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By Leigh Buehler-Rappold
Assistant Professor, School of Business, American Public University
In an effort to expand its workforce, Amazon has hired Candace Thille to work with its Global Learning Development Team and create an innovative learning workplace. Thille is a pioneer in learning science and open educational delivery.
The details of Thille’s new position are still being worked out, so it is difficult to say exactly what she will do at Amazon. However, considering Amazon’s business relies heavily on data analytics and unremitting experimentation, it makes sense that this giant retailer would look to a learning scientist to advance its workforce training.
Louis Soares, vice president for policy research and strategy at the American Council on Education, notes that Amazon’s regular experimentation with product delivery and services requires employees to shift and change their skill set and knowledge “almost in real time.” If Thille helps Amazon create an innovative, online adaptive system for employee learning, the implications could apply outside the company as well.
What Is a Learning Scientist?
According to educational psychologists The Learning Scientists, a learning scientist is someone who is interested in research on education and the science of learning. The goal is to make learning readily available to students, teachers and educators. That goal includes online educational technology.
In 2002, Thille was the founding director of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2013, she became an assistant professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.
Thille focuses on open, web-based learning environments, access and availability of education to all learners. She also enables adaptable learning feedback to instructors through Open Analytics Research Systems (OARs).
Thille’s mission at Stanford was to build data systems and online learning environments that engage educators and students. The engagement occurs through the transfer of knowledge and advances the basic understanding of human learning.
In the article “5 Hacks to Help You Learn Anything” on CNBC’s Make It website, Thille told author Abigail Hess about her ideas on improving a student’s ability to learn. Thille is openly honest about her love-hate relationship with adaptive software powered by third-party companies.
Thille urges institutions of higher education to be aware of who builds their software and how these systems work. She told Jeffrey R. Young of EdSurge that algorithms will one day play a pivotal role in teaching and learning, so colleges need to pay close attention to how they work and who builds them.
Implications of Open Educational Resources for Higher Education
As many universities and colleges enter the Open Education Resources (OER) market, Thille’s work serves as an early warning how to approach open educational learning, as well as implementing third-party adaptive learning software.
Thille and other educators still have a great deal to learn from private enterprise. Data on students must be properly gathered and used from a learner standpoint, not from a consumer standpoint.
Higher education institutions that implement OER systems into their databases should know which systems best suit their students. Applying one large database across the board is not necessarily applicable throughout the university.
Steven Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University, told Inside Higher Ed that many faculty members are not fully aware of the in-depth process involved in the adoption process of OER material. Nor do they know how OER material differs from the traditional textbook.
Faculty members might initially resist online OER because they lack supplemental material that commercial texts offer, like quizzes or test prep. Bell says those supplemental materials are likely to emerge in the future.
Institutions are able to implement various online resources like College Open Textbooks or the World Digital Library (WDL). They can also use third-party vendors like Lumen Learning that offer databases of OER material and can also build out curriculum for a variety of courses.
Some faculty members worry the OER material in their library is not applicable or is too outdated for their students. Ideally, they should work with their librarians or do research on their own to find the information they desire and bring it back to their universities.
Open Educational Resources Still Have Obstacles to Overcome
OER is still a new kid on the block and there are many roadblocks that institutions are working to overcome. Companies like Knewton have tied adaptive learning into their OER material. Knewton recently launched Alta, a fully integrated adaptive learning courseware for higher education.
Alta boasts higher student mastery because it ties all assignments to the learning objectives in a course as designed by the instructor. When a student struggles, Alta’s technology diagnoses the issues and delivers instructional content to bridge the student’s knowledge gap.
More than likely, many educational eyes will be on Thille’s work at Amazon to see how she applies adaptive technology to an ever-changing workforce learning system. How will she use adaptive and learning technology to train Amazon’s employees? How long before this technology reaches the educational sector? That remains to be seen.
About the Author
Leigh Buehler-Rappold is a faculty member who teaches retail management courses at American Public University. She is also a course consultant, social media specialist and curriculum design team leader. Her academic credentials include a B.A. in history and sociology from Texas A&M University, an MBA in business administration from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree in American history from American Public University. Leigh is currently working toward a doctoral degree in education from Northeastern University.