Dr. Veronica Diaz is Senior Director, Professional Learning and Development at EDUCAUSE, an international nonprofit professional association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. In her role, she ensures that learning and development programs support and advance the overall strategic priorities of the professional learning, member communities, and research teams. She also supports the development and design of career pathways that guide the professionals supporting and transforming higher education through the innovative use of technology.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with return guest Veronica about microcredentials, mentoring, professional pathways, personalization, the need to reevaluate COVID pivots, and a “three Cs” approach to sourcing your portfolio of offerings: curate, create, and commission.
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[00:00] – Intro
[01:21] – Would you tell us about EDUCAUSE, who you serve, how you serve them, and your role in doing that?
EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit, international, professional association. They have about 100,000 individuals they serve through about 1,700 member organizations, all focused on higher education. Their team supports just about everything a professional might need as they advance their career. That includes mentoring, microcredentialing, volunteerism, online offerings, some in-person offerings, and, most recently, the Professional Pathways initiative.
[02:56] – The pandemic caused significant disruption for everybody, but higher education, in particular, was really disrupted by the need to deliver learning remotely. Did your audience and membership look to EDUCAUSE for guidance?
It was a serendipitous moment for EDUCAUSE because they were already involved in a multi-year project to look at their leadership and management portfolio of offerings. They had reset them to become competency-based, aligned them to workforce research, and put them online. The timing of putting them online was really good because it was when all the face-to-face offerings stopped.
They were able to pivot and accelerate the development of the remainder of the offerings, so they were well-positioned and have seen a lot of growth in their portfolio. Through their work with the Professional Pathways initiative, they were able to identify gaps and figure out how they needed to support new audiences. Not everything they had was lengthy, multi-week programs, but there were plenty of opportunity for shorter engagements and just-in-time courses to fill the immediate needs that were popping up. They were really challenged to think about how to reimagine things and do them online in a high-quality way.
How Microcredentialing and Mentoring Have Evolved at EDUCAUSE
[05:39] – Last time you were on the Leading Learning Podcast, we focused on what EDUCAUSE was doing with microcredentialing and mentoring. Can you give us an update on how you’ve grown and evolved in those areas since we last spoke?
Both microcredentialing and mentoring have grown, just like everything else in EDUCAUSE’s online portfolio. The microcredentials are an outcome of verified learning experiences, so those scale and grow along with everything else they do. The mentoring became critical because so many people were getting promoted into new roles or wanted to explore possibilities of working in other sectors. There’s a lot of influx in and out of higher education roles.
EDUCAUSE has learned a lot in terms of what it takes to scale offerings and how to develop things that are personalized. That’s led to delivering an integrated portfolio of products and services. This is where the Professional Pathways comes in because it’s not enough to have the buffet model in this job market and economy. The pathways are a tool that EDUCAUSE uses to help people make sense of all the different things that they can take advantage of. This is particularly helpful to new professionals who may not have a lot of experience in managing their career goals.
[09:09] – Is all the mentoring is happening online?
The mentorning is online, and it needs to be because mentoring isn’t something that you can do once and then be done. EDUCAUSE is seeing people commit six to nine months for this, sometimes longer, to mentoring relationships.
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[10:52] – Can people can move in and out of mentoring relationships based on what they need at a particular point in time? Is there an average length of a mentoring relationship?
It’s kind of like online dating, where you complete a profile and then the matching happens through the platform. You are then shown different people, and you can see who they are, where they work, their areas of expertise, and the areas they’re interested in developing. You can then browse through and pick who you think would work best for the need that you have, so it really does personalize the solution to the individual.
Also, since the mentors have already agreed to be mentors, it takes away the awkwardness of not knowing who to ask and not wanting to burden somebody by asking them to be a mentor. It has another benefit of the more you coach and mentor, the better you become at doing that with your own team. The mentor learns as much as the mentee does, and sometimes it’s peer-to-peer mentoring, so both are learning.
[13:05] – Is the mentoring tied into microcredentialing, or is the microcredentialing tied more into more structured or formal coursework only?
Today EDUCAUSE’s microcredentialing is more connected to learning outcomes because the microcredential is a knowledge-based artifact that says something about what you can do. But EDUCAUSE has a set of their constellation that is focused on volunteering because people learn through volunteering as well. EDUCAUSE has been thinking about how now, in the second year of their mentoring, they can recognize individuals that are serving in specific areas.
It would be possible to award a microcredential to somebody who has successfully served in a specified number of mentoring relationships and tie it to an area of expertise that they’ve supported. EDUCAUSE is looking at that and seeing how they can recognize that service and transform it into a learning experience that they can talk about. One of the benefits is you can leverage it to develop your brand and to talk about your experience and your skills.
EDUCAUSE Professional Pathways
[14:46] – Would you tell us more about the Professional Pathways?
For EDUCAUSE, the pathways work has been like a mini capstone over all of the growth and development they’ve done in their professional learning portfolio. Anyone can visit the EDUCAUSE Professional Pathways site and see what the pathway might be for a professional in four different areas:
- Information security
- Information technology
- Teaching and learning
Each of those areas is at three different career levels:
- Early (three levels)
- Mid (two levels)
- Late (two levels)
One of the most valuable features is that the site offers sample positions that professionals at that level or pathway might have, along with sample salary ranges. The site provides users with active job descriptions, and each has a link to various job sites, so users can refine their search. It’s a tool to break down any opacity related to figuring out the next role or how to hop between pathways, and it helps users see the full breadth and menu of opportunities, then be able to take action.
