By: Talia Kolodny, Partner Community Manager
To continue our series highlighting Coursera’s Outstanding Educator Awards, we would like to share the unique teaching strategies used by Dr. Yvonne Breyer and her team of expert instructors, Nicky Bull and Prashan Karunaratne. Dr. Breyer leads the Excel Essentials for Business Specialization and together with her team, is the recipient of Coursera’s 2018 Outstanding Educator Award for Transformation.
This team took the mundane topic of basic Excel skills and created an interactive and engaging Specialization, providing learners with practical skills for the workforce. The Specialization was inspired by the persisting digital skills gap in the job market. As shown by Burning Glass Technologies and Capital One research, digital skills, like Excel, lead to higher income and better employment opportunities. “Excel remains one of the most fundamental yet critical pieces of software for professionals across a wide range of industries,” said Dr. Breyer.
Here are three aspects of Excel Essentials for Business that support learner transformation:
#1 Providing learners with industry-relevant problems
Thousands of learners enroll in this Specialization hoping to gain concrete skills to improve their career. Whether they’re trying to gain new skills for their current job or searching for a career change, they are all seeking outcomes that will be immediately applicable.
“Using spreadsheet software such as Excel effectively and efficiently is key in many professions. Our learners report to us that they are self-taught and have many gaps in their knowledge of the software. Filling these gaps boosts learner confidence in their work skills, improves their performance in job interviews, and positively affects their day-to-day life in the workplace.” – Dr. Breyer
The Macquarie team focused on sourcing problem sets and examples from industry leaders, and used them to create relevant assignments.
“We adapted the case studies we had from business partners by simplifying the examples, randomising as well as generating data. We chose examples from a wide range of different contexts to make the course interesting and relevant to learners from many different backgrounds.” – Dr. Breyer.
#2 From novice to master: scaffolding with practice
The Excel Skills for Business Specialization has become an example for providing practice opportunities and scaffolded assessments that help learners demonstrate the skills they hope to learn.
The team has created multiple practice opportunities such as weekly practice challenges, supporting learners gradual progress. The team even included a diagnostic quiz for those beginning the course titled, “Are essential skills too basic for me?” This quiz goes through a few basic concepts to test prior knowledge and provides the learner with an idea of whether the Specialization is right for them.
Dr. Beyer recommends creating courses that “include lots of opportunities for students to practice and test what they have learned. Even with all the practice material we have, students are asking for more.”
#3 Using narrative to engage learners
Using inclusive and accessible language, the course team was able to personalize the learning experience by introducing narrative to each section of the Specialization. Each course was focused on a protagonist in need of enhanced Excel skills for the workplace. Learners could identify with this real-world example as the story of each course unfolded. In the weekly introduction videos, concepts were presented in the context of the protagonist and their points of struggle. This approach prevented concepts from being taught in isolation, and allowed learners to picture their implementation in their own lives.
Here’s what one learner had to say about this unique approach:
“I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this great course on Excel Essentials. It has been a pleasure to experience your methodology along the course. I identified myself with Sean and his journey to learning these great tools. At times, it was hard to follow the material… but putting determination and will, some extra time and your tips.. helped me in most of the cases…I am currently searching for a job in Chile and I am confident that with your courses I will have better opportunities.”
Here’s the team that made the Excel Essentials for Business Specialization possible:
Yvonne Breyer, Prashan Karunaratne, Nicky Bull, Phil Goody, Nathan Sollars, Tim Keighley, Pete Suen, Charles Magri, Dan Mayoh, Behnaz Razaie Ortakand, Alinaswe Chizinga, Matthew Timms and Leigh Wood. (Photograph by: Jo Stephan)
We look forward to bringing more stories from innovative educators to our broader Coursera community.