• Find Your “Why” to Reach Shared Success in OPM Partnerships

    Brought to you by Pearson’s Online Program Management team

    Scot Chadwick, Pearson’s Vice President of Partner Success, knows exactly why he pursued a career in higher education: to change lives, and reach non-traditional learners who couldn’t access traditional on-campus programs.     

    That goes back to his days at eCollege, an early pioneer in providing comprehensive technology, services, and support to help institutions move online. More recently, he put his passion to work at the University of Colorado, leading the rebuild and relaunch of CU Online’s team and operations, and set the multi-campus unit on a path to grow from 900 to 6,000 fully online students in its first five years. Here, he shares his experience and insights to help institutions excel in the fast-changing online environment, and partner successfully with Online Program Management (OPM) service providers.  

    What’s your ‘why’?   

    I really enjoy what I do, but more importantly, I enjoy the impact of the work.    

    I started with eCollege, an online pioneer that was a common ancestor to today's OPMs. We offered institutions and their online learners a wide set of services, technology and support, with a first-of-its-kind shared-success business model. One day early in my career at eCollege, one of our academic partners shared an email with us from one of their students, a single mom living in rural Iowa. In her note she said, ‘I just graduated, and I'm so excited. I just wanted to thank you for offering this program online, because I would have never been able to get my degree if it wasn't offered online. There’s no way I could have made it work.’    

    I’ll always remember that. It made a powerful impact on me because I was raised by a single mom who was never able to get her degree, and it still bothers her to this day.   

    When I think about the work that we do, it's about providing opportunity.  

    You’ve been on both sides of the table. How do you build a true collaborative partnership between a university and an OPM, and overcome the challenges?   

    First, it’s about having shared goals. And, as in any good relationship, it's about really good, candid communication. It's about not being afraid to talk about the things that aren’t going well and that we need to be better at together, as well as celebrating things that are going well.    

    Achieving sustained success is very challenging for any online program. Many partnerships go through ebbs and flows: great times where programs are growing at an extremely rapid pace, and other times when they aren’t. Situations change. The individuals involved may also change, which can influence the tenor of a partnership.    

    When you’re in a challenging phase it helps to take a step back, assess the program(s), the market, your shared financials, and make sure your shared goals are still valid, and you still see them the same way. Then talk openly about how you can achieve them together going forward. There’s always room to deliver a better student experience, and to address core issues that may be getting in the way. 

    You’ve stressed shared success. How do you and our partners define that?  

    Shared success means our interests are aligned, both partners are motivated to achieve our shared goals, and we both benefit from achieving them.  

    A shared success goal might be program growth. Or it might be extending a program’s reach to serve students the institution can’t support today, whether geographically or otherwise.    

    The institution may want to deliver a unique and personalized learner experience or demonstrate to employers that their graduates have the skills and competencies that prepare them for career success. These are just a few of the goals we’re working toward every day with our partners.  

    How can an institution make sure its online programs, and our services, align with its unique mission?   

    Again, it starts with clarity of goals, and the why behind the investment of funding and resources. If an institution wants to expand the population they serve via online programs, how will doing this help them achieve their mission? I’ve seen institutions move rapidly into the online space without first investing time with their faculty and staff to ensure everyone understands how it aligns with their institution’s mission.  

    It's critical to have clarity on why it matters. That can be at an institutional level, but it also should be at a school, college, department, or program level.  

    Scaling a high-quality online program in today’s market is challenging and requires genuine collaboration, communication and support institution-wide. 

    There will always be stakeholder questions about how and why the institution is investing significant resources in this area. Effective institutional leaders listen and can clearly articulate “Here’s why it’s important. Here’s how it connects to our mission and something that's bigger than all of us. Here’s why we’re well positioned to do it and how you can contribute to our success.”   

    Institutions and leaders have also become more sophisticated in how they approach expanding their online footprint. Increasingly, they know to think critically about the “why” of their programs and apply a formal process to evaluate opportunities and program readiness internally, sometimes even before they ask us what kind of support we could provide.  

    What might success look like five years from now? What should partners focus on to get there?    

    Historically, many learners thought: ‘I’ll get a degree, and then it’ll pay itself off… somehow.’ But now learners are rigorously evaluating higher education ROI upfront. As just one example, Google has reported significant growth in searches for the ROI of specific credentials – an MBA, an MS in Business Analytics, an MSN degree, a project management certificate, you name it. Earlier this year, for the first time, searches for alternative credentials outnumbered searches for degree programs.    

    Learners are making more consumer-based decisions in a more competitive environment. Institutions need deeper insight into who they’re serving, and into the learner’s overall experience from the first interaction forward. Traditionally, consumers tolerated less-than-stellar experiences at higher education institutions. Those days are over. You want to re-enroll both current alumni and the new alumni you’re creating every day. To develop that brand loyalty, the experience you deliver in every interaction matters, at every stage of the student journey, digital or live. 

    How do you build teams to deliver high-growth online learning that delivers these great experiences and outcomes?  

    I feel fortunate. My team’s work really matters. We get to have a generational impact on people’s lives. Not everybody gets to do that. For me as a leader, everything starts with making sure this is as meaningful to everyone on my team as it is to me. Then, I work to inspire them to continuously learn, challenge themselves, be unafraid to fail, and be collaborative. And I make sure we’re having fun!  

    Layered onto all that, we need a structured and formalized approach to how we engage with partners. We need to ensure we’re aligning ourselves and our leaders with theirs, reflecting what’s important to them as an institution and in their individual leadership roles.    

