Three Archetypes of the Future Post-Secondary Instructor

Since the dawn of electronic media and its role in higher education, we have been hearing about the end of the “sage on the stage” and the emergence of the “guide on the side.”

In the past decade, we have seen many faculty members embrace the transformation of their role: delivering live video chats, facilitating online discussions in the wee hours of the morning and reviewing online student portfolios.  Yet, at the same time, many faculty have also embraced media to capture their “sage on the stage” lectures for the students in their online courses without much additional pedagogical innovation.

As we look into the next decade, we can imagine a set of online instructor archetypes that will provide a more nuanced spectrum of roles and skills originally envisioned for them.  Let’s meet the “celebrity free agent,” the “ever-connected coach” and the “course hacker.”

The Celebrity Free Agent

When Sebastian Thrun left Stanford University to start Udacity, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, many began to wonder aloud whether this would be the end of the traditional faculty-university relationship.  If star-powered faculty at major universities could strike out on their own, or perhaps form partnerships and affiliations with each other, could they begin to erode market share from the traditional institutions?  Time will tell.  Certainly, we can expect more faculty members who have top-ranked credentials and excellent presence on-screen to leverage their expertise into powerful new educational brands. These projects will feature more knowledge dissemination than active instruction, but could easily provide both students and institutions with new options. Evidenced by the 100,000+ students registered for Thrun’s MOOC offered through Udacity, or the recent online course project between Clay Christensen and the University of Phoenix, one can see how the traditional measures of faculty-institutional loyalties will be challenged in the next decade.

The Ever-Connected Coach

For many instructors without the star-power of a Thrun or Christensen, the online environment will provide other opportunities for role differentiation. This archetype is the closest to the notion of the “guide on the side.” Using a wide range of social media and networking tools, the Ever-Connected Coach can shift from disseminator of knowledge to learning coach. They might provide an ongoing stream of articles, tips and insights via Twitter. They could form user communities made up of current and past students and employers on LinkedIn to help students master skills that increase their employability, as well as build networks to help them succeed post-course and post-graduation. Conceivably, these instructors might realize they too could break formal ties with the institution, allowing them a more flexible and mobile lifestyle. The next-generation model is similar to that of StraighterLine, a low-cost online education provider, but focused on providing institutions with an in-demand pool of online instructors (excluding the ready-made course content), organized by discipline and highly trained in a set of online, social and mobile tools that maximize learner engagement and retention. An institution looking to scale a program might pair a celebrity faculty member or MOOC with a team of instructors or coaches from an online provider to add a higher level of engagement.

The Course Hacker

The last and perhaps most speculative role of the future online instructor will be the person who digs deep into the data that will be available from next generation learning systems to target specific learning interventions to specific students — at scale. The idea of the Course Hacker is based on the emerging role of the Growth Hacker at high-growth web businesses. Mining data from web traffic, social media, email campaigns, etc., the Growth Hacker is constantly iterating a web product or marketing campaign to seek rapid growth in users or revenue. Adapted to online education, the Course Hacker would be a faculty member with strong technical and statistical skills who would study data about which course assets were being used and by whom, which students worked more quickly or slowly, which questions caused the most problems on a quiz, who were the most socially active students in the course, who were the lurkers but getting high marks, etc.  Armed with those deep insights, they would be continually adapting course content, providing support and remedial help to targeted students, creating incentives to motivate people past critical blocks in the course, etc.

In the coming decade, faculty will have a range of tools to make content more accessible and engaging, better platforms and systems to connect with learners (and connect learners to each other and the broader world) and more data than they ever imagined about how students learn. While some may choose to further specialize with respect to how they teach online — going deep — many will incorporate some aspects of each of these archetypes and become even more effective online instructors, ever-seeking to improve learning outcomes.

Guest Post on The Evolllution


Brand Consistency Across Social Media Is No Easy Task

eCornell recently launched a free online course focused on training hospitality professionals in the new media marketing skills needed for professional success. In Marketing the Hospitality Brand through New Media: Social, Mobile & Search, one of the key topics we talk about is managing a brand in today’s marketing environment.

