Q&A with Luke Hobson, Senior Instructional Designer and Program Manager at MIT Open Learning

MITili Staff

Dr. Luke Hobson is a Senior Instructional Designer and Program Manager at MIT, an Online Instructor for SNHU, and host of the Dr. Luke Hobson Podcast and YouTube Channel. He is also the author of the book, What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Instructional Designer. He is passionate about sharing his experiences with others to help them learn about instructional design.

His philosophy on learning comes from MIT, which is mens et manus or mind and hand. He believes in providing practical applications to develop real tangible skills. Hobson’s superpower is being able to take complex ideas and translate them into simple lessons. He shares his lessons via podcast, blog, YouTube, courses, and his book with detailed steps to help educators create meaningful online learning experiences.

Hobson received a BA in Graphic Design, an MS in Marketing, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership (EdD) with his research focusing on online Millennial Generation students and how they have perceived their relationships with online Academic Advisors.

When did you first become interested in instructional design?

Many instructional designers will tell you that they fell into the field by accident. This wasn’t the case for me though. Back in 2013, I was an online academic advisor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and I witnessed firsthand the explosive growth of their online programs. While I was helping my students through their courses, I wondered about who was actually creating them. I began to network with more and more people at SNHU and eventually, I became connected with a friend in instructional design. I asked him what his title meant and he said, “I’m the one who designs the online learning experiences for your students.” After that conversation, I was determined to become an instructional designer.

What are some of the issues educators struggle with when creating online learning experiences?

My answer certainly changes depending upon the target audience of educators. If you are asking about instructional designers, the most significant issue is getting buy-in from either faculty or subject matter experts (SMEs). While instructional designers focus on how people learn and creating experiences around the learning process, the role is primarily about people skills. Building relationships, collaborating with others, persuading, communicating effectively, and other human skills are vital to the role and to our projects. Without the investment from all team members, the project will not run smoothly.

If we are speaking about teachers or instructors, it could be a myriad of issues when creating online learning experiences. I think the most pressing issue is leaving your comfort zone. True meaningful online learning experiences take time to develop. It starts with admitting that what you are currently doing could be improved upon. There is no such thing as a perfect course. As an instructor myself, this was really odd to admit until I learned more about what my students were experiencing and then researching how I could become more creative with my approaches. With that being said, there are several other issues with having enough time to fully develop the experience or not having enough people power to lend a helping hand.

How might educators find ways to make online learning more effective?

There is a stereotype out there that online courses are inferior to face-to-face courses. The problem is that so many online courses are still developed in the same way from 20 years ago. It’s common to see an online course have three components: readings, discussion boards, and essays. While these pieces have their purposes, online learning can be so much more. There isn’t a rule out there that says every online course must look the same.

Take for example assessments. Instead of the traditional essay, why can’t students demonstrate what they’ve learned through scenario-based learning, problem-based learning, team-based learning, gamification, peer-reviewed assignments, case studies, simulations, or more? For activities, incorporate practice questions that allow students to practice answering a question in a safe space and not feel like they are being graded. Then this can be followed up with a reflection question where students stop, pause, and think about what they just learned and how they can apply these lessons into their lives or their academic journey. The content doesn’t need to always be textbooks either. Podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars, articles, and other forms of media can be utilized. Overall, learning is a process of change and change takes time, energy, and involvement.

Tell us a little about your research into online Academic Advisory.

As an academic advisor, my role was to support my students in any way. This meant coaching and guidance via phone and email and talking about their academic journey. We would discuss time management practices, academic support, enrolling in courses, and providing overall encouragement. After my third year as an academic advisor, I noticed that more of my students were Millennials instead of Gen X or Baby Boomers. I had a call with one student, who was 17-years-old at the time, and I realized that I had no idea how to best support him. My usual strategies were catered for students with full-time careers, a family, and other commitments. For a young person just graduating high school, they didn’t share the same traits and I began to wonder what the relationship was between an online academic advisor and a Millennial student. Since there weren’t any published findings at the time about this subject, it became my dissertation topic.

I found that there were four key themes that emerged from the data: connectivity, empathy, awareness, and encouragement. Millennials felt a strong connection towards their academic advisors and were seen as their main support system for online learning. There was a strong sense of empathy with knowing how difficult the role of academic advisor can be and with how many students they work with at one time. Millennials were aware that if anything happened in their courses, the academic advisor was the “go-to” person for getting help. Lastly, the academic advisors were seen as the help and motivation to accomplish their goals.

What is your favorite thing about working at MIT?

Without a doubt, it’s the entrepreneur spirit. Every person I’ve connected with at MIT is a problem-solver and a doer. No idea seems too crazy if it means making the online learning experience better for our students and learners.