I guess a good way to start is: What is your working theory as to what drives learning success?
Kelly Dempsey: Personally, my motto is, «Technical innovation moves at the speed of relationships. And relationships move at the speed of trust.»
We checked back with Moonami a year after their increased efforts to make a unique message resonate. It included a larger presence on the Moodle conferences in the US, a strengthened efforts in the corporate LMS —worthy of a “Highly Commended” mention on the 2020 Totara Awards—; and above all, the recruitment of Kelly Dempsey, New Yorker, an experienced instructional designer who, after learning about the company’s unique and fitting approach to EdTech, decided to leave her post at Colgate University for equally collegial but more Open Source-oriented pastures.
Kelly Dempsey continues to champion the motto that has carried her work for over two decades
In different organizations, the key foundation that I have come to realize with technology is relationships. You must work with programmers, the back end people, people working on the front lines, with faculty.
So it’s all about relationships, trust and the technology itself. Here at Moonami it’s all about making sure that our clients are happy that the product that we offer is what they need, customizing it to their specific needs and getting to know them.
Working with clients in this way has been a real delight for me. I was so used to working with faculty and the instructional design role. But now, I am interacting with a base of over 400 clients (and growing rapidly) that are all unique. They all have their own specific challenges, and as I build relationships with them, they build trust in me and our company. And I think that’s really the foundation for technical innovation and technical service.
I need to know and understand that part of our business as well as being able to talk to our clients who may or may not have technical expertise. I feel like an interpreter at times. We’ve got one language. Our client speaks one type of language, maybe two or three. Support teams speak another language. It is challenging for sure.
Can you tell us about the Moonami customer? How do you see them, what makes them special?
KD: Among the variety and different levels of ability, the commonality is an interest for learning how to do things better, a willingness to collaborate and share knowledge and ideas with one another.
I find that larger institutions, whether it’s Higher Ed or corporate, have a team supporting their technology. It can consist of analysts, programmers, even instructional designers like me. Whereas some of our smaller clients rely on us for just about everything. They don’t have staff to do the various jobs required to run things smoothly. Trying to meet those needs is challenging, but we are jazzed by it.
So how does Moonami make sure everyone gets cared for the same way?
That is one of the challenges that excites me the most! We enjoy working with customers that have 300 learners as much as we enjoy our customers that have 80,000. We set up regular check-ins with clients a part of our “Client Success Program” to make sure we are keeping our end of the bargain as well as informing them of the latest versions and offering site audits.
We’re kind of a “soup to nuts” type of organization. We offer all of it if they need it, or just fill in the gaps.
Could you share a little specifics on the dynamics of your current customers?
We support all types of organizations. We have many clients who’ve never had an LMS, but recognize the need for training. Be it a company undergoing ownership transfer; a franchisee owner that needs to get one or many franchises up and running; a company facing new rules and regulations or aiming for a new certification, or a non-profit organization that wants to provide its team or people on the field training on different areas, often geographically. Very diverse cases, but with common needs and not much experience with elearning. We’re finding more and more clients like them are coming to us, and we’re able to provide them with the elearning consultations and course design.
With our more traditional clients, we’ve found their needs and processes can be very different. Most Universities have staff that provide both back-end and instructional design support. These are wonderful partners for us. From time to time they experience pain points such as a turnover of personnel, with new staff with no LMS experience. We then engage and consult with them to offer training for new staff stepping into the Site Admin role, as well as instructional design offering course design because they need support in this area where they didn’t before.
Relatively speaking, there is a constant rate of turnover in Higher Ed.
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That's very interesting. It seems to me that “EdTech” or elearning roles are not still standard professional positions…
Right. But I think elearning is becoming more common, especially among universities and institutions that are trying to cut costs and drive more profits.
They're turning to elearning with profit-driven motives, but they are recognizing that converting a face-to-face course into an online course is not easy. In particular, the role of the Instructional Designer is getting into the spotlight.
