Athabasca University Takes an Innovative Approach to Non-Credit Learning | D2L
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Athabasca University Takes an Innovative Approach to Non-Credit Learning

  • 5 Min Read

Last Modified: May 19, 2022

In today’s rapidly evolving world, how are you tapping into continuing education and workforce development to prepare for the demands of tomorrow?

During a recent webinar, D2L’s own Kenneth Chapman, VP of market research, sat down with Jessica Scott, director of PowerED™ by Athabasca University (AU), to explore how AU implemented a robust non-credit learning system through its entrepreneurial unit, PowerED™.

They discussed the most pressing challenges and opportunities of online learning, continuous learning, and upskilling and reskilling. They also talked about how you can deliver meaningful, engaging, and modern learning experiences in a non-credit format.

Kenneth Chapman: Can you tell us about the challenges that you and your team have taken on over the past couple years and what you’re mandated to do?

Jessica Scott: Yes, absolutely. At Athabasca University, I lead an entrepreneurial startup unit called PowerED™ by Athabasca University. Our unit is focused on providing engaging, innovative, and enriching online, on-demand professional development learning experiences for individuals who are looking to boost their competencies and their skills for immediate applicability.

We also partner with corporate organizations, nonprofit associations, and other postsecondary institutions to provide capacity to enable them to transform programming from face-to-face learning into enriched online programs that are purpose built for online learning. We host these programs on our digital stack, and part of our stack, of course, is the implementation and use of D2L’s Brightspace platform. We use this digital stack to work with organizations to create custom learning opportunities that align with creating a culture of continuous learning that focuses on building those competencies and skills for either reskilling or upskilling. That’s what we’re up to at PowerED™.

KC: Can you talk about the learner experience and the learner goals and what you’re hearing from learners and corporate partners?

JS: We’re hearing from learners that they want more control over their learning. They want content that’s just for them, just enough, and just in time, which is an ethos now that we follow within PowerED™. This, of course, then impacts instructional design because it’s no longer a linear process.

We’re also seeing a shift to micro-intervals—especially over this past year as people have experienced screen fatigue. It’s becoming more important to offer microlearning opportunities where professionals can engage with shorter bursts of information, take time away to process their learning, and then return online to continue their journey of exploration and discovery. Our PowerED™ courses are micro in nature, and we hear this all the time in feedback from our learners who say, “What I appreciated about your style of learning is that I was able to pop in and pop out when it worked for me.” Forty-nine percent of professionals just don’t have time to learn, so it’s on us to design learning to fit professionals’ schedules.

We’re hearing from our partners and from corporate organizations that they want to incorporate learning into everyday work for their employees. It’s no longer pulling people away from the office for four days to attend an in-person session. It’s about how we can create that ongoing culture of learning.

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Non-Credit Learning: Reimagined

Learn how your institution can tap into the world of continuing education and workforce development.

Watch now

KC: Let’s dig a little more into some of those elements of online learning. Talk to us about what you’re seeing there.

JS: One of the things we saw over this past year is that there’s a real difference between emergency-based remote delivery and purpose-built online learning and training experiences that treat the learner like an online consumer and that are really focused on quality principles and instructional design for online learning.

Our former president at Athabasca University used an awesome analogy to explain this phenomenon. He said:

Imagine you’re going to a concert. You arrive at the venue, sit down in your seat, and expect a live performance to happen in front of you. Then, all of a sudden, a screen drops down. Musicians are video conferenced in to play together. It’s not going to work. You’ve tried to digitize an in-person experience. If you started with a digital production and purposely built it to be delivered and consumed in that way, it would be an entirely different experience for the audience.

KC: Where did technology decisions fit into envisioning and building PowerED™ and its programs?

JS: First and foremost, when we were building PowerED™, we realized we needed a stand-alone system. Our institution is now moving to implement a world-class digital, integrated learning environment, which includes Brightspace and Ellucian, to support our learners.

What was important to us when we were thinking about technology was that it would make experiences easier for our learners through single sign-on, a device-agnostic design, and e-commerce-inspired purchasing processes. We’ve created an easy, seamless e-commerce store that links directly into Brightspace. They purchase now, and they receive an email a few minutes later that takes them instantly into the learning environment itself.

KC: Let’s talk about the learning experience and the best practices for creating those types of learning experiences that really resonate with learners.

JS: At PowerED™, we like to focus on surprising and delighting our learners and incorporating storytelling more and more across our online learning experiences. We’re using gamification principles and leveraging the ability to showcase multiple content elements and interactive pieces. Really, learners are looking not only to learn but also for “edutainment.” They want their learning experience to be like a good book that they just can’t put down.

We’ve also incorporated artificial intelligence and virtual reality into two of our courses now. This will enable us to personalize the learner experience even further, to serve content to a learner only when there’s a gap, and to suggest programming to support specific learning objectives. We’re seeing quality online learning experiences that are multimodal—meaning that we’re using video and audio—and are using course authoring tools that we then upload through SCORM packages into Brightspace. We’re going to see more personalized learner experiences as technology continues to advance.

To learn more, check out this on-demand webinar, in which Jessica provides a demo of what a PowerED™ course looks like!

And stay tuned for Athabasca University’s new study Flying the Pandemic Coop, which was completed with Angus Reid. This resource explores the attitudes and expectations for work and life in a post-pandemic era as it pertains to learning and development and higher education.

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