Creating a Culture of Innovation through Learning Design


OLC Collaborate Maui Presenter Dr. Benjamin Deaton, Anderson University

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Smiling young African female university student sitting on a campus bench working on a laptop while preparing for an exam

Even though each of us may learn differently, learning is something a) we all do and b) should be nurtured and valued throughout the entirety of our lives. In higher education, learning has largely been contextualized around formal learning environments (i.e. the classroom). However, as we learn more about the learning sciences and what it means to provide holistic learning experiences, the world of learning design is one the most exciting spaces to be involved with in higher education.

As I think back to when I took my first instructional design job in 2006, I confess it was something I did not plan on doing for long or as a career. My goal was to become a faculty member, more specifically a tenure-track faculty member. At that time, instructional designers were typically classified in very narrow terms and often did not have leadership roles. IDs were the techies (the “toy/gadget” people) or the learning management system people (Angel and Blackboard were the systems of choice at my first institution) or the people that created the digital version of course content to be put in the learning management system.

After a couple of quick moves in higher education, I landed at a medium-sized private institution in South Carolina as the Director of Instructional Design in 2010. This role presented me with a unique opportunity to design what that role and what the learning design unit would become. This opportunity was created out of the university’s vision to launch a 1:1 initiative that would provide mobile devices for all students and faculty. Within six months, the initiative was piloted and formally launched six months later to the entire campus. As part of that endeavor, I was able to collaborate with a tremendous collection of faculty members and staff across the institution to develop the strategy and tactics that aligned with the vision for the initiative.

Nine quick years later, I’m still at the institution surrounded by an incredible team of learning designers. The institution enabled and supported our team to create a learning design unit that goes far beyond the technical aspects of teaching and learning. We have been fortunate to work within an extremely supportive community of faculty, staff and administrative and executive leadership. Our learning design team is able to do a tremendous amount of work that continually evolves focused on our three core pillars – learning design, learning technologies, and learning spaces. Through our work and the collaboration with our faculty, we have been recognized three times as an Apple Distinguished School and have led professional development programs that have spanned external institutions and K12 partners. Our work with those three pillars focuses on five key principles:

  1. Working within, across and outside of credit-bearing programs
  2. Using data and evidence to inform instructional practices and program development
  3. Creating multiple on-ramps and pathways to degree- or credit-bearing programs
  4. Leveraging technology to support communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and community development
  5. Designing spaces (physical and digital) that support formal and informal learning. 

I invite you to join us at OLC Collaborate in October where I will share and highlight the successes my institution and team have experienced in developing a culture of innovation. Both my team and I look forward to sharing our story. Modern learning design teams work inside and outside the design of learning has spread beyond formal environments bound by time and physical locations.

Ben Deaton

Dr. Benjamin Deaton

Vice President of Technology, Online Learning, and Innovation at Anderson University

Benjamin Deaton is Vice President of Technology, Online Learning, and Innovation at Anderson University. In this position, Deaton is responsible for bringing together the core services of learning and information technology, online learning, learning design, and academic innovation to serve the needs of Anderson University students. Concurrently, Deaton serves as Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Digital Learning (CIDL) at Anderson University.

Deaton is a featured speaker at the upcoming OLC Collaborate event, hosted by Anderson University.


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