The practice of Instructional Design started off in World War II, where they were trying to standardize teaching soldiers things like field stripping rifles, and so on. That's when instructional designers started to create content and learning experiences. The discipline has come a long way: Now you're seeing many Universities turning to elearning and hiring instructional designers. I think the field is growing and gaining adoption.
Instructional design is turning into a great consulting opportunity for EdTech companies…
Sure. Due to the fact that more universities are turning face-to-face courses online, companies poised to provide hosting services are evolving to also include instructional design services. We are able to consult with faculty, and help them create a truly interactive and engaging online experience for students.
One of the people I follow is Bryan Alexander. He's a futurist, focusing on the future of education. He recently shared this stat: Half of the nation's 5,300 bricks and mortar universities could be closed within 10 to 15 years, unless they evolve to supplement traditional in-person learning to online learning. The ivory tower is not safe from technological disruption. Now, whether or not that's true, I don't know. But the future of Higher Ed will definitely factor in the rising tuition costs, debt, and the dropping college enrollments rates. You could say online learning is playing a disruptive role, but increasingly the question is more about how traditional schools can leverage online learning for their survival.
In the discussion of the role that an EdTech company can play to help the more traditional schools transition into the online space, a recurring and often controversial actor is the Online Program Manager (OPMs). Do you see Moonami, perhaps other partners adopting this type of role?
It is certainly an interesting role, but we have to be careful. I think it can be a problem when the main or only goal is to increase profits via online enrollments. And even so, there are bad ways to do it, and good ways to make a sustainable business model. As in any contract between two parties, trust is essential. From the little I know there are some concerns for institutions looking to partner with OPMs.
I guess what I'm wondering is, what would a company like Moonami need to do to ensure that, the online experience that our clients provide is still really valuable? How can we help address concerns stemming from bad experiences, and issues like the quality perception of online learning compared to face-to-face?
So we have to prioritize the quality of the transition that OPMs provide for universities. I think we need to make sure that when we're working with our clients, we teach them how to be effective, and make sure that we're grounded in our understanding of their learning process. We started out as a “boutique” company but are growing steadily, expanding our reach to both academic and corporate clients
In a more practical terms, how do you approach this balance between creating a specific business model, one that would work for as many customers as possible, but also tending to their specific needs? How does Moonami balance customization with the need for technological efficiencies?
This is what fuels us at Moonami and makes us unique. We work with clients as full partners even before an agreement is in place as per our complimentary Moodle site migration offering. We often help with custom themes and sandbox environments without a penny being sent to us. We build a tremendous amount of trust with this model. Our mission is to ensure that our clients are successful in using Moodle from the very beginning all the way to the launch of their eLearning program through our whole lifecycle with them.
Can you share a bit about the new dynamics, and the new things brewing up inside the company?
We have a couple of things on the pipeline. First of all, we relaunched our site, it is now more interactive, and we're making sure to keep the content fresh and updated on a much more regular basis. We're doing a lot of blogging, tweeting, more social media so that our customers and prospective clients receive more communication and updates on what is going on at Moonami and within the "Moodleverse." We're sending out regular newsletters to our clients. Above all, we're trying to keep what we're doing internally, trying to expand and open up through social media marketing.
Several exciting initiatives we’ve recently employed are:
Implemented a world-class support system, Zendesk.
Improved our Live-Chat feature
Developed self-help documentation on or support site
Added tier two and three support systems
Added three new experienced Moodle technicians to handle the increased support demand from the client base expansion we’ve experienced this year.
We’re constantly looking into ways to put more money into the inner workings of our customer support processes. We're currently hiring more staff and investing into the right talent that can make sure our growing client base is taken care of. Our core business philosophy is to invest into areas that drive direct value back to our clients. We want to make sure that as we grow we're continuing to provide top notch support for our clients.
So stay tuned. We’ve got some exciting things planned for this year and beyond. Our unique business model continues and our ongoing commitment to ensure our clients are driving deep adoption of Moodle and Moodle Workplace continues to be a major factor why clients come aboard with us. It is heartwarming to see how it is making a really profound impact in this space.