College for America Blog

How SNHU Designs for Improved Employee Engagement and Workplace Productivity


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Posted In: Workforce Insight

May • 3 • 2019

snhu designs for employee engagement

Idea in brief:
Designing from industry insights can ensure degree programs are relevant for working adults. This boosts employee engagement and productivity.

Talent management leaders understand the connection between employee engagement and productivity. For example, a 2015 Gallup analysis looked at employees who feel their work aligns with their strengths. They were 6 times more likely to be engaged at work. They are also 15% less likely to quit their jobs, and they reported an 8% boost in workplace productivity.

Evidence shows that education is a powerful way to increase employee engagement. For example, a Walmart Foundation study followed first-year students enrolled in Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) College for America program. It found that employers of these students had higher retention and lower absenteeism rates.

Education can improve engagement by helping employees feel more confident that their strengths align to their everyday work, said Linda Ruest, director of instructional design for SNHU Online.

Well-designed online courses should be personally transformational for students, and they should provide clear career benefits. That will mean more productivity and return on investment for employers.

More reading: A Roundup of Lumina Foundation’s Tuition Assistance ROI Studies

SNHU’s online courses encourage working adult learners to become more engaged in several ways. For one, as students acquire new skills, they are more confident in their abilities.

Also, as students practice problem solving and critical thinking, they become more able to self-direct their work.

“When students take away valuable knowledge and skills they can immediately apply in the workplace, they can become more engaged in their position,” said Ruest.

Build industry-specific competencies

To help students build specific skills they need at work, instructional designers at SNHU design backward from actual workplace experiences. They bring in subject-matter experts to identify what students will need in a professional role. That leads to program outcomes that instructional designers can design projects around.

“Our design scaffolds to the course goals to maximize student learning,” said Ruest. “Learning can be a long-term, costly investment. There has to be a value add in terms of authentic learning that happens during the journey so that it can translate directly in the workplace.”

For example, to develop the Human Resources management degree, instructional designers met with several HR leaders. They wanted to learn two things: What industry experts want from a student with a bachelor’s degree in their field now, and what skills they think will be most necessary 5 and 10 years from now.

“It’s a partnership with the business community,” said Brian Sollenberger, director of instructional design and product development operations at SNHU.

“That’s what makes a program forward thinking. It focuses on those skills an employer wants to see out of a graduate from our program.”

Reinforce employee engagement with project-based learning

Once academic deans, industry experts and designers collaborate on the competencies needed in a career, instructional designers develop projects to reinforce those competencies. These are taken from real workplace examples and help cement the knowledge gained through reading and exercises.

They also build skills students can use at work right away. Even if they don’t yet have a job in the field they are studying, they benefit in the short term from better interpersonal and management skills. As they learn the subject, they develop essential skills like time management, coordinating schedules and managing different personalities.

Read more: What Is Competency-Based Education?

In SNHU’s finance program, for example, students create a sample financial plan. That demonstrates domain knowledge.

But students then record a video presentation to practice delivering that plan to a client. That reinforces competencies in communication that are revisited in multiple subjects.

In the healthcare program, students engage in group projects that simulate the teamwork they’ll need in their jobs.

“Instructional design for us comes down to getting the assessments as real-world as possible,” Sollenberger said.

Map for the long journey

At the program level, instructional designers plan around major milestones. Those are places where the curriculum:

  • introduces skills
  • reinforces those skills
  • asks students to show mastery

Instructional designers use an “IRM map” — for introduce, reinforce and master — to track those milestones.

According to Sollenberger, the goal is to reinforce skills that make learners more productive and successful at work. “We’re looking for things like emotional intelligence and people being able to communicate effectively,” he said.

Employee engagement comes from authentic learning

The more authentic and relevant the skills a student learns, the more valuable a contributor they are to the workplace, noted Ruest.

Related reading: How a McDonald’s Franchise Group Empowers Employees Through Education

Additionally, workers who are more confident and empowered to do their jobs are more engaged at work, Ruest noted. That improves retention and gives employers more options when it comes to building an internal pipeline.

“To me, it’s a benefit for the learner and it’s a benefit for the employer in the long run,” said Ruest. “It really minimizes the training curve.”

Contact the Workforce Partnerships team at Southern New Hampshire University to learn about our tailored learning solutions.