All innovation begins with a problem. Without a problem, there is nothing to solve and therefore, nothing to innovate. Defining the precise problem to solve, however, is often the most difficult step.
At TuaPath, we listened carefully to career centers all over the country and this is the precise problem we heard over and over again:
Scaling career education in universities is virtually impossible with current budget and human capital restraints.
Specifically, we learned that:
A career center advisor/student ratio typically ranges from 1/400 to 1/4000;
Career centers have 30 – 70 Career Learning Objectives (CLO’s) to offer students;
It takes a career center counselor 15 to 30 minutes to teach one CLO to a student.
Sound familiar? Without boring you with the math, this means that a typical career center would have to increase staff 3 – 10 times to meet their students’ educational needs, and that is only if the counselor focused exclusively on teaching CLO’s, without regard to the other individualized coaching and support they’d like to offer.
Over the last four years, TuaPath has worked with some great minds in the industry in an effort to find an innovative solution to this problem. Here are some best practices we’ve discovered in scaling CLO’s at a university:
1. Distinguish Between “Base Career Content” and Counseling Needs in Delivering Your CLO’s
Base Career Content is the portion of a CLO that can be effectively delivered through mediums like video, text, forms, quizzes or websites. Counseling, on the other hand, is more personal and should focus on helping the student apply what they have learned from the Base Career Content to their individual circumstances. For example, consider one of the most basic CLO’s: “How to Build a Resume.” The Base Career Content for this CLO would typically include: a resume’s look and feel, headers and sub-parts, name, address and content, resume length, to-do’s, don’t-do’s, font sizes, etc. Alternatively, the Counseling portion of the “How to Build a Resume” CLO might consist of an online or in-person review of the student’s career objectives and a resume edit offering suggestions about how to reflect the student’s individual talents and skills in a more effective way.
Distinguishing between the Base Career Content and Counseling portions of a CLO is important from an asset allocation viewpoint. Having highly educated, career experts spending time repeating to students the standard elements of a resume is not a wise resource allocation and is also an arguable waste of a counselor’s talents and skills. Rather, maximize your talented staff by utilizing their expertise in appointments and drop-in meetings with informed students who have already learned the Base Career Content on your online platform, at their convenience, and prior to their appointment.
2. Choose an Effective Online Platform to Deliver CLO’s
When it comes to scalability, the avenue you choose to deliver content is critical. Currently, a variety of mediums exist to deliver CLO’s to students: career center websites, workshops, handouts given during drop-in meetings, career management platforms, employer-sponsored events, leaflets in a bin outside a career center’s entrance, etc. Although these approaches work to some degree, they simply lack the ability to substantively and effectively scale the career center’s reach without increasing staff.
A logical scalable solution is an online career learning platform that will simultaneously meet the needs of the student, counselor, and content generator. In order to effectively accomplish this, however, the platform must be multi-facing. A student portal should deliver the CLO’s in a logical progression that is intuitive and easy to traverse. A counselor’s portal should allow the creation of custom student paths, offer a communication system between the counselor and student, and provide seamless monitoring of student progress. Finally, content generators, who have been given the task of creating or editing CLO’s, must have the ability to change content on the system quickly and easily.
Another critical feature to consider is the feedback loop. Feedback loops inform the career center of whether their CLO’s are working as intended. For instance, just as the “check engine light” causes a driver to assess the condition of their vehicle, the feedback loop can inform directors, answering questions like: “How many students are accessing CLO #17?; How many students comprehended the workshop?; or How many students watched the entire video in CLO #4?” These types of indicators are invaluable when measuring the effectiveness of your overall approach, giving your content generators direction as they continue to edit and adapt.
Moreover, the feedback loop gives the university the ability to tell an attractive story. For example, by launching their CLO’s on the TuaPath platform, the career centers at Colorado State University were able to easily and officially track and report that their students completed over 11,000 CLO’s online. That’s approximately 5,000 hours of career content accomplished by students outside of the walls of the career center! Once this information was disseminated, it was picked up and featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a popular higher ed. periodical. Great stats make great stories.
3. Keep It Simple!
When creating or editing CLO’s, simplicity is the name of the game. Make it too difficult, and students will not stay engaged. The key to keeping things simple is to make sure your CLO’s are: Time-limited, Doable, and Valuable.
