How ‘Learning Experience Design’ Helps Customize Online Courses at Scale
Oct 7, 2019
In keeping with the school’s long held tradition, the faculty at Boston College takes a “whole person” approach to education, helping students explore their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. Today’s faculty is also tasked with something the school’s Jesuit founders could not have imagined: deciding not only which courses are taught but how to teach them—in person, online, or through a combination of both.
When schools and educators augment or replace classroom-only teaching with high quality, multimedia online instruction, they’re embracing “learning experience design (LXD.)” An innovative synthesis of instructional design, educational pedagogy, design thinking, learning science best practices, and UI/UX, LXD lets forward-thinking schools and teachers create flexible, accessible, customizable courses that today’s digital natives increasingly want—and expect. Think animated video modules, interactive dashboards, digital textbooks, gamification, real-world simulation, and a whole lot more, all developed with a learner-first approach to content and delivery.
A flexible LXD partner
At Boston College, Len Evenchik is leading the LXD charge for the MBA program at the Carroll School of Management. Evenchik, an assistant professor of the practice at the Carroll School, has taught in university-level classrooms for over 30 years and has spent two decades teaching courses online. Evenchik knew that delivering top-notch, online graduate-level courses required finding the right LXD team.
“We needed a vendor partner with a flexible approach to developing courses and working with faculty, one that wouldn’t lock us into using a particular tool or platform in the future. Some companies had a cookie-cutter approach to course development. Others were flexible with course development but not with the delivery platform. When we met with Six Red Marbles (SRM), everything clicked.”
The more Evenchik worked with the company, the more he was impressed by the LXD team’s thoughtful, step-by-step approach to understanding Boston College’s needs and goals. During the robust assessment phase, for example, Evenchik told the team it was critical to keep using Canvas—BC’s existing course-delivery program.
“Six Red Marbles not only worked with our version of Canvas, but they also developed a nice, flexible navigation tool for us that we can use in many of our other courses. I was constantly impressed by their willingness and ability to listen, to iterate, and to follow through.”
Expert feedback always included
Working with expert course designers meant that, instead of simply moving the MBA materials online, the school could employ tactical strategies for making the existing courses better. “The difference between good and great course designers is the ability to serve as the eyes of the students,” says Evenchik. “The SRM team made suggestions such as adding links to supporting materials, using new or different tools, and even suggesting different language for the content. The goal was always to create the very best content and deliver it in the most effective way possible.”
Jack Shira has had an equally positive LXD experience with Six Red Marbles. Shira is vice president of product development at Edgenuity, an education partner that brings advanced digital tools and online curriculums to K–12 schools across the country. Working with Shira and his team of learning architects and subject-matter experts, SRM has developed everything from animated videos for elementary math programs to comprehensive instructional elements for a high-school introductory statistics course.
A “thin slice” approach to project development
Shira particularly appreciates SRM’s iterative “thin slice” approach to project planning and assessment. “Thin slice means doing small batches of work upfront,” Shira explains. “For the introductory statistics course, for example, SRM was responsible for end-to-end blueprinting, instructional development, and assessments for a year-long course with 90 individual lessons. They got their feet wet by creating a few lessons first. During this period, our teams were in constant, daily communication with lots of back and forth.” Shira says the month-long thin-slice phase uncovered challenges and issues at the outset and helped the team avoid bigger or unexpected bumps down the road.
One such potential bump: aligning all digital course materials with national education standards, which can vary from state to state. “School districts and teachers face a huge amount of pressure to be able to demonstrate progress, proficiency, and growth,” says Shira. “We have to think a lot about creating accessible LXD solutions that deliver measurable outcomes and objectives for every lesson.”
With such high stakes, Shira now prefers LXD partners that offer end-to-end solutions. Why? In a word, scale. “When you’re using one partner for content, one for assessments, and another for interactive tools, the handoffs are untenable for dealing with projects at scale. Working with an end-to-end partner like SRM decreases the number of handoffs and lets us leverage efficiencies. That means we have a faster time to market, even when we’re delivering a high volume of complex products.”
Just customize it
Of course, even the most complex LXD products should be straightforward, intuitive, accessible, and engaging for the end-user, whether he’s a third-grade science student or she’s halfway through her MBA. To this end, Len Evenchik says the main reason Boston College offers various combinations of online and in-person courses is to meet the evolving needs of its students. It may seem like a high tech departure for a school rooted in age-old Jesuit traditions, but Evenchik says LXD reflects and supports BC’s venerable approach to education.
For LXD, “complex” may be synonymous with “custom.” Want to create green-screen videos that use animation to teach about supply chain and inventory control? Done. Need synchronous video conferencing sessions to augment online discussion-boards, reading materials, and projects related to data analytics? Sure. How about a dashboard that lets you track the real-time progress of an at-risk high school Algebra student and allows you to communicate with her directly? No problem.
“Teachers at Boston College are dedicated to tailoring materials to suit both the subject matter and the way in which our students learn,” says Evenchik. “Our students are equally comfortable online and in-person—for them, there’s really no difference. That means a design approach such as LXD that focuses on the students’ experience is now another great tool for teaching the whole person.”