Alternative content for more specialized courses is not easy to find. Courses like driver’s education and nursing programs have few open content options. Seeing an opportunity to generate content which is more specialized and offer institutions a more robust portfolio, teaching veteran Gina Anderson created Luma.
Finding content that focuses on accessibility and individual learning paths isn't always easy for 100-level courses, such as biology and economics. But when you start looking for that type of content for pre-service teachers, driver training, or nursing programs, it becomes nearly impossible. That's why Gina Anderson built Luma, a content platform that helps students learn the way they learn best in more specialized subject areas. Gina talks about individualized learning based on outcomes, as well as how they help schools in their search for low cost, high quality course materials. Welcome to the MBS Direct podcast, where we talk with some of our partners who are doing interesting things with content and education. I'm Carrie Watkins, the Senior Digital Consultant with MBS Direct, and today we are talking with Gina Anderson, the CEO of Luma Learning. Thank you for joining us.
Gina: Thank you.
Carrie: Tell me a little bit about Luma.
Gina: Sure. We started Luma in 2008. The reason for starting Luma was because we were interested in building learning experiences with better learning outcomes. What we see in education a lot is people that will come to the workplace and actually they're not prepared. What we want to do is create courses that really the outcomes, we see better results. We tend to focus on topics that are fundamentally important to society, and we also offer services to companies and institutions that need help building their educational experiences. We primarily focus on online and blended learning.
I've been in the education field for over 20 years as a K-12 teacher, an instructional designer, and a higher education administrator. What I saw in all my years in education is that a lot of education experiences that are created don't take in account all the different learning preferences. Rather, for example, a course may be a video and some discussions, and every student has to engage in that curriculum particularly, and then the outcomes are supposed to be the same for all learners. I taught students at the beginning of my career with severe learning challenges. What I saw was if you can teach a student that has a real challenge tying their shoe, or even speaking, and you can make a difference, it really got me interested in thinking about how you can apply the same strategies for adult learners and all learners in general to really try to truly understand their learning preferences so you can provide to them the best outcomes possible. This is why for me I earned my Doctorate in Instructional Systems Technology and Learning Sciences, because I truly wanted to understand how people learn, and then create courses based in the learning sciences.
Carrie: What was some of the interesting things that you learned about learning preferences as you were doing that research?
Gina: Interestingly enough, what we have found is that different learning cultures have different learning preferences in general. What we do is, I look specifically at authenticity with nursing students. What I've found is that it even differs between nurses in different environments, so the type of training that you would deliver specifically to a nurse that's in practice may be quite different compared to a pre-service nurse because what is authentic, or what is relevant to them at that moment, may be different. For example, when you're looking at multimedia, sometimes what's the preference to watch a video, or is it to read a transcript and print it out? What we found is, it's different depending on the different learning cultures.
What we do now is we have metrics running behind our learning courses, and we collect data to inform our design. When we deliver courses, we're constantly modifying and improving the learning content to really meet those different learning cultures. For example, we have some safety trucking classes that we do, and the drivers, the education and the background, their preferences vary quite differently than, for example, our pre-services nursing classes. The course designs are different, and they're based on those metrics and the type of content that we deliver. It's really helped us because most trainings and courses will deliver the same types of medium and media and content throughout all their courses, and when you look between our courses, it's different, and that's purposeful design.
Carrie: As you mentioned, you have courses for people in automotive and driving, as well as nursing, so you're not hitting some of the basic courses that we run into a lot. You're actually doing a lot more specific courses. Tell me a little bit about how you've come to these specific disciplines, and where you see your catalog growing.
Gina: Yeah, so we like to focus on topics that are not traditional, where there's a real need or a gap in content areas. What we find is a lot of social skills, a lot of the nontraditional academic topics, for example like child abuse, domestic violence, and areas that really aren't touched on from an academic sense, we really are trying to meet that need. So how do we come up with those areas is a lot of the data that we're collecting in our courses, asking in the different industries. For example health and wellness, and trucking and driving is an area that we ask individuals out in companies, and out in the field, and out in practice, and real world in terms of what are the needs. We even ask the learners because we make assumptions. A lot of research has showed that as instructional designers, you make assumptions about the learner and you create courses based on that or based on outcomes, but that might not really be where the need is. We go directly to the end users and the learners to find out what topics, where there's gaps, and that's what we base our catalog on. In terms of where do we see it growing, I definitely see that those topics that are really fundamentally important to society that really not finding a lot of ... You might find content out there, but it's not necessarily grounded in best practices in learning science.
Carrie: We've seen from a content distribution standpoint a real gap because the content's out there, it's just in a very static, very one-size-fits-all format. We're not seeing the courseware platforms, the personalized learning in some of these nontraditional content. You guys have been at this for a couple years now. How have you seen the company change over the years that you guys have been doing these types of content platforms?
Gina: That's a great question. When we first started, we were focused on services, in particular really doing customized learning for companies and higher ed, building fully online programs for them. We still do some of that, but we really saw an opportunity for us to really offer our services in social areas that we felt really could make a difference, and create courses that really build on learning science and instructional design. Instead of necessarily doing all custom work for our partner or for our clients, we decided to build a catalog of courses that we could then partner and really get out there and reach out to a broader audience, because ultimately we really want to make a difference. That's where our motivation comes from. We want to provide the best learning solutions for end users. That really was our shift from focusing on our services to more offering product solution.
Carrie: That lends itself quite well to the next question. What problem are you trying to solve? We talked about personalized learning and being able to deliver content that's outcome-driven. What problem in a larger sense is Luma trying to solve?
