Chelsey Pienaar took on the exciting role of Chief Academic Officer at Hubble Studios at the beginning of 2021. We asked her a few questions to learn a bit more about her.
What exactly does a Chief Academic Officer do?
As Chief Academic Officer, I lead our Learning Design, Learning Technology and Multimedia teams in the design and development of technology-enhanced learning solutions. My role involves close collaboration with the Business Development team and other executive leaders to ensure that our products and services speak directly to the needs of the clients we serve. To achieve this, I play an active role in driving research efforts that place Hubble Studios at the forefront of innovations in teaching and learning methodologies, and technology-enabled education.
This understanding of current trends provides us with insight into the challenges faced by our clients, and a constant focus on upskilling enables us to solve for them. I am also responsible for ensuring that our approach to every project delivers value for the client and their students (which isn’t too tough with our talented team), whilst identifying opportunities for operational efficiencies.
What have you done in your career to date to get here?
Hmm, what haven’t I done! While I am incredibly passionate about what I do today, getting here was something of a winding road. I studied Business Science at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and after completing my Master’s of Commerce in Change Management, moved swiftly into a consulting career. Whilst working with local businesses to improve efficiency and scale, I was offered a part-time lecturing position in the Commerce faculty at UCT. Soon, I was lecturing undergraduate and postgraduate classes, supervising Honour’s student dissertations, reviewing research papers for the South African Institute of Management Sciences, and loving all of it. Around this time, GetSmarter was looking to introduce their first fully-online postgraduate qualifications with UCT, and I was approached to join the team. This is where my romance with online education begun! I spent over four years with GetSmarter, first designing, developing and facilitating several courses, but for the most part as their Qualifications Programme Manager.
Shortly before the announcement of GetSmarter’s acquisition by 2U, I chose to start my own business; a small team of experts designing and developing digital content for eLearning companies. During this time, I also consulted on eLearning projects for clients such as Woolworths and Achievement Awards Group, developed a People Management course for Red & Yellow Creative School of Business, and wrote two books on project management. Finally, I had the privilege to consult for Hubble Studios on an exciting project for a UK Top 100 University in 2020 and became CAO in January 2021. The rest, as they say, is history.
What are your favourite kinds of clients to work with?
At Hubble Studios, we work with a variety of corporate, not-for-profit, executive education and higher education institutions. My favourite clients aren’t specific to one of these categories. My favourite clients are those who share our values. Those who strive to make a positive impact on the minds and lives of their learners. My favourite clients recognise that online education is a mechanism for meaningful change at the individual and collective levels, and they’re excited to be a part of that. This type of client gets me especially excited to be working in the online education space.
What makes for a great Learning Designer?
Great question! Unlike many professions, Learning Designers aren’t commonly available amongst graduate pools. There are few local qualifications that map a direct path to a career in online Learning Design. So, we look for specific skills, experience and, perhaps most importantly, potential! I will say, unashamedly, that our Learning Designers are great. They hold University qualifications, some of them PhDs, and many have experience as teachers or lecturers. This enables them to relate to the faculty and subject matter experts (SMEs) they work with on an academic level. They are strong in skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, storytelling, writing and research. They are also empathetic, adaptable and collaborative. Finally, they are fiercely passionate about online education and care deeply for the learning experiences they create. These key ingredients, together with our learning design training and mentorship moments, are a recipe for learning design greatness.
One of Hubble Studios’ company values is ‘commit to learning value’. How does the Academic Office live this value in the work that they do?
As an Academic Office, every design decision we make is grounded in learning design principles. Our Multimedia, Learning Technology and Learning Design teams work closely together to ensure that no content or tool is superfluous. Rather, each element on its own, and in its interaction with the rest, contributes directly toward the achievement of the desired learning outcomes. This is how we ensure that every course we create offers genuine learning value to the student, and to our client.
What do you wish people knew about online education that they don’t?
Online education, at least in my experience, doesn’t replace the classroom. Rather, it expands the reach of the classroom to students across the globe. This results in rich cultural diversity in learning. In other words, we don’t always have to choose between online and classroom-based learning; we can have both! Online content complements what takes place in the physical classroom, and educational technology enables students to customise the out-of-classroom part of their learning experience, without placing additional time pressure on faculty or SMEs. And the Lecturer, well, they will always be key to education, regardless of where or how it is delivered.
What will change in Online Education in the next five years? What are you most excited for?
Where do I start? The recent global pandemic created a sudden sense of urgency for higher education institutions to invest in online learning. Many universities tackled this challenge head-on, and in just a few months, adapted to learning management systems, conferencing tools and online assessments so that they could continue to serve their students. This was a huge achievement in the face of enormous time-pressure, but it also highlighted what could be done better the next time around. So, as we move into the next five years, the focus will move away from ‘emergency’ courses toward quality online education.
Our understanding and standards of the fundamental best practices of online learning will change, and the education we deliver will be better for it. I’m excited to see immersive learning technologies, like AR and VR, remove barriers to online assessments for medical students, and create opportunities for leadership students to gain worldwide perspectives without the costs of boarding a plane. The future is immersive, it’s blended, it’s inclusive, and it is exciting!
You can find Chelsey Pienaar on LinkedIn here.
Hannes Geldenhuys is our CEO. You can find him on LinkedIn here.
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Article by: Hannes Geldenhuys