Megan Stemm-Wade, a Learning Designer at Wiley Education Services, discusses the process of working with curriculum design experts and what faculty can expect.
Learning designers are becoming a key part of online program development teams in higher education environments. The Online Learning Consortium suggested there were a minimum of 13,000 learning designers employed by colleges and universities in 2016. This number aligns with the increasing enrollments in online programs. With more programs being launched and more learning designers helping to develop courses, the relationship between faculty members and learning designers is more important than ever.
Yet, many faculty members start the course development process with a designer not knowing what it will be like. It can be daunting to partner with a stranger to develop the content and coursework about which they feel so passionate. A good faculty-learning designer relationship is an opportunity for collaboration and support, not a situation in which one person dictates the course design process. This is an opportunity to work together to translate course content into engaging visual, media, and even new text formats.
Here’s what faculty members can expect when working with a learning designer:
- A collaborator with a lot of experience in how students learn best online. Learning designers tend to have advanced degrees in instructional design, education, or a variety of disciplines that inform their work in developing courses. Many have taught in the physical and online classrooms, and they bring those experiences to the mix as well. They have seen online learning grow and change over the years and are knowledgeable about best practices as well as emerging and relevant technologies that can give students the best possible course experience.
- A project manager. Part of the role of a learning designer is keeping track of many tasks, sometimes over many projects, while always keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Many learning designers will have processes in place to manage course development while also being flexible and adaptable to the ways different people work.
- A learning technology specialist. Learning designers spend a lot of time in learning management systems, finding the best ways to use these platforms to create engaging learning experiences for students. They also work in tandem with learning technologists, whose role is to support the platform, especially while the course is being taught. This powerful team helps faculty members when they have questions or problems while teaching courses. For example, if a faculty member has issues with the grading function in the LMS, they can troubleshoot and solve the problem quickly.
- A bridge between the student perspective and the instructor point of view. Many learning designers have taken online classes themselves and can bring the student’s perspective to the development process. They often have insights into students’ expectations, fears, wants, and needs and how to prioritize and contextualize them within the best online teaching practices.
- A sympathetic ear. Finally, the learning designer is a partner in the success of a course, and is invested in making sure that both faculty and students have a great experience. They have worked on many courses, giving them a broad perspective on the development process. They can listen and help think of solutions when faculty members have concerns about the process or are just feeling overwhelmed.
The learning designer and faculty relationship is meant to be a fruitful collaboration between two individuals who love teaching and delivering high-quality learning experiences to students. Learning designers bring a wealth of experience and online pedagogical expertise to supplement and complement faculty members’ breadth of subject matter knowledge. By setting expectations and keeping communication flowing, learning designers are there to make the course development process—and the course itself–a success.
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