Communicating the company brand across channels has always been a challenge, even before new media came onto the scene. Now it takes even more of a disciplined, concerted effort to create “one voice” for the brand. No matter the medium or venue, you want the consumer to take away a clear understanding of what experience they’re going to have with your brand.

As a hospitality marketer, you also want to make sure not to create marketing “silos” or messages that are so distinct that they are disconnected from all others. To do so would be to create confusion in the eyes of the consumer about what your brand means and what it stands for.

Add to that equation that an increased number of media channels are outside of the marketer’s control (for example, online travel agencies and review sites). It was hard enough managing the brand voice across traditional channels that were essentially marketer-driven, but now with consumer-generated media, the consumer very much influences the brand.

That doesn’t mean that that influence can’t be managed or shouldn’t be managed. This means across the company’s Facebook presence, for example, or in responding to TripAdvisor posts, or in Twitter feeds or whatever other social media or mobile media channels are used, that brand voice still has to be consistent.

Adding to the complexity is that social media strategists within the organization may not be working inside the silo that is the brand management team. The way in which they would communicate with customers through social media still has to convey the brand. It still has to use the same kind of language and symbolism.

In short, this makes the management of that communications task all the more complex but also all the more necessary, since this is a two-way dialogue between the brand and the customer.


The Evolving Online Course: Can a Course Get Smarter As It Ages?

Much has been written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their potential to change how people access course content, and discussions abound on how faculty might change their style of teaching and how learning might become more personalized. These questions are an extension of the ongoing dialogue related to the potential opportunities afforded by online education.

One of the untapped areas of potential for schools, faculty and students is how to best take advantage of the digital assets created during the development and delivery of online courses. If you begin to think “outside the box” of the traditional course, or even the traditional online course, you quickly identify a variety of potential issues with how we use, re-use and re-combine these digital assets, which could lie at the heart of a future transformation of the course.

What is a course and who owns it?

Faculty members have traditionally been good curators of content, aligning readings and guest speakers with their own lecture topics to create a unified course. The faculty member regularly updates lecture content, adapts new reading lists and chooses new textbooks as new material becomes available.

In the digital environment, the faculty member now has a much broader menu of options for course content, increasingly supported by the learning management system being used by his or her institution, which makes it easier to integrate, link and embed third-party content into the course. Some of these options take the more traditional form (such as e-textbooks and journal articles) while others include online assets such as blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. Over the past several years, faculty members have had access to content from various open educational resource repositories, as well as YouTube or iTunesU videos. Added to this list now are MOOCs, which could serve as rich course material sources or pre-requisites, depending on the platform being used. Lastly, the new format for online courses has led to an explosion of student-generated content. Student discussion posts, blogs, tweets, etc. from prior courses could also become a rich set of new content.

For administrators, the questions will arise:

  • “Where does the definition of what counts as course material stop and start?”
  • “What ownership does the faculty member have over the course, its content and its design?”
  • “How does this new world of aggregation change how we think about stipends and other compensation for course development?”

New opportunities for aggregation and social sharing

Indeed, some of these issues related to IP ownership, rights and access have been part of the discussion for many years. And, certainly, the creation of a fully digital course is nothing new in some circles. But where it gets really interesting is when you factor in the ability to aggregate the student-generated and socially-shared content of an online course.

One of the unique characteristics of an online course, compared with a classroom course, is the digital footprint created by the students and the faculty member. At eCornell, where we typically offer short courses (two to four weeks long), each session is still populated with hundreds of unique discussion posts and dozens of student-created projects, papers and other assignments by the end of the course. Recent attention and focus has been turned to the field of learning analytics and tools like Knewton that can help faculty identify students in need, and offer more targeted and personalized content based on the aggregation of data on the student’s progress in the course. While interesting in its own right, I think there is another, more interesting use of student data.

