Why Would a Software Company Design Courses?

Written by

Christian Shockley

on November 14, 2018

Pathwright is not a software company. We're an education company. That might seem like an odd statement; we're known for a software product, after all. But if the internet crashed tomorrow, I like to think that Pathwright would still exist. We would still spend our days dreaming up and designing tools to give teachers superpowers.

Learning—whether offline or online—has always had the same enemy: distraction. And teachers have always had the same task: to fight distraction with good design. That's more true in the brave new world of the internet than ever (who hasn't gone down a wikipedia rabbit trail or found themselves on Netflix instead of MasterClass?).

Learning has always had the same enemy: distraction.

With many former and current educators on our team, our goal is to rethink education in an online context. That's why building a software product isn't all we do. For the past seven years, we've been honing our skills as course designers. We've helped educators turn bundles of writing, videos, questions, and projects into engaging, transformative learning experiences. We call this work Learning Experience (LX) Design.

Because Learning Experience (LX) Design is a relatively new term, I thought I'd take you through each step of our design process, highlighting a few partners we've worked with over the past few years along the way.

Plan Experiences for Real Learners

Our LX team starts every design project by getting to know learners. We define their aspirations, challenges, and situation, so we can tailor a learning experience to them.

When Princeton Theological Seminary approached us about reimagining their Certificate in Theology & Ministry, we took a day and a half to discover exactly who Princeton was trying to teach. That allowed us to dream up the most effective way to reach them.

Through an exercise that we call "Learner Profiles," we catalogued the particular challenges that faced Princeton's distance learning students. Then, we used what we call a Blueprint to map a plan for a more modular program design.

This planning process led us to design (more about this in the next section) a new kind of online course for Princeton. Instead of listening to hour-long lectures, learners dipped in and out of lecture segments, active readings, and discussions with classmates.

This "lean-forward" approach kept remote learners always on the edge of their seats. We discovered this because we started with a plan.

Design Active, Engaging Paths

When we have a plan in place, we test it with prototypes. Our team uses a partner's existing content to build a prototype that we test with real teachers and learners.

Synergy Performance Psychology has spent years leading the way in sports and organizational psychology. Recently, they approached our LX team about taking their organizational leadership training to new heights. Our team designed an interactive learning path out of their static research documents.

. . . technology plus information doesn't necessarily equal learning.

Through our design prototype, we discovered that we could increase engagement through a personal introduction from the researchers themselves. So we wrote and supervised short video introductions for each lesson in Synergy's course.

The result was high-quality research in an engaging, actionable, personal learning path.

Synergy will soon launch their training to over 3,000 learners.

Build Beautiful Paths Quickly

It's probably no surprise that our team can build paths in Pathwright really, really quickly. Once, when a partner was in a pinch and needed changes made quickly to a course over the weekend, we even built and edited over 100 learning steps on an iPhone . . . on an airplane . . . with airplane wifi. We're not messing around.

Here's another example—one of our favorite partnerships. For the past two years, our LX team has worked closely with Reach Out & Read Carolinas to build courses together.

We act as their Path Building team. To ensure every course reaches learners in tip-top shape, Reach Out & Read Carolinas sends their paths to our team. We quickly load their PDF based research into Pathwright, converting it into interactive Blocks along the way and adding discussion questions to better engage their community.

Reach Out & Read has more time to stay focused on being experts in child literacy because we can quickly build engaging, interactive paths for them.

Why We Design Courses

We design courses because technology plus information doesn't necessarily equal learning. In fact, that combo often equals distraction. In each of the cases above, our LX team's mission was to eliminate distraction so learners could be immersed in the learning experience. After all, that's when transformative learning takes place.

The more complex and abundant your learning material is, the more it requires design. And the more distractions at your learners' fingertips—from Facebook to french bulldogs playing with balloons—the more they'll benefit from a planned, designed, and beautifully executed learning experience.

To get a demo and quote from our LX team, visit us here.

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