Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018

Our work at King’s Online is inspired to a significant degree by how online learning can extend access to education by breaking down the restrictive boundaries of time and space to allow our global cohorts of students to incorporate learning into their lives.

So what about those students who are excluded from learning because of the ways in which traditional educational materials/ experiences cater only for those with certain abilities? Surely, to be properly invested in more inclusive education, we must pay attention to how our digital formats and tools increase (or restrict) accessibility?

Today (the 3rd Thursday in May) is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day designed to “get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities” (GAAD website). We at King’s Online are determined to make sure our online materials are accessible for people with different abilities, and we welcome the challenge of GAAD to work harder to improve accessibility.

Figure 1: This sample demonstrates that it’s best to avoid using pea green with soft pink and also sky blue with teal in data visualization, as these hues are not so clearly distinguishable from each other.

What are some of the ways we are already working to make King’s Online learning experiences more accessible?

  1. We have an accessibility working group which meets to discuss new research on accessibility and how to make our resources more accessible, and to train and encourage the whole team in accessible practice.
  2. Our chosen development tool, Adapt, has a variety of features that encourage the accessible design of online learning. This includes fields in which one can add “alt” text — textual descriptions of images that are read aloud by screenreader technologies — to ensure that visually-impaired users can access graphical content.
  3. We are focussing on moving text content out of static images and into the main part of the webpage, so that it can be accessed by screenreaders. This includes increasingly delivering tables in html rather than jpg or other forms. To find out more, visit this WebAIM resource about the structure of html tables and why this is important.
  4. We consider the needs of differently abled users early on in the prototyping stages of our module design. Our UX design and web development team use a variety of tools to test the colours, fonts and structures that will be used for any given programme, before we start development of learning content. One aspect of this is running potential colour palettes through colour-blindness filters. How different colours will appear and compare to colour-blind users is not always obvious for those without visual impairment, so testing is vital. (See Figure 1 above.)

Get involved:

  • You can use Photoshop’s colour-blindness filters by selecting View > Proof setup > Color blindness. Give it a try!
  • What are you doing to increase accessibility? What more should we be doing? Let us know by tweeting @kingsonline. Follow us on Twitter or on Instagram to see how our team members are embracing the call to make online learning more accessible.

 

And now, the end is near…

It’s been a mildly emotional time here at King’s Online Towers.

After many a month of honest, loving toil, two of our key projects and flagship programmes – our MSc in the Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health and our International Corporate & Commercial Law LLM – are almost, almost done and dusted.

Yes indeed, we are happy to relay that the final Ts are currently being crossed and the very last dots are being added to the very last lower-case Js of the final week of the final ‘PNoMH’ module, much to the delight of King’s Online’s psychology project team:

“It’s just wonderful,” remarked a key manager of the highly successful PNoMH project. “It’s been quite the journey!” These sentiments were echoed by one of the talented members of the project’s technical team: “It feels good – a real feeling of satisfaction and completeness!”

To date, some 455 students have accepted places to study the Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health online with King’s College London and it’s world-famous IoPPN, making it the most successful King’s Online course to date. At this very moment 426 learners are studying one of the nineteen available PNoMH modules, and our very first cohort of graduating master’s students will soon be donning their mortarboards and receiving their degrees.

[A small caveat: another optional module for PNoMH – in Child & Adolescent Mental Health – has been confirmed for September ’18 (bringing us to a nice, round twenty), so technically speaking some of our peerless psychology team have not yet seen the last of this box office endeavour – but I won’t tell them if you won’t, readers!]

Similarly contented emotions are felt over in our crack ‘legal team’, as the final fortnight of market-leading online content is slotted into place within the twelfth and final module of the ‘ICCL’ LLM.

Fun fact: So far in 2018, at any one time one will find over 150 Dickson Poon School of Law students studying online – on either the ICCL programme; on its sister course, our International Financial & Commercial Law LLM; or on our fabulous Executive LLM.

