Welcome to The CoLab podcast. My name is Ryan Macpherson, CEO and Co-Founder of Coassemble, the online training platform revolutionizing how teams train. Today I’m joined by the founder and CEO of Hello Literacy, Jen Jones. Today we’re going to talk about how Jen creates meaningful learning experiences and what role an online training platform has had in her business. Let’s dive in, shall we?
About the CoLab Podcast
The CoLab Podcast is the best business training advice from experts in the field on sharing knowledge and growing teams successfully at scale. In each episode, host Ryan Macpherson will chat with guests about entrepreneurship, strategy, management, leadership, and the value of elevating the employee experience. Ryan will also share his insights on proven methods & strategies that helped teams grow.
To listen to the full episode, click the link below to hear CoLab wherever you enjoy podcasts most.
What you’ll learn in today’s episode
Many teams are learning how to share knowledge and grow effectively at scale. Though the topics and guests will be different, we’ll always be looking through that lens to create a powerful employee experience. In today’s episode, we’ll dive into:
How to create, deliver, and sell training online
What an entrepreneur can do to make an impact on their market
Why it’s important to make training meaningful
Strap in, it’s gonna be a great episode!
Jen and her role at Hello Literacy
Jen comes to us as a Founder and CEO, but also with a new industry title—Teacherpreneur. Creating content to share with educators across the Americas and Australia, Jen’s business, Hello Literacy has become a well-known name in her field.
Prior to building her business, Jen was using a basic website to share her knowledge in the early 2000s and was one of the first members of Teachers Pay Teachers when the platform launched in 2011. So how did Jen’s consulting and eCommerce first start out?
“It was 2003 and I started a Google site when Google sites were like before Wikis. And so I started that and that was really my first online presence. Put stuff out there and I did it for no money. I did it for no other reason than to just share literacy goodness with the world, like for the greater good, for like, for student interaction everywhere.”
Jen was prolific in her content creation and built an extensive catalog of resources for fellow educators. And so, by 2011, when Jen had begun transitioning her blog content and followers to her TPT site, she was initially reluctant to sell her content.
Pausing, Jen takes a moment to talk with us about how there’s a huge stigma globally that teachers and educators aren’t supposed to sell their knowledge. But Jen also understood that someone had to set a precedent so that other educators would feel comfortable breaking the stigma. Her work has paved the way for future teacherpreneurs to make a living with their work and feel comfortable doing so.
Ryan, having previous experience as an educator, resonates with Jen. He adds that educators recognize the value of buying content that helps accelerate a process or understanding of a topic. And this is exactly what a Teacherpreneur is—an educator that really knows their audience and has the background and resources to deliver quality content that helps improve other educators’ processes.
What is Jen’s process for content creation?
Jen has a wall with sticky-notes in the background of her home office that catches Ryan’s eye during the episode. Asking about them, Jen offers us a great look at how she goes about building content for Hello Literacy.
“Well, I would say like anything, like, even in your business, I'm trying to solve a problem.”
And that’s exactly how Jen approaches her content creation. Hello Literacy is a two-part model—she creates structured professional development tracks and content for educators to expand their skill sets. Jen also provides content these educators can use to instruct their learners directly. We’ll dive into both below.
How does Jen navigate her instructional design for learners?
Jen’s biggest focus for instructional design is two-fold in her approach. She has to assess the needs of both learners and educators.
For learners, it’s how to disseminate information that translates into a skill or understanding.
For educators, it’s the best strategy to deliver that information, but also how to assess what stage of competency a learner is at.
Jen begins her content creation for learners by assessing what her audience (educators) need to be successful. She has a variety of ways she’ll go about doing this, but the main focus is understanding a process and what she can offer to improve or accelerate it. For most of her client base, it’s helping them find more effective ways to deliver knowledge or implement a strategy.
Jen says that the desired goal of a learner’s outcome is the focus of her instructional design. Students might need to meet literacy standards, but Jen dives deeper to ensure learners are getting a truly meaningful experience. From there, she maps out strategies that are the most effective way for a learner to achieve that end result. Finally, she creates an assessment process to understand what competency learners have to place them at the correct grade level.
Jen tells us about the three S’ of learning practices:
Standards—an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.
Skills—the ability to do something well; expertise.
Strategies—a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
For Jen, operating as a consultant to educators means helping them understand best practices for their learners. So when she mentions the three S’ above, she often finds that educators believe them to be synonymous. By breaking these down, Jen helps her customer base see the bigger picture and moving parts to know what tools they have available to succeed.
What Jen is doing for her customers is applying a very similar approach to microlearning. Jen wants to ensure every teacher that comes to her can:
Prioritize learning standards
Recognize the skill traits of learners
Understanding which strategies to use to get learners there
Jen wants educators to understand the role of standards, skills, and strategies in bite-sized pieces. This ensures that she can give educators actionable items they can start applying in their classrooms. And by doing so, create a meaningful learning experience for students and educators.
How does Jen approach professional development?
Jen creates professional development content for individuals and schools/districts. Her offering includes growth for the following areas of training:
Best practices for high yield instruction
Jen does this through a blend of virtual seminars held over Zoom, asynchronous online training content, recordings, and actionable content worksheets. Jen tells us this is so educators can find exactly what they need—whether that’s professional development on a subject area or a specific seminar on a new training practice.