    Strategic relationship management is really challenging. The impact of our partnerships is massive. We take that very seriously. We must work every day to show value to the institution and to each of its leaders.  

    That involves engaging many people within our organization. Across Pearson, our team has incredible capabilities. It’s our job to bring in that specialized expertise to make sure every partner and program is as successful as possible. When it’s time to think about the partnership’s future, we want them to think: ‘of course we want to do this with Pearson, because this team understands us, and we’ve built trust in what we can accomplish together.’ 

    When you’re not changing learners’ lives or building great partnerships, how do you recharge? Where would we find you on your perfect weekend?  

    I live in Colorado, and we definitely take advantage of living in this amazing state. My hope is you’d find me on a river, somewhere in the mountains, fly fishing with my wife, my kids, and my dog.

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  • Starting with Stackables? Learn from Maryville

    by Pearson

    You woman holding laptop looking out her window

    Brought to you by Pearson’s Online Program Management team

    Stackable courses offer immense promise to both learners and institutions. To get started with them successfully, it helps to learn from early adopters – including expert innovators such as Maryville University. 

    Maryville is a nationally recognized pioneer in access and opportunity, meeting learners’ fast-changing needs, and helping people quickly gain practical value from education. Even before the university launched stackables, it partnered with leading regional businesses to offer targeted short-term certificates and badges for employee upskilling, reskilling, and career progress.  

    As Maryville president Mark Lombardi says, “We have entered an era of the democratization of education where access and opportunity are expanding and workforce training on a continual basis is a career imperative. Universities must be able to deliver different types of education and high skill training on a variety of platforms to meet the needs of a growing and diverse workforce and a wide array of employers.”  

    Stackables: A Natural Next Step 

    One key element of Maryville’s growth strategy involves attracting learners who’ve earned some college credit but no degree. These are typically working adults who want to earn promotions or transition into better careers. For learners like these, stackables are attractive and efficient. 

    According to Katherine Louthan, Dean of the School of Adult & Online Education, “We’re solving for future of work issues, focused on upskilling in areas with high industry demand. Students in our existing degree programs tell us they need to dive into the content areas more quickly, so they can showcase what they’ve learned to advance in their position or even start new careers. This is a reasonable approach and one we wanted to accelerate for learners so they can apply what they’re learning right away, and gain value whether they complete a full degree or not.” 

    Innovation That Builds on Strength 

    As Maryville moved into stackables, says Louthan, it made sense to build on existing program strengths. “Where were our signature programs? Where are we growing in the future?” 

    Maryville is especially strong at the intersection of business and technology. It had already launched highly successful programs in areas such as cybersecurity, data science, and software development. Its Fall 2021 stackable launch plan focused on these strengths and included five undergraduate-level certificates in computer science: the three aforementioned subjects, plus artificial intelligence and UX/UI.  

    All are offered for credit towards a degree, or stand-alone for immediate credentialing. Like all of Maryville’s degree-linked stackable offerings, they carry the same pricing and fees either way.  

    Two post-bachelor’s certificates, Big Data and Machine Learning, are offered as stand-alone and embedded within Maryville’s graduate programs in computer science, offering a shorter time commitment and a seamless onramp into a full graduate program if and when learners are ready. 

    In another example of programmatic innovation, Maryville is offering a new post-bachelor’s certificate in Communication Sciences and Disorders, designed for career changers planning to enroll in master’s programs in Speech Learning Pathology (SLP) or doctoral programs in audiology. These individuals often already have a bachelor’s degree but need multiple courses to “level up” before they can pursue graduate work. 

    Communication Sciences and Disorders bundles an essential undergraduate-level foundation in crucial areas such as voice, speech, language fluency, swallowing, and hearing disorders. Carefully crafted to prepare learners for highly competitive graduate programs -- including Maryville’s – it also connects learners to innovative “learn by doing” resources such as the Master Clinician Network. Through MCN, learners can take part in guided observation and start building clinical skills even before they enter graduate school. 

    Off to a Strong Start 

    Since the Fall 2021 launch, early signs are positive, says Louthan. “We’re getting great feedback from students who are experiencing success. We’ve had a lot of interest in areas such as AI and UX where many professionals need to upskill to stay relevant or advance. Our content is also aligned well with employer feedback. We believe we’re creating a successful starting point in addressing students’ growing demand for more flexible options. Whether they will go on to complete their degrees is yet to be seen. We are more focused on whether they are achieving their goals, and we hope they will come back to Maryville when they are ready to, or need to, upskill or reskill again.“ 

    “Challenges always exist in times of change,” says Louthan, “and we are in a time of significant disruption in education and industry. As we work to drive down the cost of education, having a menu of options to meet both learner needs and market demands will require continuous analysis. We also recognize that while certificates are attractive in emerging areas of technology and computer science, some more traditional areas may still require a degree. Students have shared that during this transitional time many employers still require a bachelor’s degree for consideration. 

    “Considering the future of work and the rapid rate of change, we know the model must shift so we can offer learners what they need and want to reach their goals – whatever their goals may be. As lifelong learning evolves, we will continue listening to our learners and employers to best meet their needs. We believe milestone achievements matter to students and they should be recognized for their achievements and able to apply them along their learning journey. We are focusing our work on their success and their ability to achieve their goals.” 

    Placed in broader context, stackability fits well with Maryville’s key strategic goals and institutional mission: to create a global, student-centered active learning ecosystem, to drive transformational innovation around learner outcomes, to define its success by learner success, and to expand access and opportunity. 

    As Dean Louthan concludes, “We understand education isn’t one-size-fits-all. Different students have different circumstances and considerations, and Maryville is committed to being as inclusive and accommodating as possible. Our certificate programs underscore this mission, serving as alternative paths to meet learners where they are — and help them reach their career goals.” 

