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The Learning Designer: Architect, Trainer and Project Manager

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Creating online training brings its share of new professions. The Educational Engineer, internationally referred to as the Learning Designer, is one of them. Joanna Szuda works in this role with EDHEC Online. She invites us into her daily life as she tells us more about this new profession that combines education, design, project management and even architecture!

Devenir ingénieur pédagogique - EDHEC Online

What is the job of Learning Designer?

Hello Joanna, what does the job of Learning Designer consist of?

It is a relatively new profession, which combines teaching and project management and exists mainly for distance learning.

The role of the Learning Designer is to create engaging and quality teaching material for students to follow. In order to do this, we work in partnership with teachers, experts who pass on their knowledge and a whole larger team of people who specialise in video shooting, IT development and graphics, among others.

  • We help authors to structure the contents of a specific training course in order to make their knowledge intelligible, educational and even fun, as well as working with the team to build and test the modules on the platform that they will be followed on.
  • We focus on practical elements at EDHEC, using plausible examples that can be found in the world of work.

The courses must also be up to date and reflect the most recent innovations. The second characteristic specific to the profession of Learning Designer is that you can watch, rewatch and rewind everything online. It is for this reason that everything has to be carefully constructed and we pay great attention to detail in these courses.

You said that this profession is relatively recent. Can you tell me roughly when it came about?

The profession of teaching has existed forever, but its Learning Designer counterpart is more recent. Nevertheless, we can find traces of it from as early as 1954. In the last fifteen years, however, the profession has grown a lot with the explosion of online studying. It currently has representatives in many countries around the world, especially in the English-speaking world, France, Germany and Japan, which explains why we prefer the English term even though a French translation exists.

How to create an online programme?

Joanna, what steps go into building a course

There are five clear steps.

  • 1 : Outline
  • 2 : Storyboard
  • 3 : Development, Content Creation
  • 4 : Implementing
  • 5 : Final check

Developing the module plan – Outline

First, we develop the module plan, which we call the outline. The aim is to define the outline of the module with the author(s) and the programme directors. Each programme must meet one of the final aims of the course in order to pass on some of the skills identified.

The Story-Board creation

Then we go into more detail. During this second stage, we create a real “story board” which shows how we will create a sequence with text, exercises, activities, group work, quizzes, tests and videos. When I say we go into detail, that’s an understatement. Around 10 or 12 people can spend five months working on a 35-hour module.

By the time this stage is over, the plan and script for each part have been created and the associated skillset defined. At this point, we move on to doing spelling checks to make sure the scripts are of the best possible quality.

The content creation

The third stage is creating all the content of a given module, such as videos, activities, real-life scenarios, simulations and games. The sky is the limit! We work with developers, cameramen, videographers, graphic designers and editors during this stage, sometimes shooting a video three or four times to make sure it is perfect.

Implementing

The fourth step consists of implementing what has been built and publishing it online. This is quite time consuming, because we go through very rigorous checks.

The final check

The final step consists of the author doing a final check of the content uploaded and making the final changes. We also run tests with people who take the modules as if they were students. We run these tests on both mobile and web, in different geographical areas and on different browsers. If everything goes well, we are ready to open access to the course.

You have mentioned many checks. How do you ensure the quality of the content? Is it as high a quality as face-to-face?

A continuous improvement process

Absolutely. The comprehensive checks that I have just told you about are very important. We begin with content that has already been reviewed (by Learning Designers, authors and proofreaders) and which is further improved.

Utilisation du lightboard dans les enregistrements de cours et les classes virtuelles


Once students have taken the course, we also ask them for their feedback through surveys. We then take these comments into account to develop the modules from one session to another. It is thus a continuous process which is constantly moving closer towards educational excellence.

Is online training just as good as face-to-face training?

That is the reason why I would say that online learning is ten times better quality than face-to-face learning. That is, it is developed by a team of around 15 people, including industry experts, recognised researchers, learning designers, videographers, designers and developers, while a face-to-face course is created by just one person – it does not have the same strength.

There are rumours going around about online learning being worse quality than face-to-face learning, but there is online learning and online learning. This lack of quality is a common misconception, as the EDHEC team has been driving research on the subject and recruiting the best experts to co-construct content for 20 years.

What are the specific educational features of EDHEC Online?

We use the same teaching methods as IVEY in Canada and Imperial College in Great Britain. We are part of the FOME Group, an alliance of prestigious universities and schools at the cutting edge of research.

We find common points in the cornerstones of the teaching methods at these institutions, such as quality control, the choice of authors and technological and educational innovation. For example, we pay great attention to storytelling by making study scenarios concrete and fun.

To give you an example, one activity we propose is making investment decisions for a pharmaceutical company in Brazil based on very precise data. The students make a recommendation when we have gone through all the resources. Then, new elements are unlocked and we ask them if they stand by their decision or if they prefer to dig further. This practical scenario allows them to use their data analysis, synthesis and reasoning skills in a specific situation from the professional world in a playful, pragmatic and, above all, interactive scenario!

How do you go about making learning fun and maintaining student engagement?

We achieve this through continuous innovation and monitoring educational innovation. YouTube has made people less attentive and more demanding, so now you have to engage them in the first few seconds. We also mix the formats and make the scenarios as interesting as possible because we need to always surprise people!

Having to adapt to different audiences is another difficult aspect, as we work with students who are just starting education, students in their thirties who are retraining and leaders in their forties or with even more experience. We convey our messages with humour and rely on gamification for the youngest students. For people who are retraining, the courses need to be very practical, professionalising and allow for knowledge to be applied to profession. The best feedback is when a graduate tells us that they have been able to put their skills to good use in their professional life!

Finally, we rely on adaptive learning so that everyone can advance at their own pace. If a person finishes early, then they can deepen their knowledge, whereas if someone is struggling, an academic mentor will support them.

Listening to you, it’s clear that you love your job! What do you like the most?

Indeed. It’s wonderful because we learn every day. We never work on the same content or with the same experts twice and we exchange with people who open our horizons. It’s also very creative. We tell stories and imagine how we could make an activity attractive, fun and original. And, in the end, we see what we’ve brought to life.

If I had to compare my profession to others, I would say it is very similar to the profession of architecture. Architects must also create something (the invention, design and creation side), but it must be achievable, logical and perfectly constructed. I go between being a journalist, an architect, an IT project manager and a co-director on a daily basis. I really enjoy this varied mix of tasks and skills.