Micène Fontaine is the executive director at Design Arts Seminars (DAS), an accredited provider of continuing education for design professionals that aims to inspire their clients to become catalysts of change and to design a world in which we can all thrive.
He is passionate about delivering high-quality learning experiences and his call to action as a continuing education provider to move beyond transactional relationships, to create those that are truly transformative.
In this episode, Celisa talks with Micène about what has – and hasn’t – changed in the decades he’s been at DAS, how he came to realize his interest in learning experience design (LXD), and what he sees as the major opportunities and threats for learning businesses. They also talk about the origin and purpose of DAS’s Change by Design initiative, which aligns their educational offerings to match with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
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[01:46] – You might consider the reflection question below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- At a couple points in our conversation, the idea of moving from transaction to transformation comes up. Where do you want your learning business to be on that transactional-to-transformational continuum? What actions can you take to make sure your portfolio of offerings matches with where you want to be?
[02:29] – Introduction to Micène and some additional information about Design Arts Seminars and his role there.
The Evolution as a Provider of Continuing Education
[04:04] – Learning is at the core of Design Arts Seminars—it was founded for that purpose in 1992. What’s changed and what hasn’t in terms of what it means to provide continuing education to design professionals in that almost 30-year stretch—or even in the 20 years you’ve been part of DAS?
Micène shares that the inception of DAS was when continuing education first became a “thing” for licensed or regulated professions.
He says, sadly, not much has changed and that the industry is pretty much the same (and has evolved very slowly).
What hasn’t changed is that it’s still the seat-time type approach to “learning”. It’s very much driven by vendors or product manufacturers, where a lot of the offerings are sponsored with a lot of marketing on the cover of education.
What has changed is there are many more providers. There are much lower barriers to entry in becoming a provider of online learning (really any type of learning).
Something else that has changed is it’s becoming even more commoditized—for the continuing education/professional development credits. Providers are competing on price, rather than anything else, and that’s become the norm.
In terms of what it means (and something else that Micène has seen that’s changed for them over the past 20 years) has been the fluidity they’ve had to implement across delivery modes.
When he started in ’98, they had mostly in-person events. But now they have in-person, online, live, on-demand, study tools, distance learning, etc. They’ve had to make sure they’ve provided their learners with the ability to switch from one delivery mode to the other as seamlessly as they can across the same type of content.
Something else Micène points out that has changed what it means to be in the continuing education business, is a very intentional shift they’ve made from a very transactional approach to continuing education to a transformational approach to that entire industry (which he notes is not the norm).
Too often the relationship is more about somebody just needing credits and wanting to buy them, rather than being driven by a need or want to learn anything in particular.
Learning Experience Design (LXD)
Micène admits that for him, LXD stems from a professional midlife crisis. But it goes back to even when he was a young adult working at a house of Van Gogh, one hour north of Paris.
His job was to teach people what they needed to know about Van Gogh’s time living there. He remembers being repeatedly told that there was nothing to see there but everything to feel.
So it was all experiential and that’s what he had to convey with words. This was his first encounter with LXD.
Later on, he recalls working at the Louvre Museum where he was surprised to be hired as a business major over art majors. But this was because they weren’t able to provide the desired perception.
And later in his career he ended up hiring an executive coach to help him understand what the common thread was in his varied experiences. Ultimately, they figured out that everything fell under the umbrella of LXD.
This is something that Micène says they’ve been focusing at Design Arts all along and was a natural fit, so it didn’t feel like a discipline. However, it’s something he doesn’t seen being done well very often so it’s become a differentiator for them at DAS.
Change by Design Initiative
[13:23] – You’re engaged in an effort to align DAS’s offerings to match with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Can you tell us more about that project, how it came to be, and what you’re doing with it?
Micène explains how this started from the frustration that the industry is very transactional rather than transformational.
A lot of their competitors compete based on price and volume, something he doesn’t find very inspiring. At DAS, they invest a lot of money in developing meaningful learning experiences.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals include 17 goals help transform our world.
At DAS, they’ve rearranged their entire curriculum to align things in a more positive manner for the interior designers and architects they work with—those who design our world and effect every aspect of our lives.
They now have very specific things they can do around each of those 17 goals to actually affect change, become catalysts of change/change ambassadors, and to have better, productive conversations.
So the Change by Design series is an ongoing series with that tackles each of those sustainable development goals.
The proposition is to forget about the transactional value of the CEU credits and remember that what matters most is learning and how you can contribute to making things better.
[17:02] – That’s really fascinating that you’ve tried to align your entire curriculum with this broader goal—a goal for good underpinning it all. Talk a little more about the origin of the Change by Design series and what prompted you to see the connection and try to draw that out?