    Learn more, and explore Pearson's online learning offerings and OPM services  

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  • Designed to Deliver Value: The University of North Dakota Introduces Certificates to its Cyber Security Program

    by Pearson

    Man looking out the window, with laptop open in front of him

    Brought to you by Pearson’s Online Program Management team

    How do you deliver value to learners and employers alike? In the hot field of cyber security, the University of North Dakota has cracked the code with the design of its recently launched online program.

    The University of North Dakota is a public research university in Grand Forks, N.D. It offers more than 120 online degree and certificate programs, encouraging students from around the world to explore more than 225 fields of study every year. UND is dedicated to its mission to provide transformative learning, discovery and community engagement opportunities for developing tomorrow's leaders.

    Designing transformative online learning experiences

    In consultation with Pearson Online Learning Services, Vice Provost for Online Education and Strategic Planning  Jeff Holm chose to align the cyber security curriculum with highly sought-after and industry-recognized certifications. Advancing skills in cyber security can mean better job security, higher pay and more leadership opportunities for learners — program features that align with the university’s mission.

    To create a program that appealed to a broad audience while meeting UND’s high pedagogical standards, UND and Pearson established a collaborative working relationship. The teams partnered on course development, tailoring courses to 14 weeks each. Both partners agreed that this gave learners the right amount of time with the material and addressed their needs for convenient, short courses that deliver work-ready skills.

    The university also relied on the partnership for market research and insights, marketing and enrollment support to widen its reach. The strategy was to give more learners valuable career preparation by including certificates in the degree program. With the addition of cyber certificates to the online program, learners can gain recognizable, industry credentials as they move toward earning a full degree — making them more valuable to employers sooner.

    “UND offers a variety of options so learners can tailor their M.S. in Cyber Security to fit specific interests and career goals,” Holm says. “The cyber security master’s program offers four tracks (or) stackable academic certificate options.” One certificate is mandatory. Learners can select two of three other certificate options and graduate with a master’s and three academic certificates. The tracks and certificates include:

    • Cyber Security Analyst track aligned with the EC-Council Certified Threat Intelligence Analyst (CTIA) certification
    • Ethical Hacking track aligned with the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification
    • Computer Forensics track aligned with the EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI) certification
    • Secure Networks track aligned with the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification
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  • Pearson’s Maestro of Marketing Brings a Human Touch to a Customer-Centric Strategy

    by Michael Collins

    Man sitting in chair, smiling, as he is reviewing content on his laptop

    Brought to you by Pearson’s Online Program Management team.

    Since Michael Collins joined Pearson Online Learning Services as senior vice president of marketing and learner acquisition, he’s been working to harmonize and humanize everything we do to engage and enroll learners in our partners’ online programs.

    Collins brings a background in journalism, marketing, public relations, corporate communications, and — not least — music. In this interview, he shares insights that reflect where he’s been, what he’s seen, and where we can make the greatest impact for partners by building lifelong relationships that keep learners coming back.

    You studied music in college. What did you learn from that experience?

    Sometimes you can be the lead in a musical or in a play, right? But many times, you’ll be part of the ensemble. In marketing, I’ve learned it’s much the same. Sometimes you’re still part of the ensemble, and you have to switch between supporting roles. I may be leading marketing and learner acquisition, but I’m also part of a leadership team working to achieve shared outcomes. Even where I’m the lead within my own team, sometimes another member of the team has the stage.

    Beyond that, when we work with our partners, we’re also part of their team. So, knowing how to make all these teams work together well at the same time is one of the most important things I can do.

    You come to Pearson from the CFA Institute, the leading global provider of investment management education. But you’ve also played key marketing roles in other industries. What lessons do you see as especially relevant for your work here — especially your work with institutions?

    There’s a note that runs through my career in terms of working in-marketing, whether it’s been in retail, manufacturing, distribution, technology, or tech-enabled service companies. And that’s about creating affinity that makes customers want to keep buying from you.

    I ran global marketing at Iomega, which made external storage drives: Maybe you remember the Zip drive. We went from $140 million to $2 billion in revenue in under 36 months. We sold through retail channels like Best Buy, as well as through distributors who sold to retail. And I learned the power of channels and partnering.

    It’s one thing to sell your product or service, but how will you help partners be successful, so they want to keep partnering with you? That’s our challenge, too. We’ve built a business model where, when Pearson’s partners are successful, we’re successful. And our partners in turn succeed when their learners succeed.

    And it’s never one-and-done. In our student success and retention work, and in everything else we do, we need to be relentlessly focused on making both learners and partners more successful continually.

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  • Guarding the Online Learning Galaxy

    by Jaime Mordue

    Brought to you by Pearson’s Online Program Management team

    When a college professor tells me that they never imagined their in-person course could be so engaging in an online format, or a student interacts with learning more online than they would have in the traditional classroom, I know that I, along with my incredibly talented team, are fulfilling our mission.

    We are Pearson's Learning Design Solutions (LDS) team, and our job is to reimagine traditional higher education courses for the online environment. Last year alone, we supported over 1,400 courses across 35+ programs for over a dozen of our university partners. We developed courses in disciplines such as Law, Social Work, Public Health, Education, Nursing, and Business, among others. It's a responsibility we take very seriously—not only to deliver amazing online learning—but to help safeguard the integrity and validity of the entire online education “galaxy.” It's no secret that online learning has had its naysayers, so if we prove them wrong while delivering, time-and-again, for students and academic partners... then, we fulfill our mission.