One of the team’s key content developers, who has been working for over a year on the project, had this to say: “I’m delighted! Not just because the project is all finished, but because these last weeks’ worth of content are really interesting – lots of interactive tasks and great animations. I really think that this final module is the best one we’ve done so far!”


Bruce Springsteen – not currently a King’s Online student

These are, therefore, as ‘the Boss’ once famously suggested, ‘better days, my friend’. Yet, as the King’s Online Blog wandered around the KO offices, gathering quotes and reactions from happy instructional designers and from project managers in veritable paroxysms of glee, a lone voice, heavy with experience, offered the following monition:

“It’s only the end of these first runs. Soon they’ll be starting all over again, so back to work with you!”

Alas, readers, it seems an eLearning instructor’s work is seldom ever truly done! Back then to the grindstone, to the coalface and to the Trello boards – after all, those difficult second albums are most unlikely to compose themselves!

Creating an authoring tool for Higher Education

When King’s Online was established at the start of 2016, our central aim was to become a UK leader in postgraduate online learning. As our team was to be created basically from scratch, we required the latest technologies to help us meet our lofty ambitions within one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

We needed a modern eLearning authoring tool which offered easy collaboration between our team and which enabled remote-working. We wanted rapid templating features and for our courses to look great on any device; we wanted something which might scale from a team of ten to forty, and which might even be rolled out across an institution of higher learning with almost 5,000 academic staff.

And which authoring tool did we choose? Adapt.

If you look at the authoring tools available, you will notice that most providers market their products chiefly to the corporate sector, and Adapt is no exception here. The Adapt ‘Open Source Project’ was in fact established as a collaborative effort by some of the largest eLearning companies in the UK – companies whose primary business is to sell eLearning content to corporations which require learning solutions as part of their staff training.

The corporate learner and the student, however, are two very different beasts – and when an instructional designer is creating content for a corporate learner he or she will often take the following considerations regarding their learners on board:

  • They require motivation to learn.
    • Most corporate learners are more reluctant to ‘engage’. This is usually down to a combination of the subject matter being rather stale and the fact they are told they ‘must’ do it.
  • Completion needs to be monitored.
    • Indeed, it is often for legal reasons that, for example, compliance learning is a major aspect of corporate eLearning. A company needs to ensure all its staff finish a course to meet its legal obligations.
  • Courses need to be translated.
    • For a multinational corporation with offices around the globe, courses often must to be translated into several different languages to be fully effective.

Authoring tool providers have listened to the needs of their users and create features to address considerations such as these. Gamification features can be applied to their content, to ensure that learners stay more engaged; SCORM and xAPI allow each learner to be tracked for completion, so reports can be created for end of year auditing; multi-language support is now a standard feature in all authoring tools.

However, for students such those studying at King’s College London, features like these are much less relevant. Our students have ‘opted into’ study, to learn something which they have perhaps spent years studying before – they do not need to be coerced into learning like some corporate learners. While King’s lecturers might be curious regarding which of their students have engaged with their content, there is less of a need to ensure a student has completed a piece of learning – if they haven’t, after all, it will show up clearly in their final grades! Lastly, English proficiency is required for all King’s courses, so multi-language support isn’t needed here.

While criticisms have been levelled against Moodle, the largest open source LMS – that it is too focused on the needs of educational institutes, for example – when it comes to eLearning authoring tools the reverse seems to be true: The corporate world very much comes first.

For there are, of course, many student needs which are less relevant to corporate learners. King’s Online instructional designers, therefore, always keep the requirements of further education students in mind when creating suitable learning experiences for King’s students. And thanks to the open, plugin-based hierarchy of Adapt, King’s Online have been able to create new features to address these student-centric considerations:

  • Students want to annotate: They need to be able not only to ‘take in’ information, but also to draw and note down their own conclusions ‘on the page’ – extending their knowledge and understanding still further.
    • To enable students to annotate content in this way, we created the Print page and My Notes. Print converts an Adapt course into a printer-friendly PDF document, which students can print out and mark up as needed; My Notes causes a notepad to pop up, onto which students can copy text from the course directly. This text is accessible later on in the LMS, and links back to the place in the course the quote/note came from.
  • They want to discuss their ideas: It is important that students have avenues to discuss and share new ideas with their peers, so that they might gain a better, more rounded understanding of the subject.
    • To facilitate student discussion we’ve created the Social extension. This extension adds a Facebook-style commenting system into Adapt which allows for conversations in context, similar to that of a MOOC platform.