Time-limited: Videos should be between 3 and 7 minutes. CLO’s should be able to be accomplished in 10-15 minutes.
Doable: Students should be able to accomplish the CLO in one sitting and have the pertinent information in the content description to complete the CLO.
Valuable: The student needs to feel that they learned something truly unique or it will be unlikely the student will move on to the next CLO. Stay away from bombarding them with common knowledge.
4. Don’t Re-create the Wheel
TuaPath’s first partner was the Colorado State University Business School. Armed with the vision of scaling CLO’s to reach every business student without increasing staff, the school’s Director, Susan Schell, pioneered the creation of “EPIC Milestones,” which consist of 45 online CLO’s ranging from “Self-Knowledge” to “Excelling at Your New Job.” The EPIC Milestones utilize videos, quizzes, pdf downloads, fillable forms, website links, etc. Although the content is proven and of utmost quality, the EPIC Milestones took about one year to create before implementation…not an ideal scenario for schools with tight budgets and limited human resources.
Thus, if at all possible, try to locate and begin with existing CLO’s, (i.e. CSU Business School currently shares their EPIC Milestones on the TuaPath platform). Starting with proven CLO’s and then gradually editing and adapting the content to meet the specific needs of your student population will allow you to get moving quickly rather than requiring too may resources up front.
5. Get Buy-in from Key People
Effective implementations and scalability should not depend on increasing staff. With a bit of thought and creativity, you can leverage existing resources to get students engaged and interacting with your platform. Let’s review some of these existing resources available to career centers including counselors, faculty and incentives.
First and foremost, counselors need to be the champions of your platform. Anyone who’s tried, knows the futility of trying to get students excited about using a platform that counselors don’t value. Alternatively, if the counselor depends on the platform as the backbone for student meetings, students will understand that there is critical value to the platform and be more likely to engage it in learning the CLO’s.
Second, get the faculty involved. The faculty are a great resource to get CLO’s into the students’ hands. If a CLO is part of the student’s curriculum, it becomes mandatory and there is a much higher likelihood that the student will complete it. In fact, our current feedback loops show that once a student gets on the system and accomplishes one or two CLO’s in a mandatory classroom setting, they are more likely to go on and accomplish additional CLO’s voluntarily. Faculty may also appreciate access to the CLO’s as a way to bolster their class curriculum. For instance, if there is a certain course that covers the basics of getting a particular degree, (i.e. Business 100), the instructor may be interested in assigning a few relevant CLO’s in the classroom to give the students additional insight.
Finally, offer incentives to direct students to the platform and keep them coming back for more. A great way to get students involved in anything is to give them something for free. Water bottles, T-shirts, cups of coffee, etc., are all great incentives that students could receive by going online and completing one or two CLO’s. It’s amazing what students will do for a T-shirt…just ask the credit-card industry! Ideally, the platform you choose will automatically send the student a notice upon CLO completion and direct them where to pick up/download their free gift.
Incorporating the above best practices should help you and your team navigate your way to efficiently scaling CLO’s without having to add staff.
Speaking of staff…one final thought: Beware of “innovation fatigue.” This is where a well-meaning staff wants to be creative and they adopt multiple technologies in an effort to tackle several problems at once with a team that is already at capacity. As my business partner likes to point out, “You can’t put more water into a full glass.”
Implementing a new technology is no doubt a great feat and will take a toll on your team. Make sure to prioritize your precise problems, and accordingly, your innovative solutions. Once undertaken, ensure everyone on your team understands the end goal and remind them early and often of the benefits they will reap later for their immediate investment of time and energy! And, before asking your team to solve the next precise problem, at least give them a free T-shirt.
Mike Suchowski is an attorney and businessman with over 17 years of experience working with clients, helping to materialize their vision and bring innovative solutions to the market. He currently serves as CEO of TuaPath,™ a client success technology that engages users as individuals, guiding them through customizable learning objectives or tasks online, enabling rich mentoring discussions, while gathering unique data to help tell their story. Mike is passionate about his work and family. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and is married to the love of his life, Heather. In his free time, he enjoys being with his family and helping his kids, Jake and Kate, live out their passions.