We talked to Katie Egan of CourseArc on how the platform has transformed learning experience using online courses.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Katie Egan: We are surviving. It has been tough for my two teenage daughters, who are both competitive high school athletes and very involved in the school. They are coping with virtual learning, but it is not ideal, and we are hopeful some form of in-school instruction and sports will begin in 2021. It has been difficult to witness the instruction they are receiving, given what I know about online learning.
CourseArc has always been a remote company, so there was a little transition in terms of remote work for me; I already have a home office. However, supporting my girls with their school and well-being, AND managing the company has been challenging.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded CourseArc.
Katie Egan: I started my career as a high school teacher. As I progressed in my career as an educator, I realized that I could have the greatest impact on the lives of students by empowering other instructors to integrate better methods and technologies into their learning environments. I became interested in designing engaging and high-quality online learning, which led me to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where I earned my master’s degree in Instructional Design.
I started my own consulting company and built eLearning solutions for clients, combining instructional design best practices with cutting-edge technical development. After spending years trying to find the right course authoring solution, my business partner and I decided to build our own tool, which we called CourseArc.
CourseArc is a comprehensive solution to the problems we encountered with existing tools on the market which are difficult to use, not fully 508/WCAG compliant, require downloaded software, have expensive single-license pricing, don’t allow collaboration, and make it difficult to establish and follow consistent design patterns while developing a course.
How does CourseArc innovate?
Katie Egan: We are constantly researching other technologies and trends and working closely with clients and end-users to incorporate solutions to their real-world needs. We have formalized a Design Partner Program so we can ensure our roadmap is both innovative and valuable to our clients.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Katie Egan: We have seen a dramatic increase in usage of CourseArc since the onset of Covid-19. Clients like our state-led virtual schools immediately had to pivot and offer online instruction to all traditional students in their states. We went from having an average weekly page view of approximately 1 million to 8 million in just a few months. We invested in infrastructure updates to ensure we could support the large increase in concurrent users.
We also developed a feature that enables the sharing of course content across counties and states. CourseArc’s client, the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA), an association of the chiefs of some of the most innovative virtual programs in the United States, was one of the first to utilize this new feature. The sharing tool from CourseArc allows schools, districts, states, and consortiums to “divide and conquer,” enabling quick access and deployment of quality online content. This new CourseArc feature reduces the development burden on instructors and institutions, allowing them, instead, to focus efforts on creating better online learning opportunities for learners.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Katie Egan: We are very lucky and grateful to have experienced growth during COVID. Thankfully, we didn’t have to make any hard choices or lose staff. In fact, we actually have increased our team over the past few months. CourseArc is made up of very talented team players ready to take on new challenges to support our clients. Everyone is facing different stressors related to COVID, but through it all, they manage to bring positivity, creativity, and effort to their work here. I feel very fortunate to have the team I have at CourseArc and that we are positioned to have a positive impact on people during this difficult time and beyond.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and CourseArc in the future?
Katie Egan: I manage my stress with exercise and try my best to get a good night’s sleep. Prior to COVID, I would practice yoga and go to the gym. Now that those options are not available, I’ve transitioned to running and biking outside and working out in my basement twice a week with my sister. My goal is to workout 6 days a week. It does not eliminate all my stress but helps a bunch. I encourage my team to take care of themselves in whatever way they need. While I choose exercise, it’s getting into nature for others or doing a little baking with their kids. The aim is to stay aware of how we feel and have open conversations about what we need at work and home. Transparency and hard work have been important for our company from the beginning and will continue to help us as we adapt to COVID and other challenges that come in the future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Katie Egan: Many competitors in the market offer various content authoring solutions; however, most of these products are designed for individual use. CourseArc believes collaborative content designed specifically for the organization is an incredible asset to build our product for the teams. We support multi-stakeholder development, workflows, management, retrieval, sharing, and deploying content.
When we started, we had a strong focus on pedagogy, and we plan to bring the science of course design not just to schools and universities but also to corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. By marrying best practices in teaching and learning with our innovative software, we will stay competitive by making in-house course design approachable to all organizations and providing excellent support to our clients.
Your final thoughts?
Katie Egan: We have always been a company that values innovation and agility, and while COVID-19 has presented challenges, we realize many innovations and creative solutions come because of unexpected challenges.
I am confident that CourseArc, our team, our clients, and the world will rise to the occasion.
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