Northern College, with campuses in Timmins, Moosonee, Haileybury and Kirkland Lake, serves an area of over 116,000 square kilometres in Northeastern Ontario. Northern offers 75 full-time, part-time, certificate, diploma, and apprenticeship programs and hundreds of face-to-face, web-based, and correspondence courses, as well as post-secondary and career-entrance preparation programs and academic upgrading to about 1,800 full-time and more than 6,700 part-time and continuing education students.
In order to better serve students in the catchment area, Dean Lessard, Dean of Business and Community Services, brought forward the idea of programs offering students enhanced flexibility, accessibility and personalization, built on concepts such as asynchronous access, content delivered in short, precise formats, accessible design for all students, and open registration. He describes this more flexible teaching and learning approach as better responding to the learning needs and life styles of not only millennial learners, but also working professionals and caregivers.
An environmental scan explored what the proposed program design might look like and how these goals might be achieved. A business model was developed, specifying funding required, project timelines, steps in development and testing, and pedagogical structure. Senior management of the college provided funding for the project to move ahead.
William Durocher, Professor of Business, led the design and development of the Introduction to Business Concepts course, creating a new model for teaching and learning while developing key elements of the course for delivery. The core course curriculum was already approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and offered in face-to-face classes and by distance education at Northern. Professor Durocher lists his guiding principles for the design as: “accessibility, flexibility, and engagement for success”.
The Introduction to Business Concepts course has 12 online levels or modules, offering a consistent look and overall design with special features aligned to appropriate content at each level. The entire course is available to students when they register so they can work through modules at their own speed. The course consists of over 100 learning objects built in microlessons with interactive content.
Key features of the course design include:
- A plain language ‘why’ statement linking the learning objectives of each module to future career needs of students.
- Information offered as ‘micro-content’, presented so each component of a module requires no more than 15 minutes to complete. The content is designed for easy accessibility by all students, emphasizing clarity and consistency. The focus is on key concepts rather than full chapters of information.
- Multimedia resources to best present content, including voice-over slides, interviews, graphs and other visuals, readings, YouTube videos, quizzes, and interactive activities.
- The course can be completed anywhere, anytime using mobile devices and laptop and desktop computers.
- The Introduction to Business Concepts course is part of the online . Professor Durocher developed a case study, built around a fictional company called Alpha Inc., as a metacontext for the program. Each course in the program features elements of the case study relevant to its content; for example, in the marketing course, the case study elements focus on marketing. In Introduction to Business Concepts, one of the modules talks about the influence of managerial values in an organization. Students then chose the values they think best describe them.
- Social learning activities fit into the case study as students gather around a fictional watercooler to discuss issues raised in the course. For example, students discuss the values they chose in the exercise mentioned above and what they mean for the organization. Social activities are in every module of each course in the program as part of the case study. The learning management system (LMS) shows only the most recent activity in the social activities, not the entire thread, so students are engaged and intrigued but not overwhelmed with content.
- A social network is also available so students can add profiles and communicate with professors and peers for support.
- Gamification is a key feature of the Alpha Inc. case study in which students earn points for their activities and engagement. As students go through the courses in the program, they can move up the management ladder of Alpha Inc – intern, full-time employee, manager, director of operations, and CEO. For example, after completing the second Marketing course, a student can become manager of marketing. As well, up to 5% of the final grade can be accumulated through these points. Professor Durocher describes the goal of the program-wide case study as: “encouraging students to think how they might act in the business world rather than within the context of the course”.
- As students reach certain levels of achievement in a course, they are awarded icons that appear on their course page. Over time, these icons fade; consistent with game theory, continued effort is required to renew them.
- Testing is built into the course with brief quizzes throughout the content and longer ones at the end of modules. As well as encouraging ongoing student attention and engagement, this strategy lessens pressure of writing only one exam for assessment.
The Northern Collegeis the platform hosting the Business Fundamentals program, which is the only program developed in this format. The College offers this program through the Northern Training division to domestic students and off-shore, international students.
Benefits and Outcomes
The Introduction to Business Concepts course was pilot tested in February 2018, enrolling about 600 students. Student response was very positive – with students rating the flexibility, self-pacing and innovative design highly. The course is now offered for the first time through Continuing Education, accompanied by research on students and faculty experiences.
The beta test of the design showed 20% of students would, as described by Professor Durocher, binge on the content, which he compared with Netflix binge watching. Often on weekends, they spent considerable time working through and completing modules. The flexible design facilitates this choice of learning time.
Elements of gamification that encourage continued participation and effort toward achieving rewards are part of a strategy expressed by Professor Durocher as “making education addictive.”
Having quizzes and other exercises integrated throughout each course offers students insight into what they have not yet mastered, provides plentiful opportunities for feedback, and helps with prevention of cheating.
Challenges and Enhancements
The introduction of a new model for teaching and learning is disruptive to many aspects of the college, including faculty, administration, and financial practices, and so requires time to build understanding and support. Both internal and external stakeholders are part of the community whose perspectives are important to any change.
The case study was simplified after the beta test as students found the initial version offered too many ambiguous situations that were too challenging for what, for many, is a first course in business.
Dean Lessard characterizes the development and testing of this new model of design and delivery as building capacity and assessing options. Once they analyze the results of the research from the first offering of the course and its impact and potential, Northern College can determine the effectiveness of the model and its possible further deployment.
For Further Information
Dean, Business and Community Studies