Jon Aleckson, CEO of Web Courseworks, follows a no-fear philosophy that challenges his teammates to take risks, try new approaches and fail forward. He has maintained hands-on involvement concerning the creation of innovative education technology to assist online learners. This has meant working with a team of experts to design and develop software that makes it easy for organizations to produce online training content, engage learners in their training and track their progress via a “learning management system” (LMS).
Jon is free with his insights and knowledge and has personally mentored numerous individuals in his decades in the field, including people who now work for major brands, including Amazon and TaxJar. He likes to over-challenge rookie teammates to encourage them to push against their self-imposed limitations and boundaries. Key to his inspiring techniques is a personal demonstration of boundless energy and enthusiasm to get product delivered. It is contagious and it leads to continuous growth of other individuals — and of company revenue.
According to Jon, online learning works best when it’s immersive, when people have the opportunity to solve real-life challenges. How can a company develop learning experiences that emulate authentic problems? That’s the question Jon tackled as a doctoral student at the University of WisconsinMadison in 2010. He developed a “micro-collaboration” model, in which a small team of experts works to create “learning objects.” Each member of that team has unique skills, and the team must perform a balancing act, in which they both teach and learn from one another.
Web Courseworks was launched initially to provide national professional associations with the tools and know-how to operate their continuing education businesses online. Communities of practice have previously relied on face-to-face conferences and workshops to share knowledge, best practices and new techniques. CourseStage, the LMS produced by Web Courseworks, offers the online learning infrastructure that enables associations to deliver that training in digital formats and online. The company’s customers use their own members’ expertise to create custom learning content for distribution to their membership. The LMS allows for continuing education credit allocation, certificate issuance, tracking of mandated compliance training and set-up of a lifelong learning portfolio for each member of the community of practice to personally maintain.
Typically, online learning has resorted to showing PowerPoints, webinars or digital textbooks — what Jon calls “page-turners” — and having people show that they’ve watched the presentation or read the content by taking a multiplechoice test. “We try to use “Bloom’s Taxonomy” to organize our learning. That means constructing a series of activities that are scaffolded in terms of difficulty,” says Jon. “We start with basics — comprehension of facts — which involves memorization. Then the learning moves to ever-higher levels of more sophisticated activities that require the application of knowledge.”
The reason a lot of serious learning organizations, such as associations that need to keep their members up to date with the latest practices, choose CourseStage LMS is because they promote a higher education model of instruction. What’s meant by that? There are several activities learners are required to do. That could include reading a scientific article, reflecting on it, joining a discussion thread, doing an assignment and submitting it. One customer, for example, has used it to allow radiologists to upload ultrasound videos, which are then evaluated by the instructor. “You’re able to do hands-on activities in the clinical environment and then have it graded on how well you did the ultrasound or how well you evaluated it. That’s a higher level of course construction,” says Jon.
Transforming the World
The Bureau of Consular Affairs in the U.S. Department of State provides a service familiar to any of us who have traveled outside of the country: It issues passports. And among the Bureau’s many worries is that its agents will issue passports to the wrong people, such as to a parent trying to take his or her kids out of the country without the other parent knowing.
As a member of the DV United joint venture, Web Courseworks installed the CourseStage LMS and created online modules for training, tracking and certification of a projected 50,000 Passport Acceptance Agents. WCW instructional designers met with subject matter experts and conducted in-depth interviews to ensure a believable, relevant approach to curriculum development. They recommended and built a curriculum that incorporated scenario-based learning, such as the one described. “Scenarios are simulations of reallife situations that employees are likely to encounter in their work. They provide learners with opportunities to apply what they’ve learned to what they’re likely to be doing,” adds Jon. “These scenarios allow learners to explore what happens when they do what they’ve been trained to do—and what pitfalls they may encounter if they don’t. This approach to learning is much more engaging and emotionally resonant and helps learners better retain the course content.”
For the days to come, Web Courseworks is innovating a new learning platform for the Salesforce ecosystem while it continues to build new features to evolve its product to address customer needs. Currently, that means supporting trade associations and medical associations with the ability to create sub portals (multi-tenancy), connect disparate software system via integration connectors and introduce digital badges to recognize lifelong learning, social learning features and gamification.“The beat goes on!” says Jon.