Additionally, we at King’s Online have re-imagined what course navigation can look like in Adapt by creating the Contents extension. This extension lists all the pages of the course in an accordion running along the side of the screen, which can be expanded to jump directly to any component in the course. As the student scrolls down the page, the component in view is also highlighted in the Contents, so he or she knows how much progress they have made. What is more, since content is no longer ‘mandatory’ in nature, the student always has freedom to explore the materials at his or her own pace.

We at King’s Online want our future developments to be driven by direct feedback from our students. We have therefore implemented Google Analytics tracking into our latest extensions so we can track how often our students use these new features. We are also going to run user group sessions with on-campus students: By testing our new plugins with these students, in-person, we can ensure that that which we have created is effective, and gather feedback on what additional features might be included in future courses.

Being part of an open source community has meant that we have benefited greatly from the core platform and plugins developed by other companies and organisations, and accordingly we are very keen to share our own work. Our team is already one of the most frequent publishers of Adapt plugins, and in the next few months we will make the new plugins listed above fully open source. We will also look to share the results of our Adapt course tests on on-campus students.

King’s Online are, in short, dedicated to working with the Adapt community to create the best learning platforms – both for the corporate learner and for the higher education student.

 

This blog post was the basis of a talk given by Simon Date, Web Developer at King’s Online, at the Dev.ac.uk Conference on the 15th to 16th of February, 2018.

Digital Storytelling at King’s Online

Late last year here at King’s Online, a number of team members took part in a Digital Storytelling project, as part of a thesis study carried out by one of our top team of instructional designers.

The central idea was for participants to create a video story about themselves/their career/their personal journey and share it with the wider team. After all, research shows that sharing stories and building familiarity among team members can have positive effects on team dynamics and relationships.

How did it go?

The project proved a compelling and rewarding experience for all involved. Some participants shared arresting stories about how they arrived here at King’s Online, while others spoke about a particular, personal experience which contributed significantly to their career path, or their overall sense-of-self.

All participants reported that they found creating their story a genuinely positive experience, as they were afforded the chance to reflect on themselves and their roles/pathways in brand new ways. What is more, they all found watching their colleagues’ stories extremely beneficial.

Each digital story was creative and unique in its own way, showing a ‘new side’ to each participant. All reported that they now knew a good deal more about each other and had developed a deeper sense of empathy for their teammates.

In fact, many said that they would love if everyone on the wider King’s Online team followed their lead, so we might learn still more about all our KO colleagues. It was also suggested that others in the King’s College London community should try creating their own digital stories, as a way to build connections and relationships between departments.

An example ‘story’

A great illustration of a top-quality King’s Online digital story comes from Dan, the head of our audio/visual team. In his engaging, entertaining video he expands on what lead him to film-making, as well as on his many adventures around the world.

Click here to watch the full video.

Dan's digital story (screengrab)

Other examples of King’s Online Digital Stories 

Digital stories screenshots

Clockwise from far left:

  • Moia, a King’s Online ID (and co-author of this post), spoke of her twin loves of music and education, and the choices one must make in one’s professional life.
  • Duncan, our Head of Operations, created a video focused on his long-held passion for sport, and the office-based lessons one can take from a sporting team dynamic.
  • Tom, another experienced King’s Online ID, put together a really interesting piece on moving from traditional teaching to professional pastures new.
  • Hannah, one of our key team of project managers, described her experience of working in foreign climes (India especially) and the lessons she learned there.
  • Louise, our Instructional Technology Manager, created a digital story focused on taking risks in life – an impulsive move from Australia to the UK, for example.

A Yule Blog

Playing to our strengths…then playing pretty strongly!