GIna: The main problem that we see, and you touched on this as well, is that learning experiences are traditionally delivered the same format for all learners. There really is no attention paid to how do we reach different learning preferences, and how do we constantly improve courses so that we can meet the end users? Again I said this before, but research shows that instructional designers make assumptions about learners. Instructors make assumption about learners, and sure they're teaching and they're getting feedback, but primarily the courses stay the same from semester to semester because of time, and because of funding. But how well do we really know differences between learning cultures? That's primarily what we focus our research on. For example, how do they access training? In higher ed, it's the same content in all the courses.
What we do in our learning platform in particular, first of all, we give the user the opportunity to explore the content in the way that they want. There's multiple ways of accessing the curriculum. There's also a variety of types of content. For example, in some cases we have video, but they may choose to read instead of watching the video. We've seen in some of our nursing courses for example, the end users are nurses who have children, they're busy, they're working, they're taking classes. They may not have time to watch the video, so they can print the script and take it with them to a soccer game and have the curriculum. Definitely the problem of trying to deliver, having the issue of the same format for all learners, and also accessibility is a huge issue with technology. We really focus on how can we make all of our learning experiences accessible to all learners in terms of is it mobile accessible? Can the content be dynamic enough that they can access it in multiple ways? We truly want to understand our learners, and we're finding differences, like I said, between even different courses at different groups. We definitely apply these metrics to inform our designs.
Carrie: Gina, you've been in the education space for a number of years, both as a classroom educator and now in the content development. What do you see as the most interesting thing happening in education as an industry right now?
Gina: That is a great question. One of the interesting things that I'm finding, because we're still working with universities to build online programs as well, is this interest in institutions looking at all sorts of ways to reduce cost, but ideally they want to keep the same quality of education. One approach that many universities are looking to us to help them with and that they're utilizing is using open education resources to just replace the expensive textbooks. What we're finding from our perspective, the challenge is that the institutions want to keep the same quality in terms of the resource, but the open education resources, a lot of times they don't tell you who the author is. There's this issue of quality, consistency, reliability, and quite honestly, there's a lot of times you still have the same objectives for the students and outcomes to meet, but the resources, they have gaps in them, so you have to combine resources and so forth.
It's really interesting to me that this idea of reducing cost to students and trying to save money, but kind of the outlet of doing that, you have to do a lot more in terms of looking at how are we going to do it? Can you completely reduce the cost of a resource for a student and keep the same quality? Not only quality, but accessibility. A lot of the open education resources were created with a lot of grants in the past several years, the MOOC movement and so forth. A lot of times the accessibility of the resources, they quite frankly aren't accessible. They use Flash. They're not mobile accessible. They're not accessible for individuals who have hearing impairments or who are blind, but they're free. Faculty sometime, and instructional designers will pull them together and they'll create a course, and then there's challenges. We really want to meet this need of trying to help institutions reduce costs but keep the same quality of education. That's why we're trying to create cost-effective solutions to this need.
Carrie: That's something that we're seeing a lot as well with our partner schools. They like the idea of this low and no-cost content, but then they actually get in there and do it, and realize the time constraints, the quality constraints within finding that material. Can you provide an example of maybe how you've helped a school decrease the cost of their content by working with Luma?
Gina: When we look at the resources, if the idea is to use OERs, we do some analysis on our end in trying to find resources that still align with the learning objectives. Then we can put together the resource on our end, building the media and the multimedia to create the ideal solution for them. In the end, the period of course development, it does in a sense reduce the cost on their end for development, and then they have a resource that's internal to their courses. On the other hand, this goes back to where we saw the need, we see the need with different courses like English as a second language, for example. We've partnered with experts in the field to create these experiences that we have done at a lower cost to us to create so that we can then offer the resource as a supplement to a course that universities can use if it meets their learning objectives.
When we look at the resources, if the idea is to use OERs, we do some analysis on our end in trying to find resources that still align with the learning objectives. Then we can put together the resource on our end, building the media and the multimedia to create the ideal solution for them. In the end, the period of course development, it does in a sense reduce the cost on their end for development, and then they have a resource that's internal to their courses. On the other hand, this goes back to where we saw the need, we see the need with different courses like English as a second language, for example. We've partnered with experts in the field to create these experiences that we have done at a lower cost to us to create so that we can then offer the resource as a supplement to a course that universities can use if it meets their learning objectives.
Carrie: Especially in the disciplines that you guys work in, some of those nontraditional, it's difficult to find content that's specific to some of these more specific disciplines, so you guys are really helping with that. Obviously we have a partnership with MBS Direct, so if schools are interested in learning more about Luma, feel free to contact your MBS Direct account manager. If a school just wanted to do a little bit of research on their own, what would be the best way to learn more about Luma?
Gina: They certainly could contact us. They can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're happy to provide any additional information. They can also go to our website at learnwithluma.com. We're always happy to explore and help universities or partners and see what they need.
Carrie: You guys have your catalog there on the website, but you guys can also work with institutions as well for any material that maybe you don't currently have in your catalog, correct?
Gina: Exactly. We can do course development, and we also have our own learning platforms as well that we can work in.
Carrie: Great. Well, I appreciate your time this morning, and I look forward to continuing and growing our partnership.
Gina: Great. Thanks. We do too.
Carrie: Hey guys, thanks for listening. For more information on any of the topics discussed in this podcast, or any other questions you have about digital content options, contact your account manager, or you can reach out to me, Carrie Watkins, Senior Digital Consultant, on Twitter, @CarrieJWatkins.
For more information on any of the topics discussed in this podcast, or any other questions you have about digital content options, contact your Account Manager or you can reach out to me, Carrie Watkins, Senior Digital Consultant, on Twitter, @CarrieJWatkins.