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May 2, 2022

Future of Higher Education

A Time for Learning Experience Design: Ed Tech on Purpose

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If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that understanding the whole student matters. Since March of 2020, billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of person hours have been spent enabling remote learning access, rolling out strategic student supports—particularly around mental health—and providing emergency aid for students struggling with basic needs. Whether its early learning, K-12, higher education, or job training, we have been forcefully reminded by COVID to focus on the whole student experience if we want our learners to begin, continue, and succeed on their pathways to and through education.

At this year’s ASU+GSV Summit, Mark Milliron, SVP of WGU and Executive Dean of the Teachers College; Kelvin Bentley, Senior Consultant of WGU Labs; and Nate McClennen, Vice President of Strategy and Innovation of Getting Smart examined lessons learned during the pandemic relating to innovative learning design, and the risks educators continue to face in terms of the general public confusing emergency remote learning with longstanding quality work in digital learning design.

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“The last two years have been a mass orientation to digital tools,” said Milliron. “A whole host of K-12 educators, higher education leaders, and even employee developers suddenly had to dive deep into the tools available to them. It opened a lot of people’s eyes to what we could be doing in this kind of work.”

Educators have tried to learn more about their learners than ever before – marked by more work on social-emotional learning, basic needs, mental health, and “digital divide.”

“We likely got to know our students better through the pandemic than we knew them before,” commented McClennen. “If we deliver an incredible online learning experience and neglect the mentoring and the one-on-one relationship-building, we won’t reach the goals that we have.”

Educators need to embrace the rethinking of instruction and student support with learner experiences at the center, and are now challenged to embrace this perspective in a more fulsome and integrative way in the learning process itself. Put simply: now is the time for learning experience designers.

“Academic freedom is great, but it also has to be balanced with academic responsibility,” said Bentley. “We have to do a better job to keep students at the center of what we’re doing, and not always work in silos.”

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