As the year draws to a festive close and a very merry Christmastime tiptoes up upon us, some may find themselves in a reflective, contemplative place: ‘How’, they may ask themselves, ‘has the past year gone?’ What’s gone well and what…might’ve been done a little differently? What shall we change for next year and what shall we build upon, to match and surpass our myriad achievements-to-date?’

Latching onto these somewhat navel-gazing and certainly overwritten sentiments, rife, at least, within the King’s Online Blog, this December the KO leadership team forcibly lashed a team away-day onto our annual end-of-year extravaganza; pairing an enlightening and engaging ‘Gallup Strengths-Finder’ morning with an entertaining and…shall we say…‘lively’ Christmas lunch. This all took place at the excellent Wallacespace buildings, right at the heart of London’s fashionable Covent Garden.

As a team, it turns out that we’re a particularly strategic bunch, outscoring lawyers, consultants and other university teams in this regard by a country mile. ‘Execution’ and ‘relationship building’ skills are also relatively well spread out throughout the different groups within King’s Online. ‘Influencing’, however, was an area we shied away from a little – explaining, perhaps, why this blog is yet to go massively ‘viral’.

Firstly, individuals within the wider team were randomly paired up, and ‘top five’ strengths were compared and contrasted. Then our functional/leadership teams were brought together, to highlight particular areas of strength within each group – as well as those areas where capabilities might be lacking (which must, of course, also be highlighted, even at Christmas).

Lastly, the rule was run over the team as a whole, before we were released downstairs for a wonderful lunch and much-needed drinks of a sparkling nature. Gifts of markedly varying quality were exchanged to various amounts of excitement, and much merry was generally made.

Janek Secret Santa

Sometimes, ’tis better to give than to receive…

Tom Secret Santaespecially at a King’s Online secret Santa!

Assorted arenas of libation were then frequented and…and now one’s memory gets a wee bit hazier, details slipping from one’s mind like gravy through the prongs of a well-laden fork. Fortunately, the lessons learned from our Strengths-Finder training will be notably more permanent, and will perhaps shape King’s Online’s strategies and approaches throughout what should be a fantastic and exciting 2018.

And now, what is there to do but wish you all a very merry Christmas and an equally happy new year! We’ll see you all in 2018, no doubt with more tip-top behind-the-scenes ed-tech insight and gossip, more overlong and over adverb-ed sentences, and (hopefully) more very good news from King’s Online towers! Feliz Navidad!

The King’s Online Blog

Tom Christmas

 

King’s Online & ‘agile working’

Both for expanding units such as King’s Online, and for the humble spider crab of recent Blue Planet II fame, sometimes physical ‘growth’ can prove a little bit tricky…

BBC crabsHot-desking spider crabs: almost as numerous as tech start-ups

 While swiftly developing start-ups seldom need to resort to massing together on the ocean floor, shedding their tight, spiked shells while avoiding giant stingrays, growth in size without corresponding growth in space can present comparable, if less briny, difficulties. Market-leading online courses, for example, cannot be created without real-world infrastructure – yet what does one do when one’s team is expanding ‘too quickly’?

To seek out innovative solutions to this happy problem, the whole King’s Online team congregated recently at Bush House, to attend an invaluable ‘agile working workshop’. Here, experienced change managers – fresh from working on successful projects right across King’s College London – organised group discussions and shared insights from numerous different sectors, all of which had faced similar space-related challenges.

‘Flexible or agile working’ as a concept has moved from industry to industry and sector to sector over the past years, and it was great to learn of the various methodologies and protocols adopted by a medley of organisations. Even government offices and public sector bodies – not always the most flexible-minded of groups – are looking to lead the way here! Be it through remote working, hot-desking, or technology-based solutions, teams, companies and organisations all over the world are becoming more flexible in their working patterns.

To that end, as a collective we have pulled together a whole host of our own ‘King’s Online’ protocols, to help us navigate the upcoming challenges of 2018 and ensure that next year is even more successful than the last. A quartet of ‘champions’ have been appointed to help implement these new ideas, and new and fabulous equipment will be shipping its way across to the team to help make these agile working dreams a reality! With mutual trust and our usual professionalism very much central to these new endeavors, we at King’s Online are quite certain that what once were seen as difficult challenges will turn out to be excellent opportunities!

