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Launching an Online Learning Delivery Model for Novices

  • 5 Min Read

After stepping out of the gates of Purdue University as a fresh-faced industrial engineering graduate, Brandon Hutchens spent eight years in the manufacturing industry. He never imagined that he would later pursue a career in a nonprofit organization, focusing on providing professional development for teachers and school leaders.

Today, Hutchens is the vice president of TTT, a nonprofit that delivers essential training to underserved teachers and school leaders in emerging economies. He was eager to share his learnings from successfully launching digital professional development programs as an online learning novice.

Solving the biggest challenge

Having spent several years living in Haiti, I was fortunate enough to see the transformative work of TTT’s in-person seminars at schools firsthand. You don’t truly understand the impact of knowledge until you’re sitting among brilliant educators who are hindered by a lack of resources and tools. As I witnessed more confidence, competence and enthusiasm for their roles as educators, I saw the TTT program effect meaningful change in students, schools and communities through education.

TTT started with a challenge to have the biggest impact on teachers and school leaders. The response after meeting with many Haitian educators and administrators wasn’t books or content curriculum but a resounding need for training.

Considering the curriculum and cultural specificity of the countries we serve, we were very intentional when it came to taking what you may experience at a university level and distilling it into a critical pedagogical foundation that could be built on in any context for long-term effectiveness.

From setbacks to opportunity

We have 13 years of experience providing in-person training to over 6,500 school leaders and teachers in eight different countries. However, with schools experiencing limited funding and challenges in operational logistics, we knew we needed to explore a different distribution model that is scalable, sustainable and affordable to impact more educators globally.

As a relatively small organization with no prior experience in delivering online learning, selecting a learning management system (LMS) that met our needs was a significant commitment. After evaluating 15 different LMS platforms, we drove headfirst into four platforms. Ultimately, D2L Brightspace proved to be the right solution for us. Its user-friendly interface is effective for teachers in developing countries that have people who often have little-to-no technical skills. And the flexible back-end development process doesn’t demand extensive technical experience or prior knowledge.

Insights from a new venture

The realm of LMS is relatively new for international nonprofits in developing countries, but it is hugely beneficial to our mission to support more educators globally. If you’re considering venturing into this territory, here are some insights from my experience to help you successfully launch a training program:

  1. Be inspired by the huge appetite for online learning.

Developing an online training program is a huge investment, but we knew there was a need. We had people from India, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa find us online, asking, “How can we access your training?” We could not meet the growing interest in our training sustainably, given our in-person model.

With countries continually improving their access to broadband and internet-capable devices, the macro environment is increasingly conducive to online learning. Knowing these instances are reflective of a bigger demand globally was a huge business driver for us.

  1. Test your content before going digital.

Creating a new program and launching it online while simply hoping that it will succeed is risky. We had been conducting successful in-person sessions for over a decade. Throughout that time, we have tested our curriculum content for its effectiveness, giving us the confidence to transition to an online format.

We transitioned 95% of our in-person seminar content to a digital experience, without losing the collaborative learning environment of an in-person seminar.

  1. Find an experienced and committed partner.

While you might face a steep learning curve as you take your first steps in online course development, you can overcome it—especially if you have a committed technology partner to support you.

The value of working with D2L is the level of personal support from the entire team. D2L is confident in the robustness of its solution to address a lot of the different concerns, options and ideas we had. D2L worked closely alongside us not only to help us understand the technical side but also to support us with creative solutions to achieve our goals. With no prior LMS experience, the growing pains were there during the initial learning phase. But after two months, we were very comfortable with the platform.

  1. Start small and get started.

One of the hardest but best things we did was jump into course creation during the implementation phase. Instead of walking away with theoretical ideas on how to build out the course, we did it simultaneously, which was not common. It made it more challenging as we were learning Brightspace, but being able to apply it directly to the development of our course allowed us to launch in five months. My advice is to start building on a small scale or as a skeleton of a course to get going.

  1. Develop a distribution and marketing model.

Now that we have our online programming, we need to reimagine the distribution model to meet the exciting demands of a global market. Our training program is available in English, French and soon rolling out in Spanish, expanding our reach globally. We are excited to expand our network of education partners to increase access for teachers in developing nations.

Making high-impact learning more affordable

I’m thrilled to announce that, in just five months, we have successfully launched two professional development courses specifically designed for school leadership and teachers.

We didn’t just transition from printing and shipping program guides, but we’ve also introduced an immersive personalized learning experience that promotes deeper understanding, knowledge retention and practical application at each stage of the learning journey.

By embracing online learning, we’ve made our programs more accessible than our in-person seminars, reaching learners from 57 countries compared to eight for in-person seminars. What’s more, they are available at no direct cost to the learner. Funded by committed donors to reduce barriers to access high quality professional development, teachers and school leaders from around the world can get the support and guidance they need to thrive.

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Table of Contents

  1. Solving the biggest challenge
  2. From setbacks to opportunity
  3. Insights from a new venture
  4. Making high-impact learning more affordable