[19:14] – How did you determine what went into the Professional Pathways? Are there competency models underlying this, or is it more descriptive of what you see in employment?
Some of it came by doing a thorough survey of different positions at each level, which revealed some common skills. From there, EDUCAUSE identified and extrapolated a core set of skills that guide people. It’s then figuring out what level you need to be on to begin to demonstrate that skill. The other part is when you look at those job descriptions, you’re seeing real data in that moment. It’s teaching people to fish so they can curate and create their own plan, hopefully with a supervisor or a mentor.
You’d be amazed at how many people just don’t know what the next two or three jobs look like…. I’m hopeful this will give them a roadmap to begin to at least start knowing what to ask for on the job. You have to be able to articulate what you need for somebody to be able to look for opportunities, to give you those stretch opportunities, or through volunteering. That’s why volunteering, I think, is so important. This is the roadmap that brings it all together.Veronica Diaz
[21:30] – Do you see any evidence that employers might be aligning their job descriptions with the job descriptions that you’ve created for these pathways?
One of the challenges with higher education is that there’s so much diversity in the job. Even a job that looks the same is not because the context is different. The size of the teams and the responsibilities might be different. There’s so much variation, and that’s why there’s also a lot of variation in the pay. You have to personalize and customize it down to where you want it to be. EDUCAUSE has tried to put together these big building blocks and to show people how to use them so they can be empowered to do it for themselves.
Jumping Between Pathways
[22:55] – You mentioned that people may jump from pathway to pathway. Have you built bridges or crosswalks that make that easy to do?
Transparency and information have been the underpinning of this work. This offers a way to start exploring other options, and, seeded throughout, users can look at what other things they might want to do if working in another pathway. They can see a whole new set of requirements and what they already have in common with those kinds of professionals or, even better, things that differentiate them from somebody who hasn’t come from another background.
Advice for Creating Pathways
[24:36] – What advice would you give to organizations that haven’t gotten started yet with pathways but want to go down this road?
There are a lot of external resources and contractors that are good at this and have experience with it, so help is available. Having pathways is a way for a learning business to differentiate itself, and it’s worth the effort. It helps the learning business organize and manage its content, programs, and services, and it also to help the learning business’s external community do that as well.
This serves the leadership in an organization because they have a vested interest in helping their teams understand how they fit together, the diverse skills that are needed in a team, and where the next steps are. When you do this work, you’ll discover there are a lot of things that you don’t have. This gives you a roadmap to what gaps you have, what you still need to develop, and what you need to clean up.
We took this approach that we call the “three Cs” to source our portfolio. And that is to curate something—so organize it for your community to help make sense of it. To create it—there are some things that don’t exist, and you’re going to have to invest to make it. And other is to commission—to have someone else put it together for you and to organize it.Veronica Diaz
Post-Pandemic Approach to the Future
[28:47] – In what ways is EDUCAUSE now taking stock and approaching the future differently than it might have if there hadn’t been a pandemic?
Veronica has been reminded of how exciting it is to innovate and develop but also how tiring it is. Since 2020, EDUCAUSE has been in an accelerated development mode. This year, they want to go back and finetune what they’ve been developing and make sure they’re maintaining what they developed.
They are also thinking about using data a lot more intelligently. In the last year, they built a dashboard for their products and services that helps them to aggregate data and quickly generate reports on what’s going well and what isn’t. This includes financial, satisfaction, and engagement data and helps them to uncover what the new opportunities are in a timely manner.
One of the really positive outcomes is that going online has allowed them to scale in a way that they couldn’t have face to face. Also, the financial risk of serving people virtually is much lower. They’ve been able to reach a new audience in an exponential way that they’ve never been able to do before because those people sometimes don’t have the funding or time to travel.
You can’t make assumptions. You need to go back and check the data. It’s making time to go back to best practices and to build that into your regular processes and systems, so that you’re aware of what’s really happening.
[31:25] – How are you, personally or professionally or both, taking stock and thinking about approaching the future a little bit differently post-pandemic?
Veronica has had an unprecedented opportunity to grow, learn, and develop in ways that she hasn’t had before. She’s lucky to have a supervisor who’s really supportive of experimenting, which is critical, because they’ve uncovered so many opportunities just by trying. Now that things are slowing down a bit with the pandemic, it’s about making that time to rest, getting your head out of work, and going back to professional development, which many of us had to put on hold.
It’s also been really rewarding and interesting seeing so much dynamic growth in learning businesses and in higher education. Being able to connect with other colleagues has also been really valuable.
Emerging Trends Impacting Learning Businesses
[33:23] – What are the emerging trends that that you feel are going to impact, or maybe are already impacting, learning businesses?
Now that the pandemic is winding down EDUCAUSE is trying to figure out when to go back to in person. The challenge is figuring out what offerings make sense in person and what people really want to do in person. One thing they’ve tried is offering more social engagements in person rather than intense immersive learning, which people have loved.
They are also building one of their executive programs that’s been on hiatus for a while to be a hybrid program. They are going to try having a required in-person element to it. This isn’t really a new trend, but, in the past, it seems like EDUCAUSE was either face-to-face or online.
I’m really interested in seeing how this hybrid model works in terms of affordability and the learning experience. What should we be doing face to face that we can’t do online? What’s the timing of the in-person portion? And so it’s a little bit going back to the basics of the learning design. So I think now more than ever having learning professionals on our teams or at least having access to them in some form is really important. But much more intentional learning design is important now and being really thoughtful about what you do with your online programs moving forward and how you retain them if you are going to retain them.Veronica Diaz
[36:06] – Wrap-up
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