LearnDS student business grows from advanced instructional design class

AMES, Iowa -- The educational experience for some Iowa State University curriculum and instructional technology graduate students has extended far beyond the classroom to a new business that grew out of their advanced instructional design class
(C I 603). But given the nature of their Learning Design Solutions (LearnDS) enterprise, the educational process is very much a two-way street.

The student-run group assists clients with their instructional design needs at a fraction of commercial consulting firm prices. The team of seven student instructional designers and three faculty advisors from ISU's College of Human Sciences (Ana-Paula Correia, Linda Niehm and Ann Thompson) propose innovative uses of technology to facilitate learning and support effective teaching for their clients.

The Story County Coalition for Disaster Recovery was the first client for LearnDS, which helped improve upon the coalition's sandbagging instruction to volunteers. Members are now working with Iowa State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to create a guided template for online course instruction.

According to Ana-Paula Correia -- LearnDS founder and advisor, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and a faculty member with the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching -- the business became a natural extension of her advanced instructional design class.

"Through the advanced systems design class, students work with businesses that need help in creating or updating instructional technology products," Correia said. "Over the years, we have developed a high demand for our skills and to meet this need, students started LearnDS to provide these services year-round. It really helps the businesses and it gives our students an opportunity to keep their skills fresh and learn new techniques."

Launched through an ISU Pappajohn Center grant

LearnDS organizers were initially awarded a $6,000 start-up grant from the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship to launch the business. They have subsequently received a $25,000 College of Human Sciences Innovation Initiatives' grant.

The seven student members of the board of directors -- who have a multinational background, coming from Denmark, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States -- are now in search of new clients. They say they work at cost, with affordable local rates that include a lower rate for on-campus clients.

And it doesn't really matter what type of instructional needs potential clients may have.

"There is always a need in which people want to learn how to do something better," said Correia, who recently worked with graduate students in her Evaluating Digital Learning Environments class to evaluate simulated and actual war-training exercises with the Iowa National Guard at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

"There are so many problems out there; just look around," she said. "We struggle with technology every day and sometimes the businesses don't even know what the employees' training needs are. So there's all this work to do, which is why we identified a need for this [LearnDS] service. And we're going to work as a multifunctional consulting firm."

One of the student board members, Vanessa Preast, initially attended a sandbagging volunteer workshop and realized that Story County's disaster recovery training system could benefit from her colleagues' skills. A LearnDS project team reorganized information, created illustrations and quizzes, and produced instructional videos and activities that help new volunteers learn the sandbagging process.

High praise from their first client

Betty Boccella, volunteer coordinator for the Story County Coalition for Disaster Recovery, said the updated training materials ensure that the organization -- and volunteers -- will be more prepared than ever before.

The job also provided a new experience for the LearnDS members, who have big plans for their business.

"We want to be an example for student enterprise, especially at Iowa State and the state of Iowa," said LearnDS member Evrim Baran, a curriculum and instruction Ph.D. candidate from Turkey. "That's why we have [associate professor] Linda Niehm advising our group, because she has that expertise in entrepreneurship and the culture. And because we want to be a best practice example, her involvement is providing feedback on how this business operates as a student-run enterprise."

"In the end, we want to design the best, most effective product that will help people become better employees, volunteers and citizens," said LearnDS member Jacob Larsen, a curriculum and instruction graduate student from Denmark.

LearnDS members are developing a road show that they can take to potential clients to let them know more about the organization and what it can do. They also welcome other curriculum and instruction technology students who may wish to participate in the organization.

Potential clients or new members can learn more online at http://www.ctlt.iastate.edu/learnds/.