George & Moia hard at workSome flexible working at its most agile in the King’s Online office

 

High fives all round! 500+ online students, 5 King’s Faculties

After 18 months and 10 intakes, King’s College London and King’s Online recently reached a significant milestone, with the 500th acceptance of an offer to study on a King’s online managed programme.

avec 500s

To have reached over 500 students in such a short period of time is testament to the appetite for innovation in our Faculties at King’s, and the exceptional progress made by King’s Online as a unit. By bringing together skilled instructional designers with leading academics, we are helping to transform education here at King’s College London, and are opening up access to postgraduate study to a wider audience. As you can see from the chart below, growth has been swift and steady, with only the occasional bump and slowdown along the way:

Graph

The IoPPN’s online MSc in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health continues to enjoy great success, with over 350 students now accepted onto the course; while the Dickson Poon School of Law’s online LLM programmes are also growing steadily. Student feedback and retention has been excellent across the board – testament to the dedication of the King’s delivery teams to an exceptional student experience – and we expect to have our first master’s graduates receive their degrees July 2018.

Building on our success in delivering online healthcare education, King’s Online are particularly proud to launch King’s’ latest fully managed online programme, Public Health MSc. Also available as a PG Dip/PG Cert, this exciting programme began teaching its first cohort this week. For more information on this thought-provoking online master’s, please do check out the programme prospectus on the King’s Online website.

So what next for King’s Online? Well, our online offering continues to grow at pace, with our MSc Global Finance & Banking – the first online programme from King’s Business School – launched for marketing in September, and an International Affairs MA now approved for development. As more Faculties commit to online education, we will surely see online student numbers grow even further and even faster, all the while supported by the dedicated team here at King’s Online.

Educating in new realities

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality have received quite a lot of press over the last couple of years – and not just here in the King’s Online Blog! As computer processing power and other necessary technologies have advanced, finally these exciting fields are truly able to come into their stride.

What is especially interesting for us at King’s Online is how these technologies will impact the sphere of education and, in particular, what uses they might have in enhancing the online learning experience.

Studies demonstrate that stronger memories are created when the brain is fooled into thinking it is in a 3D environment, rather than looking at a 2D screen. Getting a wee bit technical for a moment, this sense of ‘presence’ triggers an emotional response that causes the amygdala to modulate the storage of memories in the hippocampus.

Anyhow…a few years back our Senior Video Producer, Dan Childs, penned an article on 3D films and memory. While researching this piece, he contacted neuroscientist Dr Larry Cahill from UC Irvine for his take on this fascinating topic:

“It is certainly the case that emotional arousal tends to produce stronger, longer-lasting memories. And, we have some good ideas as to why that happens in the brain. I have no idea whether 3D movies are more emotionally engaging than are standard movies, but if they are, they probably activate the brain’s emotional memory circuitry more than would standard movies. The answer involves the relationship between emotional arousal, memory, and the body’s stress hormone or adrenaline response. In high school biology classes, many people learn about the fight-or-flight syndrome. It is possible that this same fight-or-flight syndrome that helped Neanderthal Man escape from the sabre-toothed tiger also helped him remember the incident better. Therefore, he could use it better the next time.”

So it seems that VR and AR, through the strengthened emotional responses they can generate, could help form stronger memories. This has the potential to be notably beneficial for learners – though, of course, until the hardware necessary for high end VR becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, it will not be possible to include such experiences in affordable online courses. The only option which currently offers a broad enough reach Google Cardboard – which, while interesting, is unlikely ever to be described as ‘high end’…

*

Keen to experience the educational potential of this exciting technology for themselves, our ground-breaking video team attended the VR World conference at Kensington Olympia. They were not entirely sure what to expect, but were looking forward to trying out some of the most cutting-edge tech and seeing what elements, if any, might be integrated into what we do here at King’s Online.

