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Creating opportunity, addressing demand for an Illinois education online

by Tom Hanlon / Apr 11, 2018

Creating opportunity, addressing demand for an Illinois online education

Online offerings from the College of Education at IllinoisIllinois' College of Education the first to offer an Instructional Design Certificate Program through Coursera

Denice Ward Hood started working with online courses and programs in 2002. Her tools, she jokes, were like a stone tablet and a chisel compared to today’s technology.

“Now, it’s amazing,” says Hood, who is director of online programs for the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We were just dreaming back then about what we’re doing now. There’s so much we can do now.”

One small but significant example of the “now” in the online arena for the College of Education is the coming release of an online Instructional Design MasterTrack™ Certificate program through Coursera, a company that partners with top universities and organizations to offer courses online. Coursera lists more than 2,000 courses—109 of those alone from the University of Illinois. Illinois and Coursera have formed a strong bond that is mutually beneficial.

First-ever Instructional Design Program on Coursera

“This is quite prestigious for us,” say Hood, an associate professor in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (EPOL). “We will be the first, and the only, instructional design MasterTrack certificate that Coursera offers, and that’s important.”

This is quite prestigious for us. We will be the first, and the only, instructional design MasterTrack certificate that Coursera offers, and that's important."—Denice Ward Hood

The idea for a program with Coursera started with College of Education Professor Bill Cope over two years ago. A proposal went through the department, college, and university approval processes, and then the idea was pitched to Coursera.

“In their market research, they were finding a lot of interest for free-standing certificates,” Hood says. “We have the expertise in instructional design, and there’s a demand for it. It will meld nicely with our online master’s and doctoral programs.”

Showcasing the College's instructional design talent

The instructional design certificate program consists of two courses and launches this fall (see “ID MasterTrack Program at a Glance”), although students who are admitted into the program can access the self-paced content at any time. Course instructors are Associate Professor David Huang and Assistant Professor Eunjung Oh, both of EPOL. Many other UIUC faculty and administrators with content expertise will also contribute to the development and delivery of these courses. Interim Department Head Yoon Pak, Assistant Online Learning Director Mila Fuller, and Hood have all played active roles in getting the program ready for launch, as has Adam Fein, assistant provost for educational innovation.

“This gives us an opportunity to elevate our visibility and showcase the excellent instruction and pedagogy that we have here at the College,” Hood says.

Having the expertise in instructional design provided traction for the program, Hood says. But another factor—need—made the program an obvious choice.

“There are many more instructional design positions than there are people to fill them,” Hood says. “There’s a gap in terms of training and skillset, so filling in that gap is important.”

There are many more instructional design positions than there are people to fill them. There's a gap in terms of training and skillset, so filling in that gap is important."—Denice Ward Hood

That gap exists because many employees are being asked to fill instructional design roles—either formally or informally—without the necessary comprehensive training. “There are a lot of people who are doing something like this, but they have limited or no education in this area,” Hood says. “They’re learning as they go, and some of them are excellent, but they don’t have any credentials. So to provide that in a digestible, consumable fashion to a lot of people is really attractive. This skillset could be a great supplement to their existing job skills, and could benefit them across a lot of different jobs or careers.”

Who the program is designed for

Hood says there are three learner personas for the program:

  • Those in higher education “such as an employee in a version of our own Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, CITL, or instructors who want to use instructional design skills for their own courses—or even people who assess online programs and they need to understand instructional design to do that”
  • Those in K-12 “a technology specialist, a classroom teacher, or a supervisor”
  • Those in the corporate or private sector “a learning and development director, or someone who does something similar to an instructional designer, but they may not have that title and they want to gain the extra skills for professional growth and development”

“There are a lot of reasons why students will be attracted to this certificate program,” Hood says. “Convenience, access, cost, having a chance to engage with full-time University of Illinois faculty, a chance to earn graduate credit.

“This gives people the chance to get the training they need with the excellent Illinois brand. And it gives them eight hours of graduate transferrable credit they can use toward an online degree in EPOL.”

To that end, Hood adds, the program is a great way for people who want to build credit toward their master’s degree but are working full-time and can’t afford to go to face-to-face classes or take a full load of courses at once.

“If it attracts more students into our online degree programs, that’s wonderful,” she says. “That’s an expectation. But there are other reasons for doing it, and they are also important.”

Those aforementioned reasons are all geared toward students. However, another group will derive benefits from this instructional design program as well.

“It’s also an opportunity for the faculty who are interested in breaking new ground and trying new things and doing some innovative things,” Hood notes.  

“Then there’s the research piece. Researchers are very interested in studying the process as we go. So having a course that could have several hundred learners provides us with some opportunities to do some things that we wouldn’t be able to do in a class that is taught once a year with 30 people.”

A history of leading with online education

The College of Education has been offering online courses since 1998, and has long been a leader in producing online courses and programs at the University of Illinois. “We are the first on campus to have an online doctoral program,” Hood says.

As director of online learning, Hood’s vision includes growing the College’s online programs, “and doing that in a way that maintains the quality that we have,” she says. “That gives us an opportunity to push out and develop new ways of thinking about teaching and learning, and being able to study that will help us process in a systematic way so that we are continuing to innovate and attract graduate students and faculty that want to work in this area.”

We're breaking new ground for the College of Education, which is really exciting. We have a chance to do something that's innovative ... something ...
that will also have a real impact educationally, socially, and professionally."—Denice Ward Hood

The online curricula, she says, will always complement the face-to-face offerings. “I don’t see one existing without the other,” she says, “but this [online] is clearly an area that will be part of the College of Education indefinitely. It will not go away. It might shift and change.”

What also might change is how the College designs courses for the Coursera platform.

“Just in the last few months, we’ve learned a tremendous amount,” Hood says. “Designing courses for the Coursera platform is a way to really think deeply about your instructional practice, what you want to accomplish, how best you can accomplish that. It’s a lot of work, but I’m also finding that it’s a great opportunity to take a step and be able to do that.

“We’re breaking new ground for the College of Education, which is really exciting. We have a chance to do something that’s innovative. We are working collaboratively with people in the College and outside it and with Coursera to develop something that I think will be the first of many and that will also have a real impact educationally, socially, and professionally.

“So there’s certainly a benefit for us, and that makes it exciting. But what excites me the most is the benefit for the learners and the potential learners that we’re going to have.”

Take-Home Value for Students

The online Instructional Design MasterTrack™ Certificate program packs a lot of punch for learners. Students will learn how to:

  • Conduct in-depth learner analyses to identify learning objectives
  • Use cutting-edge technologies to design engaging and meaningful learning activities
  • Develop well-crafted learning assessments and evaluations
  • Make data-informed decisions to improve existing learning programs

Online Offerings by the College of Education

The College of Education has numerous online areas of study in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, as well as in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. In EPOL alone, the College lists 13 master's degree concentrations and nine doctoral degree concentrations, along with 14 certificates and two endorsements.

MasterTrack™ Program at a Glance

Launch date: October 22, 2018
Number of courses: two (Training System Design and Learning Technologies)
Months to complete: four
Cost: $2,316
Instructors: David Huang and Eunjung Oh
Learn more