Delivering on DEI and Engagement: Learning Experience Design Is Not Negotiable

Blog Post 17

In his bold article in Inside Higher Ed, Steven Mintz called out several “Hard Truths” that higher education must come to terms with if it has a chance of fulfilling what have largely been empty promises, to equitably serve the needs of students. The vast majority of the truths cited in Mintz’s article center on lack of attention to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically in and around offering engaging forms of instruction that attract and retain students. In a nutshell, intentional learning experience design matters for equity, enrollment, retention and relevance to employability.

There are many aspects of student experience where approaches to equity and engagement need to be intentionally overhauled. But when we peel back the entirety of the experience a student has at a given university, the student expects, very simply, to interact meaningfully with content, faculty and peers to obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve their goals. From initial enrollment through graduation, all of the necessary processes and support should align to progressing this simple idea that the university is moving students to a better place in their lives, on pathways to careers that support their growth and professional development, their financial well being and that of their families, communities and our economy as a whole. 

Aside from taking the students’ tuition, we take something even more precious from them – their time. Are we putting enough into the experience we are providing them in exchange for their most precious resource? Students who enroll are expected to spend 5-10 hours per week on average per course, sometimes more. The vast amount of time in the student experience that impacts student success is actual learning time. Accreditors have required “seat time” and “completion” as key metrics, but there is no requirement for learners to demonstrate that knowledge can be applied, or that they have acquired and honed skills to function in demanding industries. There is also no incentive or accountability on the part of the school to ensure these goals are being met. There is no expectation that instructional methods meet any standard of effectiveness towards this end, and at present the design of curriculum and student experience most assuredly is at the root of the statistical, documented failure of largely minority and first generation learners. 

To forge a pathway forward to ensure that learning time in the learners’ journey fosters useful avenues that deliver on students’ life goals and use their time in a meaningful way, there are some easier wins that should be in focus:

Apply a Backwards Design Mindset to Program Development To Ensure Equity

Understand who your learners are- and what they are trying to achieve. Understand that learners’ achieving their life goals is the key to higher education retaining its value proposition and shift towards incentives that prioritize what students need to walk away with.

Pair faculty with learning design support. Designing learning experiences is a science and most faculty do not have a degree, expertise or even basic training in this skill set. Academic freedom has nothing to do with user experience design, or learning design. Learning designers are not experts on content, but they can make or break the ROI on how we make use of the learners’ most valuable resource, their time, as we map out how they will apply their time throughout their studies.

DEI Should Be Embedded In Design

Apply a DEI Rubric in your pedagogy during the design phase to ensure that all student voices are included. Conduct an audit of existing programs and courses using a DEI Rubric and commit time and resources to updating to a framework that promotes equity.

Skills and Equity are Tightly Integrated

Include employers, industry and basic economic data around skills gaps in your program design and insist on having employers at the table in discussions around the skills needed for todays’ economy. 

Creating pathways towards degrees that are skills focused creates more opportunities for learners to achieve results in small sprints.

Authenticated Skills, opens doors to career establishment and advancement quicker than a degree, and has more currency and relevance. Defining program outcomes with relevant real world application, applying a DEI rubric in the design of the learning and measuring skills offers a track towards equity that current pedagogy is sorely missing.

   

 

Ease Learning has been providing services in higher education for 20 years to promote equity, engagement and learner success through targeted instructional design services.

 

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