lisa headshotLisa Brefini is a Course Operations Specialist at NovoEd.  She helps facilitate and run courses on NovoEd, including those of Philanthropy University. Before joining NovoEd, Lisa managed study abroad programs at the University of New Hampshire, taught high school English in France, and worked for WorldTeach and the Institute of International Education. She holds a master’s degree in Education from Harvard University.
Tell us a little about yourself. Why are you excited about online education?

I’ve always been passionate about education. Before coming to NovoEd, I worked in international education with nonprofits and in higher education. I managed international study and volunteer programs for college students and recent college graduates. I loved the work I did in those jobs, but started to feel I could have a more meaningful impact working on projects and programs that make quality educational experiences accessible for a much larger and broader population. To me, getting into online learning was the perfect opportunity to do that. Working on the Philanthropy University initiative at NovoEd has given me that chance, with 200,000 learners from all over the world enrolled in its first offering of 7 free courses on nonprofit capacity building in the social sector.

lisa philu

Watching a Google Hangout with one of our course instructors

What does a course ops specialist do?

A little bit of everything! I’m kind of like a TA, running and managing the daily instructional components of each course, and my main goal is to maximize learning outcomes and completion rates by keeping learners engaged. I work towards that through learner community management, email engagement, learner support, data analysis, and acting as a sort of intermediary between instructors and learners. I handle learner questions and communications, including course announcements, assignment reminders, intervention emails to keep learners on track, etc. I also elevate learner requirements or concerns to the instructional designer and product manager to support improvements to the course or to the platform. Overall, I’m just trying to ensure that the course runs smoothly so that learners have a positive experience on the platform and achieve their learning goals.

What is the secret to success for an online course?

Every course is different, so it’s hard to know the what the “secret(s)”–there’s never just one!–to achieving success will be until you get to know your learners and their goals. From my experience with the Philanthropy University courses, I learned that it is essential to know who your learners are, where they are coming from, what they hope to achieve, and how they are feeling about taking an online course. You can learn a lot of these things through pre-course surveys and activity in the discussion boards during the early stages of the course. Some learners are already highly motivated or experienced in online learning; some are more hesitant, or only intend to “check things out” and observe from the sidelines before deciding whether to dive in. Knowing more about that will help you to formulate a variety of engagement strategies for the different types of learners.

ID team

With the NovoEd Instructional Design Team

How do you keep learners engaged and motivated in an online course?

As I mentioned, different learners respond to different things, but most people really thrive in a social environment. Our platform is great at creating the space for learners to collaborate, learn together and be accountable to one another, so one of the things I do is to try to foster that social interaction in the discussion forums and assignment submission galleries (e.g. commenting, liking posts, generally being present and visible). I’ve also found that learners react very positively whenever they have the opportunity to interact with the instructor, whether it’s receiving feedback on their assignments or getting answers to course-related questions in an “Ask Me Anything” format. Also, remembering that many learners are new to online learning, it helps to have synchronous events every once in awhile. For example, Google Hangouts with instructors and guest speakers have been very popular. I think events like that are great opportunities to get people face-to-face and make the whole experience feel more genuine. And, it’s a reminder that real people are sitting behind those screens all over the world, and that you’re all in this together.