    With decades of expertise in online education and course development operations, LDS brings science and insight to ensure our college and university partners' online courses are designed and developed to meet the highest expectation of quality and efficacy. Our tenets are straightforward:

    1. Pedagogy: LDS brings data and science into designing courses to ensure they meet the appropriate rigor, engagement levels, and measurable outcomes. All instructional designers in LDS engage in regular professional development in the industry and hold various levels of certification in Quality Matters (QM). The team is currently supporting several partners in aligning courses to QM standards, including Regis College’s Nursing programs and Health Sciences programs.
    2. Equity: By designing through a lens of historically informed compassion and empathy, LDS consults to design courses with equity top of mind. LDS seeks ongoing team training opportunities in a commitment to raise diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) standards for online learning. LDS recently supported a university partner interested in auditing courses to identify ways to improve inclusivity in course content. All course components produced by LDS meet current WCAG 2.1 AA and Pearson’s Global Content and Editorial Policy.
    3. Research: By participating in, and helping to conduct, ongoing research in online learning, LDS helps partners refine practices, innovate learning solutions, and keep up with generation after generation of digital learners. LDS is currently engaged in collaborative research with multiple partners, who are focused on developing learning analytics dashboards to advance data-driven learning design insight and practice.

    It's especially meaningful when faculty recognize that designing together with Pearson’s Learning Design Solutions team positively influences their course beyond project boundaries and into their regular teaching practices. A recent Brookings article, Online college classes can be better than in-person ones, reaffirms that online learning is gaining recognition and thriving beyond the potential consequences of the pandemic. This is a goal for us—to use our education (super)powers for the good of all learners, no matter the model or method.

    Learn more, and explore Pearson's online learning offerings and OPM services

    Originally published by the Pearson Insights blog.

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  • Use Online Learning to Drive Change, Create Opportunity & Thrive Amidst Disorder

    by Sasha Thackaberry

    Sasha Thackaberry, Ph.D. recently joined the executive team at Pearson Online Learning Services (POLS) as Vice President of Student and Partner Services. Previously, she led Louisiana State University’s online program organization, where in just four years, her team grew from supporting 800 students in 9 programs to over 12,000 in 120+ programs, while keeping a strong focus on quality. Her online learning experience has been honed throughout a career at LSU, SNHU, and other innovators. See how her experiences shape her current work at Pearson to help learners and institutions thrive.

    Sasha, tell us something we should know about you.

    I get really geeked out about what’s next, and how to drive change – both in education, and in my own teams. I’m interested in building teams that get addicted to evolving, and to making the next big thing happen.

    Even today, change is underrated. Disruption is going to occur continually, and I’m passionate about how we move things forward towards a more effective fusion of education and technology.

    “High-tech, high-touch” isn’t a new concept, but in higher education, historically, we haven’t done it all that well. Now, though, there’s a lot of insight we can draw on to do better. For instance, we can use more of what’s been learned by behavioral economists. The techniques so often used to sell us stuff can also be used to remove barriers to learning and encourage people to continually engage in it.

    You’ve said institutions can go beyond resilience to become truly “anti-fragile”: able to thrive amidst disorder and chaos. How?

    It starts with creating and building a foundation that enables you to be proactive and flexible, no matter what. Then, there’s a reactive piece: when you see something coming down the pike, always getting ready, seeing what works and what doesn’t, pivoting quickly. You can build in “space” in your systems and processes, and keep things as simple as possible.

    Two issues are key. First, institutions must invest heavily in their technology infrastructures. Valuable data is everywhere, but you can’t react if you don’t know what’s going on.

    Second, there’s culture: committing to pivot on a dime and be super creative. One of the best ways is to be very upfront about failures because they teach us how to change. Obviously, there are exceptions, but in higher ed environments, failure is too often viewed as a lack of competence. Instead, we need to embrace smart risk, and then be ready to pivot fast if it doesn’t work. You need leaders who can approach "Black Swan” events as opportunities to do really great things, as some institutions did during the pandemic.

    COVID changed things forever, but what are we learning about the new higher ed environment that’s emerging?

    We now have a marketplace of many different sizes, types, and forms of learning – and our audience looks radically different. A generation ago, few expected the post-traditional audience to become the only part of higher ed that was growing. Twenty years from now, people will look back and ask each other, “Do you remember when they based everything on the degree?”

    We see young people who aren’t all headed straight to college. They’re doing other things first. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I just think we must accommodate their needs as learners.

    Then, there’s “education as a benefit” from employers. Our infrastructures need to accommodate that, and many other flexible options – not just paying by credit card, but also subscriptions. More of what we do needs to be time-variable. People are voting with their enrollments, and they’re saying: I want shorter, faster, more applicable.

    You were a pioneer in stackables. What advice would you offer to those who worry about learner outcomes and building viable programs that don’t just cannibalize current programs?

    To begin, you can’t overly focus on cannibalization of revenue. If an early automaker thought, “If I build cars, I’m gonna cannibalize my base of horse customers,” they missed the point. It’s about what people want. It’s not about what we want to create for them. If you don’t disrupt your own business, someone else will.

    But it’s not just about defense. You can start a virtuous cycle of creating stackables by yourself, partnering with content providers to build them, and ingesting them from other places.

    Colleges and universities have amazing resources for learning in their faculty and their content knowledge. Many times, those same faculty and that same content can be used to create short-form credentials that open the door to a wider set of learners. It’s not only about the degree or a single point-in-time credential. All of us will need to continually learn and collect new credentials throughout our careers. Stackables empower institutions to set up lifelong partnerships with their students – from a traditional experience through a fully online experience, from a degree to a single hour-long, just-in-time learning session.

