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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Jim Donohue, Chief Product Officer, Cengage Learning (Part 4)

Posted on Monday, Jan 6th 2014

Jim Donohue: Professors traditionally have known what students are doing. They are able to say to a student, “Oh, you flunked this test. You’ve got to study more.” But we haven’t done a very good job, as an industry, to really tell students where they stand.

So, we’re building a whole suite of analytical tools. Everyone’s all about big data but our goal is to provide outcome information to the student, to say to them, the average person who gets an A in this class knows these concepts by this point in the class. If you don’t know these concepts, this is probably where you’re going to end up. These are the six things that we suggest you study in order to master these concepts.

We were really worried at first because it may discourage a student if they feel they are not going to get an A or a B. The truth is that a lot of students are not A students. A lot of students are C students and they work very hard balancing their personal lives and their work lives to make those Cs. They’re looking for ways to understand what it’s going to take for them to get a C, a B, or an A.

The research is still preliminary but it’s really heartening. Students want to know where they stand. Just like if you’re at work, you want to know where you stand. If you have a hobby, you want to know how good you’re at it and learning is no different. Students, by nature, want to know where they stand, how they’re progressing, how they’re getting better.

We looked at a lot of the theory for gaming and saw a real similarity. I’m not creating games for students but there’s a lot in the way that we are structuring our learning that reflects those levels of accomplishment, going back, starting again, and achieving higher levels of accomplishment as we develop our digital materials.

Sramana Mitra: Basically, if I can synthesize what you said so far, what you are doing is you’re still going to market through the instructors. The instructors are recommending your study material to students but you’re structuring that study material along the lines of some of the game design that has taken hold in the gaming industry and helping them with improving their levels of mastery of the subject and also, providing them skill-gap analysis in the material that you’re selling to them.

Jim Donohue: Right, and I think the really important concept here is outcomes. We are trying to allow professors to measure outcomes, quantifiable outcomes on the efficacy of materials because we want a professor to use our material because it is quantitatively better at helping students master content.

 

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Jim Donohue, Chief Product Officer, Cengage Learning
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