To Learn Is to Change: How We’re Sharpening Macmillan Learning’s Focus on Pedagogy

leasa_burton
Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
2 0 1,740

To learn is to change. Learning literally changes the networks in our brains. It transforms the way we see our world and our relationship to it. Learning is why those of us who commit our careers to education–whether teachers, designers, researchers, developers, technologists, or writers–do what we do. It’s a mission. We got hooked on that lightbulb moment, that epiphany of connecting ideas and capabilities that help build the next bridge.

Of course, learning is sometimes bewildering, prompting us to ask, “What if I don’t get it? Where does that leave me?” I sometimes hear that wariness, and even fear, in discussions about generative AI and the important questions it raises about assessing learning. There are risks, such as the many outstanding questions about the efficacy of gen AI detection and the inherent bias against English language learners whose work may be falsely identified as being AI generated.

leasa quote 1.png

But what if, as we learn, we turn in a more courageous direction? When we approach changes before us with interest, curiosity and even awe, we open ourselves up to different lessons and new opportunities to perhaps find a way to do better. At Macmillan Learning, our exploration of the potential applications of AI tools focuses on careful design and implementation, bringing forward its best uses, just as we’ve done with other new technologies and teaching practices before it.

The foundation of our work as a learning company is based on being open to change, building on successful practices that improve learning, and also respecting (and protecting) the humans in the process. Importantly, that commitment is what led to Macmillan Learning creating a new team that I’m honored to leadthe Pedagogical Design Group (PDG). 

Translating Theory into Practice: Inclusion, Accessibility, and Course Design

Bringing together three interconnected areas–course design, inclusive pedagogy, and accessibility–into one Pedagogical Design Group ensures an integrated approach in our early  planning and development and enables us to share best practices across all disciplines at Macmillan Learning. These efforts are a part of our journey from being simply a textbook publisher to flourishing as a digital learning company. 

Working with Macmillan Learning’s learning science team and the experts within our disciplines, the PDG serves as a bridge, translating research into practices implemented across our products in a way that is impactful and scalable. Our work begins with ensuring that students feel like they belong and culminates in learning that helps them succeed in the classroom and beyond.

leasa quote 2.pngIt’s critical that our resources reflect the diversity of learners who use them. Designing for inclusion goes beyond attending to representation. While Macmillan Learning has historically invested in pedagogically-focused products and services developed through the lens of inclusive teaching, our new team is focused on deepening our impact by designing equitable and accessible learning experiences for more learners. 

We aim to create a learning environment where every student can thrive, and do this by creating best-in-class materials that support diverse learners and needs. That includes raising the bar on our accessibility journey so that all learners have the same opportunities for success. Because we were the first higher education company to become “Global Certified Accessible” by Benetech for our digital native course materials, we know how critical it is to continue to partner with thought leaders and make ongoing investments in our materials. 

Our team is committed to developing learning materials that are not only compliant with accessibility standards but are also engaging and effective for all learners. This is more than just a legal requirement to us–it is a moral imperative.

Listening: The Key to Creating Responsive and Responsible Resources

Listening to our customers about what matters most to them allows us to be as responsive and responsible as possible, and our new team is dedicated to ensuring our products do just that. Approaches to teaching and learning vary across contexts, and no two instructors, classes or disciplines have the same needs. Active learning and critical thinking are just empty buzzwords if we aren’t attentive to the values and content knowledge within each discipline. The PDG knows how essential it is to carefully design products that support developing skills in ways that respect these differences. 

A recent Macmillan Learning survey, conducted in collaboration with our learning science and marketing colleagues, revealed enthusiasm among instructors across disciplines for adopting new evidence-based teaching practices by incorporating discrete new elements, like activities that support a sense of belonging, gradually into their resources, rather than making a wholesale shift. Being responsible means understanding when change is needed as much as how.

We understand the need to balance enthusiasm and optimism about the future with meaningful change. Listening to students talk about how they’re using new AI-infused tools has been instructive. While many are exploring them to engage more critically with information and to foster curiosity, others are a bit more wary, protective of their own distinct writing voice and ideas. The best learning materials are adaptive, meeting students where they are and providing the support they need to succeed.

Generative AI is just one of the many tools we can use to support student learning, the heart of our work. To learn is to change, and by bridging student and instructor needs with our company’s mission to inspire what’s possible for every learner, we are well-equipped to embrace it.

About the Author
Before coming to Bedford/St. Martin's in 1997, I taught composition and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh for 7 years.