    Some folks worry about whether microcredentials will really have the value they promise. But institutions can develop a lot more information about what is being learned. And as we get better at intervening with post-traditional learners, we can get better at moving them to the appropriate classes or paths.

    You do, however, need to remain focused on your institution’s actual mission, to avoid mission creep. Not every institution needs to be everything for every learner. Each institution has its own unique strength, lens, and approach to learning. In the online space, it’s no different.

    You led LSU’s initiatives in non-degree and degree online learning. How did you bring faculty aboard?

    There are always champions: people who’ve discovered ways to get innovative things done. Find them. Then support them with all the expertise and political capital you can. If you make early adopters successful, others will come on board. I’ve never been in an environment where you didn’t have innovative faculty. It’s always a question of critical mass and political will.

    LSU was proud of building its own internal online learning organization without an external OPM. Now you’re at the company that pioneered the OPM model. Can you reflect on the decision to partner or go it alone?

    I had a very unusual situation at LSU. I had Board support, strategic focus from the President, and the best boss I’ve ever had – a Provost who promised to block and tackle for me, and came through every time, whether it involved changing policies or getting mainframes reprogrammed. She was willing to be unpopular – and that included fighting to protect our budgets.

    When you work with an OPM partner, there’s a contract in place, and dollars for things like marketing and recruitment are protected through that contract. Many institutions really don't know the true cost of learner acquisition, marketing, and recruitment. They may not know what it means to do digital campaigns, or the differences between a website and landing pages, and the implications for marketing spend. That requires specific talent, and it can be hard to get.

    At LSU, I was empowered to build a team from the ground up, where we had to be super-creative, use super-modern techniques, and be super-efficient. And it worked. But when an average institution has a strategic communications budget of, say, $200,000, and you propose dropping $6,000,000 on marketing for an online program that has 5,000 students this year, that budget line tends not to get preserved. You might start out with the commitment, but it gradually turns out that you can’t afford to market the program to reach the scale needed to sustain it.

    Even just the technology behind online programs can be challenging. You need a CRM, autodialers, texting, chat boxes, web development. Universities are not historically excellent at all that. If you can’t build that, you must get it externally.

    Not everything is either-or, and when we build service packages for new partners at Pearson, they’re differentiated and customized to each institution’s needs. But I can 100% say that if you don’t have certain ingredients to scale, it’s better to go with a partner.

    You’ve been a thought leader at institutions like LSU and SNHU, but also in organizations like Quality Matters. Based on all you’ve seen, can you share any final reflections?

    I’ve had the incredibly good fortune of meeting many great people who’ve been eager to have candid conversations about online learning. It seems strange to say this, though: this is still a relatively small and new field. The opportunities are wide open. We really are still at the very beginning of online education.

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  • Transformational Learner-Centered Innovation: A Leader’s View

    by Lisa Knight

    Two young ladies looking at a screen, standing beside each other, with a smiling face.

    Lisa Knight is ready to infuse learner-centered innovation in everything we do at Pearson Online Learning Services (POLS). A recent Pearson arrival, Lisa steps into a pivotal role as Vice President for Innovation & Product Strategy. Partners and friends will get to know her well in the months ahead; in the meantime, read about her journey to Pearson, her perspective on innovation, and what she aims to accomplish for learners and partners.

    Lisa, tell us a bit about who you are and what you’ve done.

    I have over 20 years of experience in strategy and innovation and have spent most of my career at IBM Consulting and PwC Consulting. Along the way, I worked with more than fifteen Fortune® 500 companies and was instrumental in creating IBM Canada's enterprise strategy practice. I’ve been focused on leading clients on their innovation journeys and finding ways to drive new growth through digital technologies.

    My own education spans three countries—the US, Canada, and France—and includes digital strategy at Harvard’s executive education program. I also competed in NCAA Division 1 Team Tennis, and that taught me a philosophy I live by: teaming to win. Successful innovation comes from collaboration and co-creation—teaming. Deepening our relationships through innovating together and successful partnering is a win-win for everyone. In NCAA tennis, every point counts whether you play the #1 spot or the #6 spot; everyone plays a role in achieving success. This is vital to innovation as well.

    At IBM, I was profoundly influenced by then-CEO and Chairman Ginni Rometty. Her own life story, and how she came up through the ranks to lead IBM, was deeply inspiring to me. And she was an exceptionally powerful advocate for learning. IBM developed its own digital learning platform that offered 300,000+ internal and external courses to its employees. The company mandated 40 hours a year of learning, and I averaged first 80, then 120, over and above work. I knew it was critical to be deeply knowledgeable about emerging technologies to inform innovation strategies for my clients. In short, learning became a fundamental part of the IBM DNA and a core part of who I am and what I value.

    How does your experience translate to your role at Pearson?

    It matters in at least three ways. The first is technology innovation: helping Pearson and its partners accelerate innovation and use it to grow. For example, I have designed accelerated innovation programs to find new business revenue streams, using an innovation framework that encompassed elements such as global trends analysis, idea generation, value case assessment, architectural design, and prototype definition. What truly creates value is a structured, disciplined approach to innovation.

    Second, strategy and leadership, with my experience spanning multiple industries. I bring a breadth of perspective that differs from someone who chose to focus deeply on one industry. To me, innovation requires broader thinking. Having seen and influenced many ways of working in my prior consulting experiences, I can bring that breadth of thinking and ideating as we consider the problems we are solving for.