One of the most memorable talks they attended was by Pearson’s Global Director of Immersive Learning, Mark Christian. Pearson are, for now, targeting just the lower end of the spectrum, and are attempting to be device-agnostic in order to make their content as accessible as possible. To this end, they are currently producing 2-3 minute experiences or installations.

1

Mark stated that an impressive number of students (some 3.5 million) would be using Pearson VR next year. It also became clear to the team that, as the technology matures, Pearson would be focusing very much on augmented reality, and that they saw collaborative AR as the future of classroom learning.

Mark also showed off some impressive mixed reality medical training examples, with interactive holographic patients overlaid in real world environments. This will enable any student, anywhere in the world to get practice interacting with patients presenting different disease symptoms, using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology.

2

Wandering around the various exhibits at VR world, the team were most impressed by the haptic interface by Generic Robotics. Dan was invited to sit down at a desk and insert his right thumb and index finger into two harnesses attached to two small robotic arms. When he put on the VR headset he could see that he was sitting at a table with a tray of objects in front of him. He picked up a pool ball and could immediately feel the weight and hardness of it in his hand. It is amazing what a difference the sense of touch can make to one’s feeling of presence. It was not long until he was completely immersed and playing a virtual game of Jenga as if each brick were real.

And wouldn’t you just know it, but General Robotics is already working with King’s College London – with King’s Dental Institute to be precise, suppling students with virtual, haptically-enhanced practice suites! The AR/VR revolution is, it turns out, already at our doorstep here at King’s Online, and we – and our video/tech teams in particular – could not be more excited by the prospect.

3

King’s Online & the ‘Ultimatum Game’

Gamification and its equivalents have been popular in the edtech/instructional design space for a little while now. We at King’s Online, never liking to be behind the curve, have, accordingly, been introducing gaming concepts into our online modules for some time – and a very fine example of this was our use of the classic ‘ultimatum game’ in our work with the Dickson Poon School of Law.

Ultimatum

What, pray tell, is an ‘ultimatum game’?

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the premise of this game is that a player is given £10 to share with another individual. He or she can choose how to split this money however he or she chooses – however, the other individual must accept this offer if both players are to keep any money at all: If the other player rejects the offer, neither player gets anything.

So, therefore, if Player A offers Player B £3, B can either accept the £3, thereby giving Player A £7; or Player B can refuse the offer and have both players gain nothing. Pairs of players are only matched a single time in a given game, so no reciprocity should be possible.

The ‘offering’ players want to maximize the amount of total money they earn – so, when playing optimally, they will attempt to offer the lowest amount they can, without making an offer so ‘offensively low’ that it is refused. The player who has gained the largest amount of cash by the end of the game ‘wins’.

So what’s so different about your version?

Ours, firstly, is a digital version of this longstanding economic experiment – which is often played ‘in person’, rather than remotely and anonymously. What is more, King’s Online’s iteration of this famous formula includes two significant developments: one which we can relay; the other which we cannot. ll players’ responses are recorded using the SCORM API, to report to King’s Online’s learning management system for analyses.

“It allows en masse application and statistical analysis of the results of student performance, both individual and as a collective, through recording results via SCORM.”

Mihael Jeklic, Dickson Poon School of Law (on King’s Online’s ‘Ultimatum Game’)

 

Okay but what’s the ‘point’ of it then?

Well this particular ultimatum game was created for King’s College London’s highly regarded law school and has been used in both on-campus and blended-learning law courses to investigate how students might evaluate their own profit-gain techniques. There was a wish to be able to perform a consistent experiment on all students, online and ‘off-line’, to see how well they might play the game and which individual would perform best overall.

Many of the legal academics King’s Online worked with had performed this game in a face-to-face seminars before, yet data had always been skewed, necessarily, by the ‘human element’. Students who were popular with their peers (or who boasted the largest egos) would typically outperform the mean, as they tended to receive more favourable offers. The law school wished to anonymise the players and reiterate to the students that the sole aim of the game was make the maximum amount of ‘money’ possible, rather than curry collegiate favour. They also wanted to be able to track every single action taken by each student, so they could share the results with the individual and reinforce the learning objectives vis-a-vis negotiation skills.

