How Ariel Margolis Brought Digital Learning to the Greatest Generation

Contributed By

Dalia Wolfson

Contributing Writer

How Ariel Margolis Brought Digital Learning to the Greatest Generation

Posted in Community | January 26, 2017

As Director of Online Learning at Hebrew College and a 2016 Schoology NEXT Administrator of the Year, Ariel Margolis helps a wide variety of students fulfill their goals. Ariel believes that learning is about constant improvement.

“Our goal is to elevate our achievement to grow. We are breaking down the traditional brick and motor frontal learning experiences to more individualized, personalized, collaborative learning that spans both across the globe and demographics. With this, we are able to expand to new student populations while enhancing our current stakeholders' educational experiences.”

One way in which Ariel and his college have done this is by developing a strategy to engage older adults in both online and face-to-face learning using Schoology.

Bridging the Generation Gap

Ariel’s challenge was to launch an online course where students could work independently at their own pace. But the participants weren’t your typical college-age young adults.

Ariel was working with learners from the Greatest Generation (people in their 80s and 90s) and the Baby Boomers (60s and 70s). He recognized that this crowd was accustomed to learning things more traditionally.

“Images popped into my head of people watching public television programs, attending lectures, learning from teachers who taught using the Socratic method, reading every single word of a text (including manuals), and hesitant to use the new laptop purchased for them.”

Ariel’s ultimate goal for the course was to build an online community that would “provide  opportunities to share what is learned with others.”

Schoology would be the medium to achieve that goal, but Ariel would need to get creative and tailor the technology to fit this learner group.  

Meeting Students Where They Are

“How do I design a course for these populations that meets their learning needs without overwhelming them with technology?” Ariel asked himself.

His first move was to reflect on the older generations’ learning style and envision it digitally.

Ariel edited the lectures down to 5-7 minute segments, accompanied by enhanced Powerpoints. All the texts were digitized. These “enhanced videos,” as Ariel calls them, were embedded directly into online discussions.

Ariel then turned to custom-fitting the educational experience. Facilitators would play a vital role by engaging the group with interesting discussion questions and encouraging student participation.

With this strategy in mind, Ariel constructed an environment using Schoology where instructors and students could communicate with each other in a social, interactive experience.

Designing the Course Through Cognitive Empathy

“When asked if he had any best practices or lessons learned, Ariel had these to share:

  1. Follow Sean Covey's Habit—"First to Understand then be understood" or "put yourself in the other person's shoes." To do this, interview members of the stakeholder group/marketing segment to find out what works for them, what they wish they could do, and what interests them. Gathering data is good.
  2. Open Transparency and Regular Communication—I always tell my students when I make an error or when we are going to be guinea pigs (I use the term "pioneers") when it comes to testing out a new edtech or new method of learning. It's important that they are part of the process. Hence, surveying them several times throughout and after the course helps to improve the design for the next iteration.
  3. Understanding Multiple Intelligences—Gardner's theory is helpful in thinking of different ways student process information and how to present that information in multiple modalities.
  4. Nothing is Perfect—don't get stuck on design content "being perfect" It's always a work in progress and the students, teacher, and designer are all "learners."
  5. It’s Not Personal—don't take criticism personally. See reason #4.
  6. Play Around—the course/shell is your canvas. It's your opportunity to let the designer/creator/kid in you come out and see what you can do. Push the boundaries.
  7. Consult Your Peers—use social media and see what is out there. There are over 18 million Schoologiers—all willing to share their "magic"—there is no need to recreate the wheel. Ask what they suggest with regard to tools and designs.”

Focusing on the Relationships

After designing his new course, Ariel started looking for ways to nurture their experiences. “I couldn’t just send an email out to the participants stating, “Ok folks, click here and enjoy!”

Ariel wanted to use the introductions to start building relationships with his students, right from the start. “It’s all about the relationships,” he says.

The instructor reached out to each member individually through the LMS.

“I also made sure to be available, regardless of their time zone. I held their hand, virtually.” Ariel offered his expertise and time, listening to grandparents’ talk excitedly about how their grandchildren were giving them tutorials on how to use a webcam.

Using Schoology updates, BigBlueButton conferences, and emails, Ariel and the course’s instructor stayed connected with this first group of participants throughout the pilot course.

Getting Rave Reviews

Student reactions were overwhelmingly positive to Ariel’s course.

Technology, while commonly seen as the obstacle with older generations, was in this case a major benefit. Schoology made it easier for the students to stay on top of their due dates and important conversations about their lessons. Just as important, it was the backbone of Ariel’s effort to build intimate relationships with his students.

“Judging by their comments on the discussion boards, didn’t just learn the content. They also reflected about themselves,” Ariel says. “Just like their children and grandkids, they too can study online and be active learners.”

Moving Forward

What’s next for Ariel and this course?

“We tweaked the pilot and launched the course again in the fall and spring with full complements,” explains Ariel. “We are beginning to design the second course for Adult Ed.” He continued by sharing some of the lessons he learned and how he might do this differently the next time.

Ariel wants to push the boundaries further and build on the skills that were learned so the course isn’t the same as the last time. He also plans to budget in more time for building and editing the course.

Next time around, Ariel also plans to incorporate the RACI method (Responsible, Accountable, Consult, Informed) to provide more clarity and structure to the entire process.

Finally, he alluded to the need for both great content and a great teacher. “With online learning, the content, its delivery, and in the instructor need to be dynamic,” he explains. “If the content is ‘Eh’ but the teacher is dynamic, the course is still interesting and students are engaged. The teacher also needs to be the facilitator and not the expert/know it all.”

If the past is any indication of what's to come, Ariel's relationship-focused approach (now combined with many lessons learned) will continue to produce stellar results for his students, regardless of their generation.

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