There are many new educational technology companies that have launched in the last few years, however, very few employ a Director for Teaching and Learning. Udemy is one of those few companies and Audrey Heinesen is the online learning platform’s e-learning specialist and instructional design expert. With over 20 years experience in product and content design for computer-based learning, Audrey has helped lead groups like the online education division of The New York Times. In addition, Audrey has extensive experience building both formal and informal digital learning experiences across a range of subjects. She completed her doctorate in Instructional Technology & Media at Teachers College, Columbia University.
EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I've always been driven by humanitarian aspirations and my passion for education. I took an interdisciplinary approach for my undergraduate work at UC Berkeley to understand the complexity of human society and cognition. I then continued on to Soka University of America to be a part of their inaugural masters program in second and foreign language education. That degree allowed me to teach abroad for many years on the university level and propelled me into the academic circles and movements around computer-based learning.
My love for computers, both hardware and software, started at a young age. But it wasn't until the early 90's with the increased popularity of the internet, that I couldn't help but become involved in exploring the possibilities in programming, web design, and pedagogy. I eventually ended up in the new field of instructional technology & media at Teachers College, Columbia University. While doing my doctorate there, I worked on many eLearning research projects, technology integration in schools, and using educational technology as an agent of change.
Overall, I never knew exactly what I would end up doing for work. But, I followed my passion for technology and education, and fortunately, the two intersected at just the right time for me to do something that is both personally and professionally fulfilling.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: In 2000, I took my first completely online course and it was so awful. I saw the potential in it, though, and I knew it could be so much better based on my previous teaching (and learning) experience; this is what drove me to online education. I ended up leading a new online education initiative at The New York Times Company where we built partnerships with over 30 universities and educational organizations to develop and offer online programs, both for-credit and non-credit. After doing that for several years, I joined up with a progressive EdTech startup in San Francisco called Udemy. Udemy is dedicated to empower anyone to share their expertise by teaching online, and to offer the most diverse, applicable, and affordable online courses to students.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: At Udemy, we have a slogan for 2013 that says, "What if every expert in the world decided to teach the next generation? Imagine how many lives we could change." We empower individuals to teach online and to create the most amazing online learning community. Whether you are currently a teacher or not, you can now teach online and share your knowledge and passion with others from all over the world. I believe this is already a huge shift for online learning and the process of democratizing education. Now, if you want to learn CSS for your job, you can take a 1-hour course and learn it now from one of the best designers in the field. Or, if you want learn Astronomy, you can take a semester-long course from a top university instructor for free. All of this is possible if you have an internet connection.
As the director for teaching and learning, I'm responsible for the quality of education on both a product and content level. Our approach is to give our instructors the best tools, resources, and support so they can decide on how best to teach their topic. Our instructors are now the innovators in video-based learning and we aim to share our data and research to help inform future directions at Udemy and in the world of online education.
We have just scratched the surface in terms of what is possible in online teaching and learning, and I hope that our community of instructors and students will lead the way.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: The spotlight on MOOCs has really helped the online education movement. Teachers, researchers, administrators, corporations - everyone is focused on not just getting online but on figuring out how to create the best online learning experience. It has also put emphasis on affordable learning opportunities. We are already seeing a ton of great EdTech startups popping up that are creating exciting tools and environments for learning on both web and mobile platforms. I believe we will continue to see that trend grow. Lastly, as forecasted in the Horizon Report, I believe the two emerging technologies of learning analytics and wearable technology will be game changers.
Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: Currently, I'm focused on the next round of teaching and learning tools that we are going to provide for our Udemy instructors and students. We are also really pushing towards showcasing the incredible work of our instructors and students to guide and inform best practices for online teaching and learning. It's an exciting time and every day I find myself inspired by what I see and by the steps we are taking towards expanding online education.
(Image: Courtesy of Audrey Heinesen)