    Third, and most important, I’m a strategist with extensive experience in transformational execution. Real execution experience informs better strategy creation. Effectively implementing transformational change is challenging. Being pragmatic in how to implement comes from experience managing the change from start to finish.

    Can you share some lessons about partnering to drive and sustain transformational change?

    To start, there needs to be a business or organizational need, an inflection point that makes people recognize change is necessary. Next, there needs to be a willingness to invest. And finally, there must be a commitment at all levels of leadership, because if you haven’t focused on getting people on board, and there aren’t strategies to do so, you won’t succeed.

    Sometimes the middle of the organization is forgotten. It’s crucial to put strategies in place to get everyone engaged. It is truly important to involve everyone who’s affected, and that means helping people understand: what does this change mean to me, and what’s my role going forward?

    Strategy also needs to be iterative. There’s no such thing as perfect. There’s what you plan for, and the assumptions you make, and when you execute, there are things you didn’t expect. Market factors. Challenges in your capabilities, or your partner’s. You must be prepared to make changes – and, if necessary, pivot.

    What’s your view of the role of technology and innovation in online learning?

    Learning is certainly at an inflection point. There’s more competition, with a wider set of offerings, from traditional to free, to non-traditional like micro-degrees and stackable certificates. Learners’ needs and expectations have changed. As digital technology continues to transform ways of working, people need to continually gain new skills. Meanwhile, high speed internet and 5G network capabilities enable us to incorporate powerful new technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, to design outstanding, immersive learning experiences.

    It's critically important that innovation centers on the learner. “Technology for technology’s sake,” brings no value to learners or our partners. In my experience with technologies ranging from machine learning to blockchain, I’ve learned just how important it is to know who it’s for and what problem or friction point you’re trying to solve. To that end, I'm a strong proponent of design thinking. For us, it’s about starting with empathy for the learner, deeply understanding their challenges and constraints, and what they want to achieve.

    During Covid, my teenagers’ schools did a “lift and shift,” focusing on providing access from home. Unfortunately, teachers had to try to figure out the rest. With each student having different learning styles and motivations, it was extremely challenging. I knew there was a need to make this a better experience for both teachers and students. That said, learners, like my teenagers, have become very comfortable online, and it’s changed their expectations for everything they do—and not just for services like Amazon or Uber, but for education, too.

    What did you see at Pearson Online Learning Services that made you want to join this team?

    This wasn’t a lighthearted decision. I firmly believe there’s enormous opportunity at Pearson, and the factors have been put in place for innovation to succeed here. My conversations with my new executive peers have been phenomenal, and senior leadership has given me a clear vision of where we’re going.

    I am excited to say innovation was in flight before I came on board, and Pearson already demonstrated a strong willingness to commit the resources needed to embed innovation throughout our business. Our recent Fast Company 2022 Most Innovative Company award for Pearson+, a convenient new way for students to engage with learning, is a great example. Pearson, and specifically, Pearson Online Learning Services had already decided to invest in my VP-level role to provide the leadership experience, frameworks, and guidance to a team of strategists and innovators who are ready to drive an aggressive innovation agenda. Innovation is a top priority at Pearson. I have really been set up for success.

    I quickly came to appreciate an organization that can provide real value across the board to learners. Pearson Online Learning Services excels from course creation through design, launch, and operational execution. It will further support students throughout their learning journeys as we continue to innovate. And, Pearson brings deep insights on the future of learning, as well as emerging trends that are shaping demand for reskilling and new skills as we look ahead to the future and new ways of working.

    For me, it all ties back to what Pearson believes: learning is the world’s most powerful force for change. Since joining Pearson, I feel the passion for learning. I see it in the culture, every day. I firmly believe that an inspirational leader enables great things to happen. I am truly inspired by our CEO, Andy Bird, and his vision for Pearson. His influence is enabling innovation to thrive across our organization. Our breakthrough subscription offering, Pearson+ is game-changing. And wait until you see what is coming next!

    This is why I’m thrilled to be at Pearson and why it is such a good fit for me. It doesn't get any more exciting than this.

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  • How to build long-term relationships that foster student success

    by Lisa Knight

    Young girl on her laptop

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Kristina Campbell 

    Coaching students isn’t just a job, it’s a two-way bond that helps students focus on their academic goals. It also gives the student support coaches a unique understanding of what students need to complete their online degrees or programs. And it affords institutions the ability to retain students who are tracking toward their goals. Kristina Campbell tells her story as a student support coach below.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    For me, it’s being with a student from start to finish. Nothing is more satisfying than being a part of the student’s process and hearing the excitement and joy they have upon their completion of the program. To be part of their celebration of a momentous achievement.

    What's it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?  

    Long term relationships are the most rewarding experience of being a coach. They give me a deeper and richer connection with the student. I even love going through those rough stages and gently pushing others when they feel that they can’t continue moving forward.

    Recently, I spoke with a student who is in their last semester. They told me that had I not given a gentle nudge the first week of class, they would’ve stopped and never reached their last semester. Students have told me they truly value the role of a coach; they’ve gone through programs before where coaching wasn’t provided and have felt the importance of having one in the programs we provide.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners? 

    1. Good communication that goes beyond just talking. A coach needs to listen actively, provide helpful responses, and cultivate an atmosphere where students feel comfortable to speak.
    2. Empathy to understand that going through an educational program is not an easy feat. Students want to work with someone they believe will try to understand and show they care.
    3. Being supportive because everyone wants to be affirmed in their decisions. Coaches are part of the support system for a student.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees? 

    Time management is one of the main concerns I hear from students when starting a program or when the tempo of the program changes due to course load. Students have several constants in their lives that take priority before everything else (i.e., family and work). School is a wonderful variable that they are throwing in the mix.