When we move beyond the binary distinctions of faculty member and student, and instead look at everyone as having the role of a contributor to the learning experience, you can ask new questions. What if you could systematically capture, tag, anonymize, analyze and aggregate the various types of student contributions to an online course, such as discussion posts, blog posts, tweets, projects and assignments? The result could be a new set of course assets, based entirely on the insights, wisdom and questions of students. In professional programs, you could create “Best Practices” or new types of Case Studies that draw on the real-world experiences of those in the class. As enrollments in a particular course grow (through a MOOC, for example), or as you aggregate contributions from multiple sessions of a course, you have the opportunity for a true “wisdom of crowds” type of learning experience.

In essence, what if a course could actually get “smarter” in each successive running, not solely based on the updates of the faculty member, but based on the knowledge, insights and experience of prior students? Imagine a course with new assets that could reflect recent trends drawn from the diversity of its students. This could could enable the construction of new knowledge in a way that is possible but may not be happening in a systemic way.

Of course, there are questions

Do the students have to explicitly consent to the use of their contributed materials in this way? What types of tools do we need to aggregate and analyze this unstructured “big data”? How should faculty members adapt their own teaching and content to best leverage this student-generated content? Are they comfortable with this latest evolutionary step, which turns them from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”? Do institutions see this type of learning as a competitive advantage or disruptive threat?

With so much hype about the disruptive potential of video-captured lectures (arguably a significantly old technology) and the transformative effects of blending digital content with human-powered learning (a not-so-recent development), I suggest we turn our attention to figuring out how to do things in the online environment that take advantage of its unique ability to capture learning that truly reflects the collective knowledge of the learning community.

Guest Post on The Evolllution


5 Ways Technology Will Impact Higher Ed in 2013

2012 was a transformative year in education.   Between the introduction of the MOOC (the ‘Massive Open Online Course’), and the explosive growth in the number of online offerings, all eyes were on higher ed. In the past twelve months, students were increasingly able to learn from leading faculty at elite institutions beyond the four walls of their classrooms, and soon, professors will be collaborating across universities to collectively create and distribute for-credit curriculum for an online semester.  New high growth players entered the online education marketplace, and universities began to align around interactive platforms.  As online certificate programs became more robust and hyper-targeted towards professional development, more and more students looked to gain these credentials as a differentiator in the work force.

After such a dynamic year, the discussion naturally turns to what the higher education environment of 2013 will look like and to what extent it will be impacted by technology.

Based on what we’re seeing at eCornell and in the wider online education eco-system, here are a few predictions for what can be expected in the coming twelve months.

1. Growth in Online Education will be particularly strong In the Top Tier

2013 will be a year of big growth for online education.  However, the growth will not be purely measured in terms of enrollment in online programs.  In fact, over the last two years, enrollment in the for-profit education sector was down and industry giants such as the University of Phoenix announced the closure of some of its facilities.  So where will the growth be?  In 2013 we expect to see a concentration of growth in top tier universities.  Over the last two years, the number of top-tier Universities with at least some online activity has more than doubled, in large part due to MOOCs.  That said, the availability of other credit and non-credit programming from highly selective schools has also increased significantly.   This is something that is on track to continue in 2013, as these late-adopting schools move online.

2. Expect to See More Innovation Around “Flipping the Classroom”

Gone are the days when students need to pile into large auditorium just to hear a lecture.  By leveraging online platforms, lectures can now be pre-recorded and core content accessed by students any time, anywhere, and as many times as they need.  This means that classroom time can instead be used to augment the lecture content, whether through discussion, group exercises or quizzes.  Also, since online platforms provide faculty with learner analytics, faculty now have even greater data on who is learning, what they are learning and how. So, the design of the classroom course is now ripe for innovation.  This will create opportunities as universities continue to hone in on the most effective formats for learning in the digital age while they re-think how to better use classroom time and space.

