How to Relaunch and Revitalize On Deck Course Creators
On Deck Course Creators provided a powerful experience and network for participants. The program will not continue, but with a few tweaks, someone could revitalize the program and shape the future of education.
About The On Deck Course Creator Fellowship
On Deck Course Creators, or ODCC, was a program hosted by On Deck. For nearly $3,000, participants worked for eight weeks to launch a transformational course.
The program attracted students from around the globe (including myself!), building everything from email courses on financial literacy, to cohort-based courses on how to set up your kitchen, and asynchronous courses on how to host virtual sessions like this one I built.
The program was built with an accessible CBC model with:
- Large group sessions twice a week led by the director Andrew Barry and operations manager Jackie Williams
- Almost daily peer support sessions led by one of seven mentors around the globe – Hasan, Julia, Marie, Cam, Daniel, Aarushi, Nate
- Bonus content with fireside chats with guest speakers and other lecturers
- Workshops hosted by fellow students sharing tips and tricks
The End of On Deck Course Creator (as we know it)
ODCC was a powerful experience for me personally. By far the greatest value was the network – meeting talented educators around the globe who provide honest feedback and important connections for future work. I would enthusiastically recommend the program for someone who is developing a course and is looking to improve it – but I can’t.
On Deck made the decision to end the Course Creator program after its first iteration. While On Deck’s mission is to be the “Stanford of the Internet,” its latest round of funding seems to be pushing On Deck to focus on building the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with more programming and education related to founders, investors, industry specific verticals, etc. As an example, On Deck now offers an EdTech vertical, slightly pivoting its focus on education from the service provider side to the product developer.
The focus is understandable, but as someone interested in improving and innovating education, it is disappointing. I believe On Deck has a model that provides an important alternative to traditional education paths. That is still the case with their existing 17+ programs, but losing ODCC means fewer leaders to drive that change.
The optimistic view is that now the opportunity exists for someone else to support educators.
If someone wants to shape the future of innovative education, ODCC provides a blueprint. It was not without its flaws. For the next iteration of ODCC, wherever that may be, there are three clear changes that should be made.
The most important question for an educator is what is this (course, university, program, cohort, lesson, etc.) for?
With an ODCC-type program, the goal needs to be clear. For ODCC, it was a bit murky.
A good portion of attendees came in with a course they were building or had built. For them, ODCC was a place to level up. Others came in looking to learn more about the course creation world. Others came from higher ed or as a consultant looking to improve their skills..
There was a bit of something for all of these groups in ODCC, but that was the problem. There was just too much.
A course creator program will have greater impact by narrowly defining its goal and outcomes for students. This would also help shorten the program by focusing on the most valuable content.
The participants who had a specific course or program were the ones most active in the course, while the students who were not as far along faded away as the course progressed.
The challenge with a more advanced and focused goal is fewer people are potential customers. To alleviate this problem, a course creator program should offer an optional onboarding. This could be a series of short workshops to help move students from an idea for a course to an outline for a course. By having a course to develop, students can immediately apply the lessons and learn by doing.
Make It Welcoming
An amazing part of ODCC was joining a global community that shared a passion for education.
I had an early morning trip one morning and opened up the Slack community at 5am local time. Sure enough, there was Aarushi leading a peer supporter session. I joined and met new friends from across Europe and Asia who I usually missed in other sessions. Seeing constant activity and knowing educators in every continent is thrilling.
The challenge with any community, but especially a global community, is shaping norms for the experience. With multiple cultures, professional experiences, and personalities, this is not an easy task. A focus on feedback and representation would help global cohorts better develop shared norms among participants.
ODCC provided amazing personal support, (round of applause for Jackie), and had a transparent code of conduct at launch. What was missing was explicit recommendations on how to give and receive feedback. The talented Gwyn Wansbrough discussed this very concept later in the course. By that time, however, there had already been complaints of communication in small groups and the feeling among some participants that they were not comfortable or their ideas were not welcome.
This stood in contrast to another cohort-based course I took two years ago: the altMBA. This course started with a video walking through what good feedback was, why it was important, and how we could provide it to our classmates. The majority of the “homework” in altMBA was giving and responding to feedback from colleagues.
This focus on peer feedback to go along with peer support is an essential piece for any cohort, especially a global community.
Representation was lacking in ODCC. Some of this was circumstance – some speakers canceled who would have brought diverse perspectives. However, the day-to-day experience could have added different voices and leadership. This change would make everyone feel more welcomed.
One way ODCC did succeed in lifting up diverse voices was through peer supporters. This global group brought varied experience and backgrounds, and not surprisingly, it was the biggest value for me and many attendees.
Future course creator programs should elevate these voices to the main sessions. Andrew Barry is a skilled leader and facilitator, but it is too much to ask any one person to lead 16+ sessions, host dozens of interviews, develop exercises, book speakers, and more. Peer supporters, students, or other guests should help lead select main sessions or interviews. This enables the director to focus on key lessons and adds diversity to the main stage. Through representation students of different backgrounds also feel more welcomed.
Changing the voice and tone of different lessons has the added benefit of making each session feel unique – a meta version of what Wes Kao calls The State Change Method. This state change amps up the feeling of FOMO among students. You want to be there to hear that person lead or to see what it’s like. You want to continue paying attention during the session because new voices come to the stage.
In my classroom, students get sick of hearing from me. Having a guest speaker forces students to sit up and be ready for the unexpected. In future fellowships, this would be a similarly powerful approach.
ODCC was too long.
There was tremendous momentum in the beginning, but it felt like there was a dip four weeks in, and many members dropped out or lost their energy.
With a tighter focus at the outset, the experience could be shortened. This would have the added benefit of enabling the host organization to run more cohorts and more quickly iterate between cohorts. Instead of an 8 week session with 150 members, a four week session with 75 seems like the right approach and size for this experience.
ODCC was an incredible experience. I now have an international network of creatives and educators I will work with the rest of my life.
I was sad to hear that ODCC will not continue. I don’t think it was for lack of quality or value.
The future of education needs to be shaped and revitalizing ODCC will be an important step in realizing that future. I’m excited to see who does it.