    I try to help students figure out how to balance school, work, home, and life. We work on finding ways to make time for learning, figuring out what needs to be adjusted or omitted in their schedule, and on making time for self-care.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs? 

    I try to keep learners engaged by calling them regularly, sending emails, and texting. I also send reminders, resources, and any aids or tools I can find regarding their courses.

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students? 

    My team has a wonderful relationship with our school partner. We have been able to identify issues and bring them to the institution’s attention as needed.

    And, on multiple occasions, I’ve reached out to instructors to advocate or help a student succeed. I had one student who was diagnosed with a severe health condition. They were in the hospital and needed help to get extensions on their work. I was able to connect with the instructor to get resources to help the student complete the course.

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  • Raise retention rates with student support services

    by Nisha Khan

    Student with headphones in front of laptop computer, engaging in conversation

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Nisha Khan

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults highly focused on careers. They worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Nisha Khan works with learners in MBA programs to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was with a cosmetics company for 3 years where I worked my way up to a services coordinator. I already had the customer service skills — active listening and the ability to offer quick solutions. I knew that I wanted to help people and continue to build strong relationships. When I saw the job description for the student services specialist, I knew this would be the perfect role for me!

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    It is a joy to work with the same population and have the same group of students for years at a time. You really get to know a lot about each student as an individual, but also learn a lot of insights about the program that, as a coach, you might not have the opportunity to experience.

    What it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It's truly so special to be part of a student’s life during their studies. You get to watch them from the start, when they are the most passionate and excited to start their degree, through the ups and down of an MBA, and come out the other side to graduate.

    We learn a lot about students through proactive outreach. You could be calling a student to simply check in, and they will share that they are nervous to take the upcoming accounting class. You’ll then get a call from that student after the class is over to celebrate their passing grade with you.

    For them to include you in their wins is so heart-warming. We also learn about students' personal lives, and we are there to celebrate these milestones as well. Watching a student grow in all aspects really drives me to find out as much about my students as possible!

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be compassionate, empathic, and have great attention to detail — simple as that!

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    Students value their education and have a high expectation of the quality they will receive, especially with how high tuition can be. Even though we strive to provide the most cutting-edge and smooth experience for our students, sometimes “life happens.” It can be a technical error, a miscommunication on course materials, or grades on their homework that they disagree with. For many of our students when their expectations are not met for the price of their tuition, it can be grounds to take time off from the program, and, in the worst case, withdraw entirely.

    Many times students want to be heard, and that is exactly why I’m here. When they share feedback on the quality of the program, I can see whether it was a one-time incident, or if there is an overall trend that I can report to the partner to see if we need to implement change.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My school has 9 terms a year and classes are between 3–5 weeks in length. While there are benefits to this model, it means that students have registration and drop deadlines in conjunction with their class deliverables deadlines.

    My biggest role is assisting students with registration and ensuring they are reminded about upcoming registration periods. By staying in constant email and text communication, along with proactive phone calls, we help the student think in the future and keep track of the administrative and degree planning items while they focus on their studies.

    When have you worked with the university to help students more effectively?

    I am a coach to online MBA students where most students do not have a background in accounting or finance. As a result, the accounting and finance classes have the highest fail rate and the highest drop rate. Coaches also hear the most amount of feedback in these specific courses.

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  • Bridging the gap in higher ed with student support services

    by Lourdes Carvajal

    Two students talking with each other

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults. They’re first-generation college students. They're highly focused on careers and worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal works with learners to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was an online student in my graduate program and had a lot on my plate to balance. I didn’t even know there were resources at my university to help students like me. I wanted to make the difference in a student’s experience while they’re achieving their academic dreams. It would have made my life a little easier if I had someone to go to from the university on the tough days.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I love when a student confides in me that they’re struggling and need help. Life throws us curveballs when we least expect them and having someone to confide in makes it a little bit easier to withstand. The trust that I have earned from my students means a lot to me because I know how much they want to make it to graduation. I want to be able to help them get there.

    What is it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It’s an honor helping someone who has dreamt of achieving their academic goals. They share those goals with me from the very beginning, and I remind them of those goals throughout their journey. We go through ups and downs together, and we get to know each other very well. We become like family. I’m always so proud of them when they do finally achieve their academic goals.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be able to see the student holistically. They’re an individual who’s balancing a lot on their plate in addition to their coursework. As an effective coach you need to check in on how they’re doing, not just in the classroom but at home, too. This will greatly affect their performance academically as well.

    You also need to be supportive, in whatever decision the student makes. Our students come to rely on us, as they may not always have an effective support system at home.

    I believe another skill needed is to have good communication among your students but also the university. I believe the phrase “it takes a village” is very much applicable when working with students. Having good communication in the end will result in better support for the student.

    How have you or your colleagues helped a university better meet the needs of students?

    Some of the main concerns I hear from students are about mental health and overall wellbeing while being a full-time online student. We brought up this issue to the university and worked together to develop more mental health resources for our program. We have partnered with a resource center at the university to provide workshops on mental health for our students.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    My background is in social work, and mental health is very near and dear to my heart. I do mental health check-ins with my students, just to see how they’re feeling. We so often are busy taking care of everyone else, we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of that list. I remind them to prioritize themselves by doing some self-care every once in a while. We talk about activities or hobbies that they like to do to de-stress, and I remind them to do this when things are becoming too stressful.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My coaching style is to be very transparent with my students. If I’m transparent with them, that will make them more comfortable to come to me when they do have an issue. I remind them that they’re never on their own throughout this journey, and I’d love to help them as much as I can. I believe this has helped my students stay engaged in their courses in the program. Just knowing that someone is really looking out for them makes them feel more comfortable and motivated.

