Overcoming Challenges Posed by the Rapid Pivot to e-LearningAdd bookmark
For many organizations, shifting to e-learning was an ongoing project before COVID-19. There were tests to be done, formats to consider, analysis to be conducted and ultimately decisions on what comes next to be made. But what COVID-19 has done is force organizations to abandon strategy in the interest of acting swiftly, whether it was to facilitate work from home or provide online coaching and education sessions.
For Junior Achievement (JA) Canada this meant stepping up the pace at which the organization underwent a long planned transformation.
JA Canada is part of JA Worldwide, a global network of non-profit charters dedicated to youth business education program development in the setting of grades 3-12. Their programs are focused on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Courses are taught by volunteers who work in specific industries related to the curriculum.
Over the last couple of years, JA had been working with Deloitte Canada to create a digital transformation plan that included a technology roadmap tying in nine integrated platforms. One of those was a revamped Learning Management System (LMS).
“We weren’t intending to develop and launch it for a couple of years yet, probably 2022 or 2023,” JA Canada’s Vice President of Programs and Charter Services, Karen Gallant said. “But in the summer of 2019, we were informed by our then LMS partner that they were shutting down that part of their business. We decided to work with eThink using a Moodle platform to move forward with our plans and together we developed a new timeline.”
That timeline, however, was upended by the events of the pandemic. With schools closing, volunteers weren’t going into classrooms and thus, the programs weren’t finding their way to the more than 250,000 students who participate in JA Canada programs each year. This meant the LMS needed to be completed quickly so that programs could be launched to meet the requests of parents, teachers and volunteers who were looking for the experience in an online format.
In order to do this, eThink and JA had to assess the immediate needs, first and foremost. The fact is, JA had the content, but it had never been designed with self-directed learning in mind. In the end, building a Wordpress integration so that people could learn about the programs, enroll and access the content with ease became an immediate goal. Within a matter of weeks, a new site was launched with the user experience being aimed at a new variety of users rather than volunteer instructors.
“We needed content immediately to deliver to the end user audience, or the students themselves,” eThink’s Director of Customer Solutions Jeremy Schweitzer said. “So rather than starting from scratch, we decided to take a step back at the content that existed to see what we could repurpose or redesign to meet the needs of that audience quickly. We were already at the user acceptance stage, so a lot of folks at JA had their kids look at the site and give us feedback, so that we could pivot the site to a different audience and get it live.”
Another aspect of the pivot was designing the site to suit a younger audience and in particular, children, who had not been accounted for in the initial design. Colors were brightened and images redesigned to suit those audiences, but it didn’t stop there. As a resource for students in Canada, the site has to exist in both English and French. Where initially, the team had 3 months to make those translations, that period of time was cut down to weeks by tapping into JA’s charter in Quebec.
“We have only one person on our team across Canada that has instructional design experience,” Gallant said. “But we have lots of people who have program delivery experience and know what works for students in the classroom. So we created 11 committees within the charter staff at the national office and we took existing materials be it pdfs, workbooks, videos, powerpoints, etc. and asked what can we take from this material to create digital versions to build a virtual program that is engaging?”
Within two weeks, JA had virtual versions of its four core programs available via two different delivery methods, the first being a version that an instructor could lead students through remotely and another version that was self-guided. The result was tremendous increases in organic users in the months that followed which surpassed what JA even expected.
Now, JA is looking at new possibilities for what comes next. That may include additional engagement opportunities such as badging, micro-credentialing and gamification, but it could also have a significant business impact.
“We’re looking at partnerships with national and international not-for-profit organizations where they host content and we can link to their system right through the LMS so we don’t have to create or maintain that content,” Gallant said. “We’re also looking at expanding our reach. We only reach 7% of Canada’s youth population right now, but this allows us to give access to a greater number of kids.”
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