This blog post written by
USDLA Chair of the Board
One of the many enhancements in the 2017 edition of the USDLA International Awards in Distance Learning was a new honor, the Innovation Award. It is especially fitting for USDLA to focus on innovative developments because, for more than a century, inventive solutions have been the essence of distance learning. Today we tend to equate innovation with nifty new gadgets. In truth, though, ground-breaking improvement – innovation – takes a host of forms. USDLA recognized several of these.
Someone has described innovation as change that unlocks new value. I like that description because it bonds a creative act with the twin concepts of change and value. Too often in our work we see a tendency to celebrate value while resisting change. In the change/value description, though, we don’t enjoy the value of an innovation without first overcoming the resistance to change.
Constellation for Ashford University was cited for its innovative delivery of course content to online students. Constellation was developed in a partnership between Ashford University and Bridgepoint Education.
Steve Wainwright of Bridgepoint Education experienced change and value on his eight-year journey with this ground-breaking new system for Ashford students. Constellation is an innovative suite of online learning materials being used in Ashford’s most popular courses. The content is developed by an internal team of publishing professionals, and it replaces the need for a traditional textbook. It’s a little hard to pin down the components of this content and delivery system simply because it is so inclusive. Is it accessible through browsers, iPhone, Android, PDF, Mobi, EPUB, or PDFs? Yes. Does it have professionally recorded audio versions, animations, full search capability, review quizzes, and hyperlinking? Yep, that too. And more.
After eight years of experience, how does it look? “Right now we have about 160 courses in Constellation. Faculty and students alike are now telling us they want all of the content in a digital format. So the demand is there and we hope by 2019 to deliver all or most of Ashford’s courses digitally.”
The effort, though, was not always greeted with universal applause. Change. “I was impressed by how difficult it is to do an initiative enterprise-wide. Face it – it can be really difficult for institutions to change,” Steve noted. “But once everyone saw this as an opportunity they got on board, and the question became ‘how can we do this together?’ Emphasizing the collaborative nature of the project was key.”
What accounts for its success? Wainwright explains, “Look at the value proposition. Students have immediate access to their content at the beginning of the term, no more complaints about the late or wrong resources. Students pay a consistent price for their resources and they access it in a consistent process and format. Ashford controls the revision cycles and not the publisher, and the content can be tailored to their student demographic and program needs. Then, on top of that, there are benefits flowing out from our digital model – including students being able to get their course content in the form that best suits both their lifestyles and their learning styles.”
One of the goals of the USDLA International Awards competition is, of course, to recognize the best of the best. The Innovation Award goes a bit further by celebrating the spirit that has made distance learning the powerful tool we enjoy today. Ashford University’s tool for delivering course content, Constellation, is well suited to be one of the inaugural winners of USDLA’s new Innovation Award.
Congratulations to the ongoing collaboration of Steve’s Constellation team and Ashford University’s faculty and administration that is making all of this happen.
In photo: Steve Wainwright & John Flores, PH.D., C.E.O/Executive Director USDLA
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