Why We Need Digital Pedagogical Designers for Effective Online Learning
I think a common misconception about the delivery of self-paced online education is that all you have to do is have the educational content and the system to build it. Big textbook publishers think, Well, all we need is a Learning Content Management System and Learning Management System, and we can digitalize all of our textbooks for online delivery!
As it turns out, this isn't true. It's a classic example of trying to do the exact same thing with new technology that we did with old technology (like the executive who writes out e-mails by hand and has his secretary type and send them). Great self-paced online courses aren't just PDF files of textbooks (although I've known many online courses that do just that—watch out!).
One of the greatest failures of the textbook is the lack of attention span of the average reader. When I was an SAT tutor, the hardest thing about the Reading Comprehension section was that kids just couldn't focus long enough to read through the almost mythically dull passages in the section. A common test-prep strategy is to have kids write the main idea of each paragraph, because the hope is that if we can get them to focus for at least long enough to do that, maybe they'll tackle the questions with some basic comprehension of what they just read.
This means that the power of self-paced online programs is in the dynamic delivery of content. It's in the ability to animate, include audio, video, and literally illustrate examples before the viewer's eyes. Or the ability to prevent the reader from continuing on until they correctly answer questions pertaining to the section. Or a thousand other opportunities to dazzle, innovate, and educate in front of an audience with the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel.
But who decides what to animate? Who decides which videos to include and when. Or when the appropriate time is to demand answers to questions on the section? It's a fundamentally new pedagogical art form! If the best classroom instructors are skilled not only in their mastery of the content, but in their responsive delivery of that content and their command over a classroom, or "soft skills," then it's the ability to build "soft skills" into an online self-paced course that will truly distinguish successful programs from simple digital reproductions of paper textbooks.
So what does all this mean? It means that our new online educational model will depend just as much on the technological innovations as it will on the training and skills of people, let's call them "digital pedagogical designers" who can create cogent, effective courses. I'm curious if there are any schools out there that teach you how to turn a textbook into a killer online course, taking into account things like context, audience, and the tools at hand.
About the Author
Nihal Parthasarathi is the CEO and Co-founder of CourseHorse, a New York City-based marketplace that helps people discover and enroll in trusted local classes ranging from cooking and art to finance and programming. He earned his B.A. in Marketing and Finance from NYU's undergraduate Stern School of Business and his minor in Creative Writing and spent time as an Education Technology Consultant, as well as an analyst in marketing and finance.