Benefits of facilitating great discussions in online courses Learners in online courses—whether...
Oppida talks: a product mindset
Hi. Today I want to talk about why we need to shift our mindset to a product mindset when we’re building an online course.
The first thing is that, unlike a face-to-face or synchronous engagement opportunity with learners, you don’t have the opportunity in a fixed online course to be able to respond directly and iterate and kind of go with the flow. So, any teacher knows that when they’re in the classroom they’re often coming in with a plan but they’re also also letting the students direct what’s happening. So when we are going in to move to an online space and we start to design our content, we have to think of the fixed elements and the fixed elements are: the structure, sometimes a lot of the text, the videos and all the assets that we create.
We still have opportunities for those live interactions and that’s what we call our synchronous engagement, but most of the course now actually becomes quite fixed and because of that we have to think of it more like a product. That enables us to create the best team, the most, all of the skills that we need to do that, and also means that we can actually get it finished and produced in the way that it should be.
So, as an example, if you are thinking with a more of a product sense then maybe think of it like a car going down a production line. There is a team that does, you know, creates the wheels; there’s a team that created the plan for the car, you know, designed the car; there’s a team that work on the interior, and it’s a bit like in an online course development team. You have lots of people doing different roles. So there’s learning designers, technologists, graphic designers, illustrators, animators, etc etc, and they all don’t have to be working on exactly the same thing at the same time, but they all have to come together at the end and put the car together. So when we are thinking about our online course development as more of a product, we are able to enable every part, member of the team to be able to do their part to get together at the end and to pull off the course.
In the video, Bianca likens the creation of the fixed components of a course to a factory production line, with different team members producing different parts, each contributing their skills and knowledge, until the whole course is assembled. But an online course is a very different thing from the model T Ford that came rolling off the end of the first production line. What else can we learn by extending the metaphor—what does a product mindset bring to online course creation?
First, with this approach, we understand that the quality of the ‘product’ is derived directly from the quality of the inputs—in this case, a team carefully curated for knowledge and skills, with a clear understanding of the roles played by each team member. At Oppida, we call it our Online Course Development A-Team, and you can read about how we put it together here.
Integrated online course creation
Referring to a product mindset is a way of distinguishing this approach from the more conventional project-based approach—build it then forget about it—or the organisational silo approach—build it and let someone else figure out how to make it digital. A product mindset means an integrated and iterative approach to online course creation.
In writing about setting the stage for digital engagement in universities, former Harvard chief digital officer Perry Hewitt advocated a product mindset, noting that a product:
has an owner with vision, operational responsibility, and awareness of the landscape; may have a roadmap that’s user-driven rather than vendor-driven; and has a lifecycle, which sometimes includes an end-of-life to make way for a new product. (2014)
A product mindset then is one which prioritises value to the user—in the education context, it’s learner-centred, driven by the needs of the student and what they can get out of it. As product management expert Mike Edmonds says, “a product must be designed to solve a core customer need/business problem, then put in front of the people who will use it so that it can iterate and evolve over time.”(2015) Both Hewitt and Edmonds see a product as something that’s iterative, rather than once-and-done. And the education product should come with continuing support: it has a lifecycle with ongoing development.
Finally, a digital education product has to be viable. Agile proponent Julee Everett (2020) defines viable as:
- usable—easy to use and a great user experience;
- valuable—a business has to be able to sell it and profit from it, or it has to serve the mission of a non-profit;
- feasible—the organisation can afford to build it and has the resources to do so, and it’s scalable and sustainable.
Put all of these elements together on your production line, and it won’t be a model T Ford that rolls off at the end—it will be an effective, high quality online course.
Edmonds, Mike. ‘How to launch impactful digital products efficiently’. 2015
Everett, Julie. ‘The Product Mindset Manifesto’. 2020
Hewitt, Perry. ‘Setting the Stage for Digital Engagement: A Five-Step Approach’, Educause Review. 2014