The Design and Implementation of a Student-Facing Staff Certification Program Using a Blended Learning Approach

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

In April 2020, a global, online university launched a certification program to support the continued professional development of its student-facing staff. The program is designed using a blended approach, via self-paced modules and in-person coaching. Presenters will share program design and implementation strategies and pitfalls and successes of the process.


Dr. Karen Milheim’s formal training is in adult education, instructional design, and training and development; she has served in various roles in these areas over the span of her career. She has extensive experience consulting for online and traditional higher education institutions in areas such as needs assessment, course design and development, media conceptualization/development, competency mapping, and evaluation. Dr. Milheim has presented and published extensive research in areas related to adult education, online teaching and learning, and related. She has also taught at several universities in these areas as well. Dr. Milheim began her career at Walden University in the Center for Undergraduate Studies. Since then, she's held teaching and leadership roles in the Center for Student Success and Riley College of Education and Leadership. In her current role within Walden University's Commercial Operations area, she is involved in the creation, growth, and expansion of initiatives across the university to support enrollment, retention, marketing, and student success.

Extended Abstract

Student-facing staff play a vital role in the doctoral student journey.  Through what is often multiple, extensive conversations and engagement with prospective and current students, they set expectations early on and throughout the duration of a student’s time with the university, beginning with the enrollment stage.

Doctoral Enrollment Specialists (ES) are typically the first student-facing staff members a prospective student engages with.  Not only do ESs need to know accurate information at a program level, they must also be experts in the holistic doctoral process and convey this information to prospective students. They do this by painting an accurate picture of not only the expectations of a doctoral program, but the rigor required to earn a doctoral degree. This means they must be experts in topics such as research requirements, residencies, the capstone process, and other key elements in the doctoral student journey. 

In spring 2019, stakeholders from multiple departments in the organization at a global, online university, assessed every Doctoral ES on their knowledge of the doctoral student journey and identified gaps in six different areas.  The content areas included the university reputation and history, face-to-face residencies, support services, the capstone process, and student challenges to persistence. In response to the need to uptrain ESs in these areas, comprehensive training, using an in-person delivery format, combined with several virtual roundtable discussions, was designed and delivered to all teams. Post-assessment results showed promise, with consistent gains in knowledge across teams. Yet, the program design posed challenges, including its scalability and, more critical, a lack of a post-assessment plan that clearly aligned to how the content knowledge was transferring to conversations with prospective students. Because of these issues, we used the training program as a starting point to forge a path to a more robust certification program, which launched in April 2020.

The certification program is designed using a blended learning format. The blended design allows managers to identify inconsistencies or areas for improvement, aligned to each module learning objective, and coach specifically to those criteria. Additional highlights and features of the program include:

  • Self-paced modules delivered in the Blackboard Learning Management System;
  • In addition to the online component, each Doctoral ES team (led by an Enrollment Manager), engaged in one-on-one coaching to support their success, with alignment to the learning objectives of the program each week;
  • A paced course design to fit with their busy schedules serving students, with one module launched each week using adaptive release;
  • Alignment of overall program expectations with overall employee performance expectations; and
  • Badging, which, when launched, will offer additional professional development activities aligned to learning objectives, to promote continued learning and growth.

During this session, presenters will demonstrate key elements of the certification design and delivery process. Presenters will also demonstrate multimedia that is incorporated into the modules, which also includes embedded content checks. We will also share the verbal pre and post-module assessment design, which was particularly critical in solving for the deficiencies in the assessment strategy from the prior training. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation relevant to these areas.

The topics covered in this session will be valuable to any individual who is considering a similar program for their employees using a blended learning format. Some of the key takeaways from this session include:

  • Design and implementation strategies for a certification program, using a blended learning approach;
  • Strategies for assessing employees in transfer of content knowledge to successful, verbal articulation of that knowledge;
  • Best practices, and potential pitfalls, in the design and implementation of a certification program, using a scalable, blended learning format as the approach; and
  • The long-term roadmap for the program, including an added badging component, and additional levels focused on program-specific content.

Thank you for reviewing our proposal.