3. Next Year’s Buzz Words are ‘Hybrid Program’

Everyone was talking about the MOOC this past year as the notion of an online course offering with infinite capacity captured the attention and imagination of the education industry. Nevertheless, facts show that MOOC’s still make up a very small portion of courses at most schools and that won’t change in 2013.   Plus, there are still a number of fundamental questions surrounding this model—what will be the cost to sustain MOOCs over time, will these courses count for credit and if and how will they be packaged together into a certificate or degree program? That said,the hybrid model (where part of a program is taught online and part is taught in person) is one that we can expect to see more fully embraced in this coming year.  Faculty will still have the ability to interact with and assess directly their students while still leveraging some of the efficiencies of putting lecture and other course content online.  For adult and working professional students, this model provides even greater flexibility as students can access course material as their schedule permits.   Finally, this allows institutions to experiment with increasing their online programming without fully turning away from their tried and true model.

4. The Race Will Be On For A New Instructional Model.

As lecture content is moved online, instructors will be able to re-think the classroom experience.  A new model for peer-to-peer and peer-to-faculty interaction will need to be created, as this is one of the most fundamental components of classroom learning. There is a huge opportunity for instructors to create a more in-depth learning experience, whether by incorporating real-time discussions with industry experts or building small group experiences online, all of which may allow for more personalization of courses to students’ needs.  The beauty of teaching analytics is that teachers will have real time information on how students learn and can augment future plans accordingly.  While this is a budding area of exploration and one where schools will need to invest in discovery, once they ‘crack the code’, it opens the door to a much more effective as well as potentially more scalable model.

5. Higher Ed Costs May Start to Decrease…But Not Quite Yet.

One of the greatest costs in higher education is faculty.  The notion that faculty can increasingly reach a greater of number of students in their ‘classrooms’ means the per unit cost of teaching a student could start to decrease, but only if you can achieve similar or better learning outcomes, and simply moving lecture content online will not solve the cost problem.  Yet as institutions experiment with the pedagogical formula of what content is delivered online, how peer-to-faculty interact in both the online and “flipped-classroom” environments, and faculty explore new models of assessment, some institutions could potentially find educational models that begin to bend the cost curve. The first step is to continue to nurture faculty across the country to embrace online teaching, and from there we just may see a shift in the business of education.  The introduction of MOOCs in 2012 was an important first step forward in that direction.

Developing Employee Talent with Programs from Globally Recognized Universities

As corporations continue to maintain leaner workforces—choosing to carry larger cash balances over expanding employment—there’s a renewed focus on selecting, retaining and developing talent internally. More attention is being paid to competencies that drive innovation, revenue growth and strategic agility so that companies can sustain growth with smaller payrolls. Despite this attention, many organizations are faced with diminished training resources.

Many globally recognized, highly selective universities are now turning to executive and online education as viable revenue growth channels. The focus is now on creating revenue streams that won’t require costly bricks-and-mortar expansion on campus. Many schools and universities are re-examining their relationships with corporate training and learning departments.

There are several reasons why a corporation might turn to a brand-name university as an educational partner.

Program Visibility

Many companies offer, maintain, and manage more training and education programs than some universities. Companies may offer thousands of courses to their employees—some developed in-house, others purchased from commercial training providers, and still more from nearby colleges.

A company may choose to raise the visibility of one or more programs, depending on specific company objectives . By co-branding with a nationally or globally recognized university, the program immediately draws more attention and gets more buy-in from participants and their sponsors.

Employee Retention and Engagement

While national unemployment rates remain high, there is increasing demand for results-driven leaders, innovators, creative professionals and technical experts. Now companies are re-doubling their efforts to engage and retain talent.

By investing in skill building and career development through a well known university program, the company sends a clear message to the employee: “You are a highly valued team member, and critical to our future success as a company”. In fact, many companies reserve these co-branded programs specifically for high-potential employees who hold the most promise for future performance.

By working with their university partner to offer a certificate or other valued credential, companies are finding new ways to recognize and reward people who invest in their career and contribute to company growth. Some companies are concerned about offering a portable credential that makes the employee more attractive to competitors, but most recognize that the benefits from an engaged and capable talent pool far outweigh any risk of attrition.

Specialized Skills and Research

Finally, employers can clarify the strategic direction of the company and the skills needed to get there through these types of educational partnerships. Working with globally recognized university faculty is important to employees and increases buy-in. When participants know that their training is based on research at top schools in their field or industry, they are more likely to be engaged with the program. Making that connection by aligning theory with everyday practice is when that transfer—that practical application of concepts—can really take place.

