employment of values that serve as a means of extending our understanding of clients’ and learners’ needs into meaningful action and impactful learning.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I argued that good online learning design is predicated on the values of learning designers. Let’s expand on the importance of authenticity and its relationship to good learning design in the context of digital transformation, and ask ourselves, “What other values could help learning designers develop online learning journeys that meet the standards of traditional classroom settings, and perhaps, even exceed them in the digital space?” Put slightly differently, what values can we employ to improve our clients’ and our learners’ experience of online, blended, or hybrid learning?

From visions to reality

Digital transformation has greatly affected the structure of education and learning environments (Blyer and Oz, 2018). As such, the age of digital transformation and its effects on online educational programs and teaching contexts has presented challenges in terms of how to align digital learning systems and development processes with the needs of changing learner profiles.

Because the digital transformation of learning requires more than simply expertise in a subject and its transference via traditional pedagogy, it is important that online learning design is based on a learner-centered approach that: Greany, K., (2019, June). Elearning best practices. Elucidat. https://www.elucidat.com/elearning-best-practice

  • Helps learners do something
  • Makes learners care
  • Is relevant to all learners
  • Makes learners think critically
  • Respects learners’ time 

As experts in online learning, we are often confronted with the reality that there is a disjuncture between what we know to be good online learning and what others believe to be a learner-centered approach.

For us as learning designers at Construct, moving from visions to reality requires us to employ two additional values as part of our practice: one, being driven, and two, being thoughtful. Let’s explore what this looks like in practice.

1. Keep the standards, raise the bar

In a rapidly changing education sector, a prestigious business school in the US has been taking its classroom offerings online for several years. The challenge for both us and the client was to make the learning journeys as accessible as possible, whilst still maintaining the highest standards of learning quality across each respective course.

Working on this project, team members often faced unique learning challenges—a symptom of moving from the traditional classroom to the online space. Three challenges stood out in particular:

  • Conveying traditional classroom content in a manner that aligns with learners’ workplace experiences
  • Rethinking seminar-esque presentations and humanizing faculty as a means of placing empathy at the core of learners’ online learning experience
  • Demonstrating to learners how new behaviors or skills can impact their lives and careers.
How did we address these challenges?

Challenge 1

When confronted with the first challenge, a learning designer on a finance course designed learning activities based on statistical content in a way that focuses students’ attention on what they need to be able to do with their knowledge, rather than simply on what they should know. The result is the transformation of dry statistical content and models into interactive and engaging real-life learning scenarios based on real-world relatable examples that mimicked the context of learners’ future job roles. This, coupled with the ingenious use of online learning tools and software integrations, created a seamless user experience that helped learners focus on the learning.

Challenge 2 and 3

The second and third challenges came about on a course that required a lot of perspective-taking and engaging with emerging practices in a particular sector. In order for the learning journey to be successful, learners would need to have their perspectives challenged whilst faculty takes them on a journey of further discovery that is both relevant and applicable to their work roles.

What could have been a lot of reading and seminars was transformed into rich multimedia content tailored to the specific subject. In this instance, learners would start with a set of questions that allowed them the space to relay their thoughts, after which they would be provided with video content that elucidates the topics and provides opportunities for reviewing their responses, conducting reflections, and applications.

By being driven to always improve learning content, we take what is acceptable and make it exceptional.

Whether it’s refining learning outcomes, adapting written content and assessments that ensure effective learning, developing rich media assets, or designing formal and informal feedback loops, we want to peak learner interest in digesting and assimilating new information. As a value, being driven implies that we strive to optimize learning content and leverage insights gleaned from authentic engagement with faculty and experts. This helps us to turn adequate classroom materials into good learner-centered online learning products.

Where authenticity served as a means to uncover the desired vision of faculty and the learning products, improving on that vision required approaching the design and development process with a driven mindset.

2. Deep dives

It is said that good designers rarely come up with new ideas, rather they borrow from the work that has come before them, internalizing what works whilst remaining open to potential design strategies that may enhance learning. This may sound lazy or uncreative, but in the context of Construct, good learning designers are mindful of what has been created in the past, and how that speaks to the design challenges we often face in the present.

We are always looking both to the past and the future, analyzing, evaluating, and examining our work and that of others on the learning team. We do this through regular design meetings across our teams, looking at how we each solve the challenges presented to us on a case-by-case basis, and brainstorming ways in which we can improve learning.

This collaborative process is important to us because Isolation in learning design proliferates the status quo, but reflective collaboration in learning design breeds thoughtfulness. Is it through we are often able to uncover richer details and information that we are able to incorporate into the learning products we design? This search for the nuances in learning derives from our propensity for being thoughtful, it allows us to develop levels of interest and information not immediately evident to the experts and institutions with whom we work.

Good learning designers are mindful of what has been created in the past, and how it speaks to the design challenges we often face in the present.

Conclusion

Producing good learning experiences for the digital space is a matter of values. Employing the Construct values of authenticity, drive, and thoughtfulness, we develop learning products that exceed our clients’ expectations and set new standards for good online learning centered on the learner’s experience.

Without these values, we might have found ourselves suffering from a lack of understanding, blurred vision, and little or no foresight into the needs and desires of our clients and learners. Employing these values helps us to produce an exceptional learner-centered learning product that meets the needs of our clients and subject matter experts, turning their visions into meaningful, thoughtful, and impactful digital learning realities.

Bibliography: 
Greany, K., (2019, June). Elearning best practices. Elucidat. 
Retrieved May 16,  2022 from https://www.elucidat.com/elearning-best-practice

Christo Visser

Christo Visser
LEARNING DESIGNER

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