Working at the intersection of learning and community, NextThought leaders Ken Parker and Jae Strickland are helping to change the way people experience education. NextThought, a premium online learning solutions company, focuses on building collaborative and engaging experiences that increase learning potential, participant satisfaction and member retention.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Ken and Jae about the important role of community in learning, the data we can use to measure the impact of both community and learning, as well as the concept of “education as platform” and why that is so critical in today’s learning landscape.
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[00:18] – Thank you to NextThought, the sponsor of the Leading Learning podcast for the third quarter of 2018. NextThought is your partner in learning management system technology, creating engaging experiences, increasing learning potential, participant satisfaction, and member retention. Empowering learning businesses like yours with the perfect combination of art, science, and technology of online learning, Next Thought helps you achieve your education goals. They go above and beyond the standard learning management system by offering comprehensive solutions, including a modern, elegant technology platform, an evidence-based learning design methodology, and professional video production services. Visit https://www.NextThought.com to learn more.
[01:22] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Jeff interviews Ken Parker and Jae Strickland of NextThought.
[02:40] – Introduction to Ken and Jae and some background information about NextThought.
[04:21] – I’d like to start at what I see as the heart of where NextThought does its work, and that’s at the intersection of learning and community. Why is community such an important part of the equation for NextThought? What are some of the most effective ways in which you have been able to help organizations design community into learning – and vice versa? Jae says they really focus on the learning design aspect starting with outcomes and they encourage their partners to consider the user experience, something that makes them unique. Oftentimes when they talk to partners about the user experience it leads to community and the research shows that when you learn in a communal way you get a more engaging, rich, and effective learning experience. Once their partners have identified the goal of the learning program and that user experience, Jay says they ask them to evaluate their content and look for opportunities to infuse organic, rich discussions. And they’re fortunate that the NextThought platform is really primed for this type of learning experience so they can support their partners in a community way.
[06:23] –What are some of the most common approaches that you’re using to connect people? Jae explains how they post discussions in forums and support live streaming so you can engage both synchronously and asynchronously. They also have dynamic readings and additional features where learners are able to really engage in dialogue in a variety of ways. Ken adds that part of the challenge is to figure out what types of interactions would be the most helpful to achieve the learning objectives. He says it’s a different mindset that you bring to the development of your learning content and it’s a learning experience. If you make it a shared experience then you harness the real power of the community. That mindset can guide how you create your curriculum, manage the learning design and types of interactions and you want the platform to be able to make the wide range of activities you choose to be seamless in the learning journey. It’s one of the areas of online connective learning he sees rich potential in right now and a lot of it is unexplored.
[10:27] – Learners don’t necessarily jump on the opportunity to engage in learning through community. What’s your experience with this and how have you helped to motivate learners to participate in community and make it a meaningful part of the learning experience? Jae points out there is some onus on the content development side and that you can’t just take traditional content and put it on an LMS. When you embrace an eLearning strategy, you have to really evaluate the content and leverage the tools you have in the LMS to make it a different learning experience. So some of the responsibility is on the learners but as learning designers, we also have to take some responsibility to ensure we’re being innovative and thoughtful about the ways in which we present the content. If you’re trying to make a community of practice, Jae emphasizes the importance of investing the time on your end and putting in that extra effort in order to encourage discussion. It’s also helpful to continually seed things that are purposeful and that can be applied to learners in that particular audience—and don’t give up if you don’t automatically get the response you want—stay committed to the process, use your data analytics, and really expand and enhance the things that are getting a lot of responses and pull back on things that aren’t.
[13:59] – How do you manage to measure the impact of community on learning? What kind of data should listeners be collecting and evaluating if they’re going to try and measure the impact of community? Jae encourages you to really look at the quality of the conversations, not necessarily the number of conversations. If you do see something that’s generated a lot of spirited discussion, try to look for other opportunities to expand that concept. If there’s something that’s really low in engagement level, that’s great data to have so look at how you may be able to repurpose that content in a different way. Ken shares they currently measure engagement with the usual indicators of attention—things like how much and what you’re watching/reading and how you do on assessments. But the part they add to measure your community engagement is to look at the sphere of the leaner’s interactions—who they connect with, how often, their social impact, etc. It’s really a multifaceted exploration so it’s about trying different things and finding what’s relevant, impactful, and engaging for learning outcomes. Some of the things they have found to make communities most engaging are to come up with activities that are relevant for that particular community and that lead to addressing their objectives.