Jen tries to empower her customers by giving them something they can take and start using immediately but also refer back to in the future. The goal is always to help educators instruct their learners to create a meaningful learning experience. Very similar to how we guide our customers with the learner first model of training, Jen understands her customers are teachers with learners that need to be designed around.
Jen finishes by adding that with every product she delivers, from worksheets to lesson plans, curriculum, and strategies, she has two criteria. The first is asking if the content makes learners think—engaging them actively. The second is to not recycle content. Jen believes there is always a better way to improve upon an idea, but that doesn’t mean just spiffing up older content. Instead, Jen thinks about current standards and processes and tries to rethink how her product could solve that problem for educators.
Does Jen’s professional development work for a traditional business?
Referring back to the three S’, Jen’s model makes sense for any business growth model focusing on professional development. Let’s see how that could play out in a sales enablement process.
A new Account Executive for your company might have to meet certain standards in their sales process. These can be a threshold to qualify or close a deal. They may have some previous experience or understanding of how to meet these standards through their own methods (non-traditional) or methods learned under their tenure with your organization.
These methods would be considered the skills they need to meet the standard for their sales process. In order to ensure they’re able to meet the required standards with the right skills, you’ll need a strategy in place. This strategy contains equal measures of instruction and assessment. For some associates, you’ll have to deliver training to ensure they have the necessary skills to meet your standards. For other employees, you might just need a way to measure if they’re already able to perform those skills to your standards.
What was the “aha” moment to look for online training?
Jen actually was very familiar with Coassemble before she began using us. Our Head of Operations, Dimity and her parents are actually a close family friend with Jen and her family. So Jen was aware of online training platforms but hadn’t quite found a need for them yet.
And then around 2018, Jen started realizing she needed a way to expand her business model. Using TPT is incredibly effective for her, but she needed a tool to actually disseminate the content. At the time, she only knew of a handful of platforms that could possibly suit her needs. Coassemble seemed like a great choice, and she started integrating training content from the platform into her business model.
And then in 2020, Jen started thinking about how she could deliver content to a wider audience by making her offering more accessible. Much like our chat on business growth with Elliot Begoun of TIG Brands, Jen also wanted a way to capture the virtual work she’s done. This could help her save valuable time and then emphasize her Zoom sessions alongside this asynchronous training content.
2020 also forced Jen to reconsider how to approach teachers. Being unable to travel and meet with districts and teachers physically meant she had to increase her digital offering. Jen also had to find a scalable solution to transition in-person events she had scheduled.
How Jen adapted her consulting model virtually
Jen pauses to give a special shout out to her daughter and administrative assistant, Kelsey Jones. Jen admits that a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that makes Hello Literacy so great can be attributed to Kelsey.
Jen completely reimagined how she would create and deliver her PD event experience by combining Zoom and online training. She also enabled attendees that signed up for the event to receive a recording to watch on their own time.
So instead of her previous conference events held in-person where if you couldn’t attend, you missed it, she now could serve a great audience. This dramatically increased her customer engagement and ultimately led to great sales.
We’ve seen that making content more accessible leads to greater engagement with audiences, and Jen’s were no different. Jen’s also found that offering lifetime access to content is better than restricting it. She doesn’t believe people will use it over the course of a lifetime, but knowing it will always be available makes her customers feel valued.
Jen strongly believes in using audience engagement to build her future content as well. She’s found engaging via social media platforms directly with her customers gives her the best insight into what her audience wants. She’s found this to be incredibly effective in the last year with more people than ever turning to social media icons like Jen for answers to their problems. Even starting small, Jen feels fellow teacherpreneurs can make a difference starting out with social media and training tools.
What does Jen see as the future for online training in her space?
With online training content, Jen sees the potential to create content that will save her valuable time and effort. This enables Hello Literacy to expand Jen’s audience reach while staying true to her identity.
Ryan asks Jen what she sees for the future of online training platforms with her business. Jen’s response is an overwhelming yes. Just from April to December of 2020, Jen and her team were able to help over 2500 teachers! Knowing that she was able to make a difference has been incredibly rewarding and validates Jen’s shift toward the digital space for her work.
What Jen loves about the technology available for online learning is the ability to constantly update it. Rather than provide something that’s stagnant, Jen can sell a plan or course and then add new content to it weekly. This not only expands her audience but also expands her business growth opportunities without overstretching herself.
Jen has been an incredible and joyful guest to have on the episode. Hello Literacy embodies true authenticity in its identity and it shows in how Jen operates her business. Authenticity is something we value at Coassemble and what makes online training so powerful. And we’re very aligned with Jen’s goal of wanting to deliver a meaningful learning experience.
Jen leaves us with some great advice on being a better educator, entrepreneur, and learner: don’t ever stop learning. If you’re always yearning for more knowledge, always ready to learn something new, you’ll never run out of passion for your work.
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The CoLab Podcast is a twice-monthly series that will include guests as well as Ryan providing expert knowledge on sharing knowledge, employee experience, and growing teams successfully at scale. To stay up to date, click subscribe wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts to receive the latest episodes.
Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next time.
You can also read a full transcript of the interview which has been lightly edited for clarity.
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