Reinventing yourself is hard, but there are always pathways from what you do now to what you want to do–often it’s just figuring out what those pathways are, and how one context translates to another.
I’ve been teaching in higher education, using CMS tools like Canvas and Blackboard (RIP), for the last 20 years. I’m in my mid-40s now, and I’m looking for a new role. I know I can do curriculum design in higher ed, but what does that look like in the professional world?
A lot of major companies use tools like Articulate 360 or Coursera for Business to deliver e-learning designed for professional development. I’m taking a Project Management certification now on Coursera, which has given me insight on some of the differences between designing for traditional credit-bearing higher education courses using Canvas (whether face-to-face, synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid) and designing for professional development.
I’ve used my experience in the college classroom designing curriculum to create a professional up-skilling course using Articulate 360. The course is aimed at an audience of new salespeople, perhaps being onboarded or introduced to a company-wide culture that prizes storytelling for business purposes. You can engage with the live course here.
What did I learn?
- Audiences are different. Deceptively simple, this is a very important context to keep in mind. Audiences for higher education curricula are often younger, and the curriculum is focused on overall education (I teach in a core context, humanities and literature), even in the courses designed for the student’s chosen major or career. Students may be taking a core requirement, or an elective, or a course for their major – and often, there are varying levels of interest and commitment. Perhaps most important, students are much less self-motivated than adult professional learners, and this means that where college students need you to keep them on track and on task, professional learners are highly self-motivated and can learn on their own.
- Assessment is different. In higher education, which unfortunately still has a “gate-keeping” aspect to it, assessment is very important and each course builds into a larger holistic degree. Students can fail their courses, even to the extent that they cannot complete their degree. In the professional world, assessment is less central, and the focus is more on completion or certification.
- Delivery is different. Usually, students attending a university will have instruction in person, coupled with substantial homework activities and supported with course materials provided via a Content Management System or e-learning platform. In the professional context, a curriculum is often focused on keeping employees up to date. Single-day seminars or workshops are common delivery methods for professional development, but increasingly, it is entirely online. Electronic delivery is also less hands-on and more video based with occasional interaction. Because of this quality of intermittent delivery, learners need responsive courses that are accessible on a desktop, a tablet, or a mobile device.
- Duration is different. If a student is pursuing their degree at a college or university full-time, they will usually be enrolled in 12-15 credits each term, for a total of 120 credits. A 3-credit college course, according to Carnegie measurement, means students have 45 hours of in-class contact and 90 hours of outside of class homework/independent learning (see Carnegie units). Faculty spend a lot of time with their students. In the professional context, training is less continual or immersive, and more periodic or intermittent. These learners have a job already (or are on the market), are seeking particular new skills, or are being trained in new skills or proficiencies while on the job. As a result, time commitments are different, and employers will expect that employees already have the basics.
- Simplicity matters. This is relevant both in higher education course design and in professional course design. In college, students need exceptionally clear instructions and concrete guidelines, as they learn new subjects they may not be entirely invested in or knowledgeable of. In professional curriculum design for upskilling or maintaining current knowledge, simplicity more often means less text, fewer steps, less complex and time-intensive tasks, low-stakes or participation-determined assessments, and the ability to put down and pick up a course with ease.
There are many similarities between curriculum design aimed at university students and professional members of the workforce interested in upskilling or keeping current. Thinking about your audience is the most important part of understanding these differences.
To wrap up
Designing for students means lots of details and clear instructions; assessments matter more; and the time students devote to your course enables you to build complex projects into the curriculum in support of learning outcomes.
But designing for professional development means designing not for holistic education, but for intermittent or periodic education. It requires simplicity driven by responsive access, because these adult, employed learners have less time, but they already have a high degree of knowledge of the world. They are more self-paced and self-motivated learners, too, which means you can rely on them to follow up, click links, and dig a little deeper.
Do you have tips for understanding curriculum design for different learning contexts? Let me know in the comments!