[18:56] – Are you getting to the point where you’re actually able to leverage the technology itself and the data that you’re collecting to help build that momentum? Ken says that eventually where they want to head is for AI and machine learning to connect you with other resources. Maybe other online content resources, but more importantly, other people or discussions/artifacts that are in the connected learning system. And as the technology around chatbots continues to evolve, increasingly people will be able to interact and ask questions to receive advice and support from some of these automated attendants, so there’s a lot of exciting potential. The fact that it’s being moderated on a platform that has access to the data is what Ken says is going to enable all of this to occur.
[21:11] – I know Ken, in particular, is an advocate of the idea of “education as platform.” Please explain for listeners what you mean by that? How do organizations move from education as an event – which is where most of them are – to education as platform? Ken explains that “platform” is an ambiguous term but in this case he thinks of a platform as connecting people and allowing them to exchange value(this is the definition cited in the book, Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You). He talks about examples of platforms and how in all cases, the platform connects people and lets them exchange value, but it’s the community that really makes those valuable. It’s an engaged community that’s exchanging value and it’s a huge idea you see all around the economy and world impacting our lives. The question is how do we harness this powerful idea for education because we know we learn better from a community. It’s a mindset for education and if a teacher/facilitator thinks of himself or herself as a connector, it’s different than just purely delivering content. So it’s concept with enormously high impact potential for creating a learning experience that’s meaningful for the participants.
[25:24] – In a true “education as platform” world do we move past the concept of a catalog? Where do you see business models headed in all of this? Ken shares another good book he read recently, The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change by Bharat Anand that talks about how we so often overemphasize the idea of content (something he says we do all the time in education). We structure it as a transaction so it’s a form of learning but the research shows it’s one of the least effective ways to learn—but we still do it because it’s so easy to manage. If we think of content and transactions as the foundation of education then we will have settled for a very low impact outcome for education. In the future, he says there’s always going to be content but if you put that into the context of an environment/community/learning journey, that’s a very different perspective than a transaction. Instead of a catalog, Ken talks about how you could have learning objectives and the system knows what you need to learn and what your gaps are and it can guide you through the journey that will get you to that learning outcome. These are some of the technologies he thinks will continue to evolve and impact education making it more personal and effective both in terms of outcomes as well as efficiency.
[28:33] – Is there a particular learning trend or development that each of you are most excited about and that you see as having the greatest potential for improving learning? Jae talks about the idea of leveraging media to make learning engaging through unique learning paths. As they look to future learning and development (from a learning design perspective), she says they always encourage their partners not to just jump on a trend but to step back and really evaluate their goals, vision, and budget.
[31:18] – Ken says one of the most powerful ideas for the future of learning is self-directed learning. It’s personal and it’s intrinsic motivation. And technology is going to be key to enabling this in terms of the efficiency and the access. Ken explains the reason this has the potential to be so impactful, is based on what Benjamin Bloom, a famous education researcher, showed years ago demonstrating that if any student had a good tutor, they could perform at the 98th percentile of any group. It’s hasn’t been feasible to provide this to everybody but technology has the promise of changing this by supporting self-directed learning.
[34:30] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve each been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Ken says a powerful learning experience for him is reading and that he often listens to audio books. He also talks about when he was young engineer and had the opportunity to work for two years at an Air Force satellite control facility and how this was one of the richest learning experiences that impacted the rest of his career.
[37:47] – Jae shares that a powerful experience that occurs regularly for her is when she has the opportunity to work with partners who are new to eLearning and seek to transform their education through the use of their platform. She explains how impactful it is to have the opportunity to support them from inception to implementation.
[39:04] – How to learn more about NextThought and/or connect with Ken or Jae:
[39:58] – Wrap Up
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[41:45] – Sign off