Micène explains that there is a Part B to this—Part A was impact.
He admits that he’s not interested in selling massive amounts of continuing education credits for the sake of just selling them—that’s not a driver for him. But seeing change happen in the world and making the world a better place for future generations to thrive is exciting to him.
Part B was around reaching the right audience.
A few years ago, they did a lot of work to figure out whose needs they serve and who they are there to support. Until a couple of years ago, they thought that anyone who was a licensed interior designer or architect was someone they thought they could help.
But that wasn’t correct.
When they looked at their list of offerings – which was very varied – there was a common theme: there offerings were about the bigger picture, connecting the dots, and creating insights.
Micène says a lot of classes they do address larger societal issues. They were trying to find a thread between their curriculum while also appealing to interior designers and architects who are interested in being change makers/ change ambassadors.
This was a call to action and a flag to wave to architects and interior designers who want to make the world a better place and connect societal dots, rather than those that just want to collect CEUs.
Opportunities and Threats
[21:04] – What do you see as the major opportunities and threats for DAS—and maybe learning businesses in general?
Micène discusses how one of the threats is the proliferation of providers, but notes that’s only a threat if you don’t know what path you’re on.
There’s more competition but I also see that as an opportunity for everyone to be forced to do better—to be forced to be clear on who it is they cater to, and who it is they don’t cater to. It’s also a reason to be more innovative and to pay attention to learning experience design to make sure your learning is actually at the center of the decisions that you make.
He adds that the increased competition is also forcing us, as learning businesses, to stop looking at what other businesses are doing. Although he acknowledges we should do our due diligence and find out what’s going on in our industry.
But at some point, Micène says we need to stop trying to emulate what those other people are doing and instead cultivate who we are as citizens/entities. We shouldn’t try to be a carbon copy of other organizations just because it seems like it’s working for them.
And it’s impossible to figure out what every other provider is doing (since there are so many of them) so that’s really forcing us to stand out to do something different—not for the sake of being different, but to do something for ourselves.
See our related episode, Blue Ocean Strategy for Your Learning Business.
As far as other opportunities, Micène he says we’re all realizing that initial formal education is just not sufficient. He references “the other 50 years”, a concept we often talk about at Leading Learning—see our related episode, The New Learning Landscape: Two Shifts and a Gap.
He thinks we need to share this mindset and a lot of what they do at DAS is to try and shift the mindset of their SMEs, practitioners, learners, and themselves.
So understand that we need to be offering the right programs at the right time to solve the right problem, and then help them move on to the next step in their professional lives.
Everybody is having to retool, upskill, or just shift fields entirely and Micène thinks this is a great opportunity for learners, learning businesses, and for society at large.
Exciting Learning Trends
[25:27] – What’s going on in learning these days that most excites you? This could an exciting initiative at DAS or a trend or development that excites you as a lifelong learner.
Micène shares that virtual reality is at the top of his list of what excites him. He acknowledges that everybody is saying it’s going to go to augmented reality. But he loves the potential of being fully immersed in an environment and the tremendous value that has to offer.
More pragmatically, he’s also excited about digital badges (though we haven’t found a way to make them work). He hasn’t given up on that and he’s actually part of that change by design series and hoping we can finally have a digital badge (not just a picture to post in our LinkedIn profile) to show their clients they are committed to being change ambassadors/change makers.
He’s also excited about blockchain noting he sees a lot of potential with this because we need to give learners ownership back of their own learning.
What it Takes to Lead Learning
[29:40] – What do think it takes to lead learning? What skills or knowledge or abilities (or luck!), do you see as critical to leading learning in today’s world?
Micène discusses how in his experience, it’s been about developing the skill to ask better questions of the people we work with and serve, something he admits is very difficult.
So asking better questions and being better listeners.
Also, leading by example and being willing to fail, as well as being humble and transparent.
For a lot of leaders he says there’s an expectation that we should have all the answers and that creates a cycle, something he’s trying to break.
Instead of providing all the answers, Micène sees his job as putting people on the path of where they want to go, communicating that vision, and making sure everybody is on board.
He also adjusts accordingly and listens to what’s being shared. But after that he wants to let people do what they do best, and he’ll be there to support the work they do (rather than a top-down approach).
[33:08] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Micène talks about a recent learning experience with VR training how to use the Oculus Quest headset and what an intuitive and wonderful experience it was.
[35:32] – How to connect with Micène and/or learn more:
[36:23] – Wrap-Up
- Where do you want your learning business to be on the transactional-to-transformational continuum? What actions can you take to make sure your portfolio of offerings matches with where you want to be?
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[38:12] – Sign off