Applying A Capabilities Maturity Model for Developing A Purposeful Learning Framework for Online Instruction

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

The COVID pandemic crisis has not resulted in sustainable change to online instruction.  MERLOT/SkillsCommons and O’Donnell Learn will showcase their Purposeful Learning Framework and Capability Maturity Model for strategic and sustainable transition to quality online instruction and provide examples of how they are implementing this change management framework to help institutions improve the online learning experience.


Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.
For over 25 years, Carrie O’Donnell has been a change-agent in the education industry, focusing on digital learning solutions for the workplace and higher education, and on using customer insight to build great learning experiences. Her firm, O’Donnell Learn, is a leading learning experience (LX) design agency in higher education. Founded 30 years ago as a virtual company, the team includes hundreds of learning designers who partner with institutions and their faculty to improve virtual or blended learning.

Extended Abstract

 The COVID pandemic crisis has created a worldwide imperative to deliver alternative modes of education to face-to-face instruction.  Within no more than two weeks, campuses and faculty had to perform an emergency transformation of their instructional processes.  In higher education, institutions leveraged existing technologies (such as their LMS and virtual conference services) to try and continue their existing educational processes in a different modality.  Lectures were often delivered via virtual conferencing, assignments delivered and returned via LMS, and testing was one of the most significant challenges.   Many institutions chose to assign credit/no credit (or pass/fail) “grades” rather than performance grading due to the significant disruption in students’, faculty’s, and staff’s lives. As the semester came to a close, many questioned the quality of the education delivered and the integrity of the learning assessments. The effort to make the change was truly exceptional and great progress was achieved to finish out the semester. People sprinted to the finish the semester and were exhausted by May; but now they realize that they just rounded the corner of the first turn and have a long way to go. 

Faculty, staff, and administrators know that they cannot continue their current instructional approach “as is”.   As they prepare for Fall, campuses are struggling with how they will change to deliver and sustain quality online instruction without burning out faculty, staff, and exhausting financial and other campus resources.  The presenters will showcase their Capability Maturity Model for strategic and sustainable transition to quality online instruction and provide examples of how they are implementing this change management framework.

The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon published the Capabilities Maturity Model (CMM) in 1989 to enable the government agencies (e.g. Dept. of Defense) and ultimately any industry to evaluate an organization’s capabilities to reliably produce quality software.  CMM has been updated to the Capabilities Maturity Model Integration (CMMI v1.1) in 2002 and v2.0 CMMI was released in 2018.   CMM has also been generalized to many other industries, and our presentation will explain and demonstrate how we are applying CMM to building higher education’s capabilities to develop, deliver, scale, and sustain online and hybrid instruction.


Overview of CMM:

The following graphics captures the essentials of CMM.  As an organization matures its capabilities to plan, implement, and improve its business operations, it improves its abilities to  reliably produce desired outcomes.

With the COVID pandemic, many institutions were performing at the Level 1: Initial stage; the heroic actions required meant that institutions had to manage ad hoc processes.  Proportionally fewer institutions have achieved higher levels of maturity in their online educational processes with Level 3 reflecting exemplary practices and Level 4 rarely occurring at an institutional level. 

 An important principle of CMM is that an organization must develop its capabilities in a step-wise, sequential process; you can’t skip levels and implement processes more than 1 step above your current capabilities.  Assessing an institutions current capabilities is an essential management process for CMM and within higher education, various rubrics have been developed to help institutions evaluate their readiness and capabilities.   Quality Matters provides evaluation standards at the course level on online instruction and OLC’s Quality Scorecard provides evaluation standards for online instruction and the program and institution levels.


The presenters have developed a portfolio of programs that align and are customized to the institution’s CMM level and the partnership leverages existing open educational resources and open educational practices to enable the campuses to choose and integrate a program that is affordable for them but also produces affordable education for their students.   The presenters help institutions apply an appropriate “blueprint” for the domains they need to mature that develops the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of faculty, staff, and administrators to confidently and reliably improve online instruction.  Before implementing a backwards design approach to instructional design, the CMM framework helps build the culture, shared understanding, infrastructure for scale, and trust, respect, and inclusion necessary for a sustained and scalable change process.


The proposed education session will present the CMM framework for institutions scaling and sustaining online instruction and will engage the session participants by having them complete an abbreviated assessment of their own institution’s level of maturity. The session participants will to get some experience apply the CMM framework to their campus’ online instruction strategy and begin to prioritize the elements of their strategy they need to mature to get to the next level.   The session will also have a large group discussion about how to share the CMM framework with administration leaders so it can become part of the institution’s change management strategy.   Participants can take away a draft strategy that they could use to help their institution improve, scale, and sustain their transformation of instruction to online and hybrid modalities.