Letters from the field. Volume 1, Number 0.5

Joe Kitterman – CEO 180 Skills

One year ago I attended an education technology – workforce conference called CloseIT. This is one of the premier gatherings of movers and shakers in the edtech and workforce industry. Attendees included prominent workforce professionals, the blue chip foundations, venture capital companies, publishers, and providers of education technology. The conference also presents an opportunity for education technology companies to showcase their latest offerings.

At last year’s event it seemed that the edtech “flavor of the day” was data. Every vendor was presenting products that helped to gather data about students. Learning Management System providers, gaming providers, content providers and others were all promoting their unique ability to track, monitor, evaluate and analyze student behavior and student outcomes.

As I wandered about the exhibit space and listened to the keynote speakers I wondered – what value is education data if the origin of the data, which is the online course, is garbage? How can valid data be collected if the starting point is an online course that consist of a professors notes, some bad bitmap images and a never-ending scroll bar.

My 25 year old daughter is a 4.0 graduate of prestigious private, non-profit college in Indianapolis, Indiana. During her time in there she was required to take several online courses. As a result of this, she now has PTSD when it comes to online learning. Every course she took was nothing more than what I described above. The never-ending scroll bar, endless reading and no simulations or interactivities to keep her engaged. She’s told me several times she will never enroll in an online course again…

So let’s start there in terms of data analysis.

This week I was reading one of my favorite blogs from Ryan Craig at University Ventures. Ryan’s blogs are always spot on and brutally “to the point”. The title of his blog is Sim City and in it he talks about how in the beginning days of online learning there were companies who worked hard to product quality online content that included simulations to engage the student and to ensure completers achieved the required levels of company. Few of these companies survived as the market showed a willingness to pay for anything that was called an online course and the quality of the content seemed of no significance in the marketplace.

So, all of the high-powered, data analytics that are now in the marketplace are grounded on an input that loses most learners by the fourth scroll down the never-ending page.

Great content matters part 2

As most of you know, 180 Skills serves a unique market in the digital learning universe – manufacturing. Trust me when I say we are completely alone in our “edtech” mission to make sure this country maintains its ability to produce complex products.

In the online learning industry we are stepchildren. Other edtech providers look at what we do and slowly and carefully back away as if we are infected with some rare disease. There aren’t many people who fell out of a manufacturing plant and decided to create online education for the most complex of industries.

While the rest of the industry chases finance, coding, soft skills, and finishing school education, (we call it the easy stuff) we have remained steadfast in our mission to move potentially low-skilled, big-hearted, hard-working people into careers with amazing companies that make amazing products we all depend upon.

This is really hard to do

Now teaching the low-skilled, big-hearted, hard-working student technologies and tasks that eclipse many postsecondary topics is hard – really hard. It requires acute attention to how the information is organized and presented to the learner. More importantly it has to engage the learner or they simply won’t finish. Our learners are a tough crowd and far less patient than the typical college student who is willing to endure the endless scrollbar. If they are digging the content they will shut it down and go do something else.

We were very fortunate to have Harley-Davidson Motor Company as one of our early adopter clients. Their motorcycle riding workforce taught us quickly what they did and did not like. With their help we figured out how to reach a tough crowd and make it out of the bar alive so to speak.

Since then we have continued to improve of our learning model placing more and more emphasis on the graphics, the interactivities and the simulations and assessments that ensure 100% entertainment of mastery.

Great content is competency-basd

We also believe that great content is competency-based. Give the student exactly what they need to get the job. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t keep them away from a living wage one second longer and don’t charge them for education they don’t need. Its that simple.

Today our students include homeless folks, disadvantaged high school students, adult learners trying to turn their lives around and attain a high school diploma, high school kids who can’t or won’t go to college, students who went to college and didn’t make it, and plain old adults who need a new opportunity.

We teach these students how to:

  • Build aircraft for The Boeing Company, Honda Aircraft, Spirit Aerosystems and other OEM aircraft manufactures.
  • Program robots and automated systems for automotive Tier Ones and OEM’s.
  • Operate and program multi-axis CNC machines that produce products for every industry imaginable.
  • Make aircraft and commercial products our of advanced composites materials.
  • Inspect metallic parts in bridges, nuclear reactors, buildings and aircraft for defects.

And I’m proud to say we have maintained a 90% completion rate for the past eight years. Let’s see someone do that with bitmap images and scroll bars.

So, until there is a cure for this disease we have contracted that makes us want to create really complicated courseware for a really tough to serve audience, we will continue to evangelize that Great Content Matters, and we will continue to create great education that gives the big-hearted, hard-working person (or anyone else) a chance at a great career with great companies who make great things.

I would love to continue but I have to go to prepare a proposal for online learning that will teach students in twelve countries how to operate a steel producing plant and not blow themselves or the local village up…

Like I said – this is really hard but great content matters.

To learn more about great content please visit our Great Content page: https://www.180skills.com/great-content/