'Different beast'

Mar 16th, 2021

Susan White

'Different beast'

Gardiner Centre is the professional development arm of the Faculty of Business Administration at Memorial University.

It offers a wide range of business and leadership programs and courses, as well as custom group training to help individuals and organizations achieve their professional and organizational goals.

However, that programming has traditionally been delivered in a classroom at Memorial’s Signal Hill Campus. When the COVID-19 lockdowns began last March, the centre’s staff and instructors had to figure out how to adapt.

The solution, says Jennifer Kelly, Gardiner Centre’s instructional designer, was to transition all of its programs and courses to online delivery.

“We had a very rapid transition period where we had to come together as a team to essentially transition all of our face-to-face curriculum online,” she said.

This meant reviewing the curriculum of all existing programs to determine which could be offered remotely, then to work with instructors to adapt the courses, develop training materials for instructors and help them learn about the new technologies.

“Online learning is a completely different beast,” Ms. Kelly said. “It is a different experience for the instructor, it is a different experience for the learner. So we had to make these design changes in order to help the learner still learn effectively and gain the skills that were required for the training.”

In the below video produced by Memorial’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), Ms. Kelly shares tips for developing online curriculum and to help instructors build a sense of community in virtual classrooms. She also offers advice to help learners get the most out of virtual learning environments.

New opportunities

Ms. Kelly, whose role as an instructional designer involves designing new courses and programs, led the transition process with support from marketing staff.

Along the way, they discovered that remote programming also offered new opportunities.

Gardiner Centre began offering free training in mindfulness, resilience and wellness specifically in response to the pandemic. Nearly 5,800 people have taken part to date, and the centre has developed new partnerships with units at Memorial University and within the broader community as a result.

This new area of wellness programming means the centre has been able to offer 15 courses since starting remote delivery last spring – up from 13 courses over the same period in the previous year.

“Because we have this new accessibility to Memorial and the community, it’s led us to designing new programming to suit audiences that we never would have considered before,” Ms. Kelly said. “It’s also led to stronger connections to departments and divisions within the university that we traditionally did not have a lot of connection with.”

Breakthroughs in Labrador

The pandemic has also provided opportunities to attract new clients in new locations.

“There are opportunities to really suit a busy adult professional who may not have always had the time to travel to the Signal Hill Campus for the in-class training,” said Ms. Kelly, adding the centre has engaged clients from across the province as well as from Ontario and Nova Scotia.

“One of our most important breakthroughs in terms of accessibility has been Indigenous learners.” — Jennifer Kelly

“One of our most important breakthroughs in terms of accessibility has been Indigenous learners. We now have participants from Labrador joining us for training, and when we were all face-to-face, having to travel to St. John’s would have been one of the barriers. Now the barrier is removed.”

Although the new opportunities have also brought new challenges, such as poor Internet connectivity in some rural areas and the personal challenges people face when working from home, Ms. Kelly says Gardiner Centre is committed to its new direction.

The future is here

“The pandemic, yes, it forced us into offering virtual instructor-led training very rapidly, but it’s also set us up for a future that is coming,” Ms. Kelly said. “Change is coming in how adult learners want to learn. Change is coming in terms of delivery platforms and formats, and we need to adapt and move forward with it.

“We are not going back to the way things were,” she added. “We will be offering a blended training platform, which means we will have face-to-face, traditional in-class training, but we will also still be offering virtual, instructor-led training.”