    How do you work in tandem with the university to support students?

    I like to define my role as being here to support the student. The university really likes how my role interacts with learners, as there is generally an academic adviser for the program as well.

    The academic adviser takes care of any academic issues, like course planning and grades.

    I work with the student to ensure they’re always set up for success. I allow the student to talk about their week, how their personal lives are affecting their coursework, and we also talk about their courses.

    The academic adviser and I talk almost every day so we can both brainstorm ideas on how to best support the student.

    In what ways do you partner with faculty members to help a student succeed?

    I’m very lucky to work with such amazing faculty members at the university. A faculty member will reach out to me personally to talk about a student who could use more support. I work to find the root of the issue and help find resources to best support them.

    I reach out to faculty members as well when I notice a student struggling academically and provide the context for what’s going on and how I’m working with the student. I love the collaboration between the faculty, the institution, and myself because we all want the same thing for our students, and that is to see them succeed.

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  • Empathy, skill, knowledge: How a great student coach helps adult learners succeed

    by Natasha Prospere

    Adult learner on laptop

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere, M.ED

    Every online learner needs somewhere to turn when they have a problem or need someone to listen — someone whose advice is empathetic and reliable, and who can point them to resources that help them succeed. For many learners, Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere is that person. See how she approaches the crucial work of guiding learners from enrollment to graduation — so learners, institutions, and employers all get the outcomes they’re hoping for.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I enjoy interacting with my students. And I enjoy working on new challenges every day — you never know what to expect. It's rewarding to support each student along their path, to encourage them and to provide the resources they need, from orientation to graduation.

    I let them know what to expect along the way, guide them through their upcoming courses, and help them meet their graduation requirements. I can help them access the resources they need, whether that’s mental health, tutoring, writing center, or something else. Students often thank me for being their advocate and facilitator.

    What's it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    Building relationships and positive rapport with students is fundamental to their success. My students know I truly care about them, their families, and their academic success. They feel supported by me.

    In our first conversation, I learn about their academic goals — and also about their home life, what brought them to the institution, who’s part of their support system, and their ultimate goals. So, when times get tough — and they will — I can be there to remind them why they started in the first place.  

    As coaches, we provide motivation, as well as encouragement through personal struggles and life events, whether that's sick children, taking care of elderly parents, or even divorces.  We also celebrate, sharing in joyous occasions such as weddings and pregnancies!  Whatever’s happening in their lives, we’re there, with personal outreach, regular communication, and timely feedback. 

    What are three skills or characteristics you need to coach adult learners effectively?

    First, you need empathy and compassion. Second, you should be a constructive, active listener. Third, you need to be a problem solver — and to do that, you need to thoroughly understand the resources you can provide to learners, and the university policies you’re operating within.

    What are some concerns you help learners overcome?

    Time management is a main concern: feeling overwhelmed as they try to balance work, school, personal life, and raising a family. I provide tips on being a successful online learner, both during our conversations and via email. For example, I tell them to:

    • Plan your study time.
    • Print and/or download your syllabus so it’s always handy.
    • Check your school email every day — something important might be happening.
    • Log into your course(s) several times a week.

    Stepping back, I also encourage them to find their passion. What do they do for fun? Are they making sure to take time for self-care, exercise, time with family and friends? Are they eating well and getting enough sleep? That’s especially an issue for my nursing students.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    Online graduate advising is so much more than telling students “what class comes next!”

    Students rely on their Support Coach for information to solve problems, make decisions, navigate university procedures, and overcome technology challenges. We help them register for their next class, but we also make sure they know what to expect in their upcoming courses. We help them add the concentration courses they’ll need, transfer programs, take leaves of absence if they must, and — for our Nursing suite — prepare for clinicals and campus visits.  

    We don’t just connect frequently with students. We advocate for them. We share their concerns with the university. We provide the right guidance: information they can use. It’s all about building a personal relationship that shows each student we truly care about them as individuals — and about their success. 

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students?

    The institution’s on-campus Academic Advisors (AAs) handle grades, GPA concerns, academic standing, instructor concerns, and similar issues. With my Nursing program, Duquesne also has a clinical coordinator to help learners secure a preceptor and complete their required clinical hours. As a success coach, I send learners a program plan to follow, and remind them when it's time to register, order books, and complete financial aid.

    Students tend to reach out to me first, as their main point of contact. I can direct them to their AAs, clinical coordinators, or instructors, as needed. I often copy the AA on emails, and provide time and day when it’s best to reach the student. We follow up via email, and we meet bi-weekly with the university to discuss student affairs.

    We're a great team. Here's an example just from today. An AA called me with a heads up that a student may contact me. The AA said she knows we have a great relationship and wanted me to know what was going on with him academically. Since I know his academic situation now, I can proactively reach out to him, as he may need an updated program plan.

    What issues are rising to the forefront, as more learners come online, or as they begin moving beyond the pandemic?

    Some continuing issues are even bigger — for example, time management. We're always offering advice to help learners stay organized, set aside a dedicated study space, or use a physical or digital planner. And some students who’ve been out of school for awhile struggle with the technology. We’re there to provide resources, including a 24-hour tech support, live chat, and a writing center. So they always have what they need.

    One issue I’m anticipating: helping nursing students find a clinical rotation. With COVID-19, many sites weren’t accepting students in person. Now, I suspect, there will be an overflow that we’ll all have to carefully manage together.

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