Creating Win-Win Partnerships

But such partnerships are not always win-win. Universities need to be flexible in how they deliver programs that meet the needs of these high-profile corporate training programs. There are several areas where universities need to meet emerging demand:

  • Competency-based learning: Organizations align training programs to targeted competency needs of employees, not necessarily traditional academic disciplines. This requires universities to tailor the curriculum, content, assessment tools, and even the program credential so that they align with a company’s specific need.
  • Flexible schedule: Forget semester-length schedules, or even summer-timed course when the faculty members are available. A company-sponsored program will most likely have requirements around start and end dates and different pacing requirements for the curriculum.
  • Customer-centric services: From program management to student support, companies will be looking for their university partner to treat them better than commercial training providers do. The promise of the university’s brand is expected to shine through services as well as content.
  • Volume-based pricing: Universities will be expected to demonstrate how a program can scale if/when demand grows.

The upshot for universities is that these requirements inform research and can create an applied learning loop where faculty members can package and deliver training that’s especially valuable to on-the-ground practitioners.

At the same time, universities who embrace these requirements can find new opportunities to strengthen their own brand while helping companies invest in their talent to position themselves as the most attractive employer in their industry.

What you need to know about new media right now

This article, written by eCornell CEO Christopher Proulx, was originally published in

As the marketing landscape explodes with new media channels, hospitality marketers have an increased number of methods by which to raise the visibility of their brands. Gone are the days of relying solely on static print ads or run-of-the-mill television commercials. Instead, in the world of new media, hotels can reach customers in a more dynamic and engaging way. Finding the ways in which to maximize this opportunity starts with an in-depth understanding of the new media landscape.

Here are the top three things every hotel marketer needs to know right now:

Evolving media brings more opportunity for creativity

As dollars continue to shift away from traditional media to new media channels, there is a world of opportunity for marketers to shine from a creative perspective. By leveraging new media tools, hotels can offer guests a chance to more fully engage with a brand before making a decision to book travel. For example, some hotels provide virtual tours of rooms and unique property features (such as world class pools, water slides, spas). This allows customers to try before they buy in a way that’s much more meaningful than a static marketing piece. Video has also become an integral part of new media marketing as we see premium brands create professional pieces in an effort to convey what a guest might experience during a hotel stay. (The Ritz Carlton does this very well). Because there are now so many new ways to connect with customers, creative elements can go a long way in a new media campaign. Now more than ever, generating creative social media content needs to be built into a hotel’s marketing strategy.

Consistent messaging is key

With the increase in marketing channels comes the increased need for hotels to monitor their marketing message. One major change as it relates to communication is the consumer’s ability to influence the brand. Consumers routinely recommend hotels online, and reviews, both positive and negative are widely accessible online. That means that variation in the way that a hotel is discussed online should both be anticipated and addressed. In addition, the way a hotel is described through social media channels can differ from the rest of the messaging if the social media strategist is not working closely with the brand team. The result? A diluted message about what a customer can expect from a particular hotel experience. Now more than ever, hospitality marketers must be mindful of all marketing communication, including monitoring online reviews and discussion, responding where appropriate, and develop a tight messaging to be used throughout all channels.

The importance of search will continue to grow

Over the last several years, search engine optimization (SEO) has become critical to the hospitality industry. According to a recent Google study, 78 percent of all hotel transactions involved search at some stage of travel selection by the consumer, and 61 percent of people making online hotel transactions were directly referred to a hotel website by a search engine. With the migration fromhorizontal search (i.e looking at options a thousand miles wide but one inch deep) to vertical search (i.e. looking more narrowly at one particular point in the search process), the specific focus on the travel industry and the introduction of social filtering through search, today’s hospitality marketers must understand how to leverage search marketing in order to stay competitive.

The bottom line is this. In the fast-paced world of new media, hospitality marketers must stay informed and nimble. Each day is a new opportunity to reach potential customers in a meaningful way, which is why a deep understanding of new media tools is a must for hospitality marketers.