So, just another example where King’s Online met their Faculty partner’s needs with genius technological wizardry and first-class collaboration?

Something like that, yes.

Innovation, innovation, innovation (Part Two)

 

louise

Earlier this month King’s Online’s Instructional Technology Manager, Louise Bennett (@aestivus) spoke on the topic of building innovative teams in digital education at the Open Forum Events (@openforumevents) conference, ‘Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape’.

Here the King’s Online Blog brings you the second half of Louise’s insightful and engaging talk, touching on what we at King’s Online have learned about innovation, its pursuit and its implementation, over the last year or so.

 *

So what have we learned? 

  1. Innovation is expensive 

‘Expense’ can mean a lot of things…and in this case we mean most of them. Innovation, you see, costs money. It also takes time (which also costs money). King’s Online use open-source tools almost exclusively, which means they are ‘free’ to use – free, however, as in puppies, not free as in beer. Yes, the software itself may be free, but everything else is not: someone has to maintain the product, install updates, keep the server running, manage backups, and resolve issues as they arise.

In addition to using and maintaining software, innovation can be expensive in terms of designing and building out one’s new ideas. It takes people out of their normal duties to spend time plotting out how to do new things. Sometimes, there are things we would love to create which, quite simply, aren’t possible based on the time and resource we have available – an inevitable part of the innovation cycle, alas.

  1. Innovation is exciting 

One of the wonderful things about King’s Online’s focus on innovation is that everyone is excited to be involved in the process, with ideas for new developments and projects coming from all across the team. This too, of course, can be a balancing act: We don’t want our team tied down by the structures currently available; yet we can’t have them designing all their work based on tools and capabilities that don’t, in fact, exist (at least, not yet).

One thing we’ve had to work on is building a structure and workflow for new innovation requests. Ideas need to go through an approval process: Are they actually worth pursing (based on timelines, costs and ultimate benefits)? They will, after all, need to be fully scoped out before they go into development. It’s very easy to get over-excited about new ideas and rush them into development without stopping to think about what is needed. Therefore, while still great fun, innovation needs to be managed systematically. 

  1. Recruiting non-traditional talent can be difficult

When King’s Online first started, we had a team that looked somewhat traditional: instructional designers, learning technologists and multimedia designers/developers. Eighteen months on, we still have a lot of instructional designers, but we have only one learning technologist and our multimedia has undergone some big changes. We also have a web developer, who writes code for us, and several web designers, who design UX and UI.

Instead of learning technologists, we’re now recruiting for a role that has been difficult for us to quantify: one part graphic/PowerPoint design, one part traditional content development, one part…well, everything.

It can, therefore, require a good deal of work to recruit on several different levels. Our content developers are often younger, relatively new graduates, most with a graphic design background. But we need more than graphic design – it takes an all-rounder, and finding them, and bringing them in to e-learning can be difficult. The same is true of web design/web development roles: these individuals potentially have a lot more experience, but most gain that experience in fields other than e-learning. How can we advertise in a way that encourages people to give a new industry a chance? I don’t have any obvious answers for this, but we’ve been very lucky in finding the people we have! 

  1. Testing and review

It’s very easy to get excited about prototypes and rush them into production before actually making sure that they work exactly as they need to. Several times, we’ve had to roll out last-minute fixes to things to make them function properly – this is clearly not the way we really wish to work! Building testing into the process is, therefore, absolutely imperative. Nothing should ever be released without going through a multi-stage QA process. (Something we have yet to put into practice, but look to do in the future, is actual user-testing. One day!) 

  1. Every project is different 

We’ve built at least four different workflows in the past eighteen months, and the sad truth is that even the latest version – which is comprehensive and well-designed, building upon all previous iterations – is not perfect for working with all our stakeholders. Each of our projects involves different faculties (or individuals within faculties), and the relationships are different every time. It is up to us to adjust to get the best out of our academics (within reason). It turns out that being innovative also means being flexible, too!

 

 

A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of wonderful online programmes!