The Brandeis GPS blog

Insights on online learning, tips for finding balance, and news and updates from Brandeis GPS

Student Spotlight: Brandon Wilcher

Student Spotlight: David Pattie

Five Resources to Aid your Mindfulness Practice

Last week, we discussed how a regular mindfulness routine can lead to success in the classroom, the workplace, and beyond. While It can be intimidating to think about consistently finding a time (or place) to meditate, we put together a list of resources that can make fitting in a mindfulness practice a little less challenging. 

Five free or low-cost mindfulness resources

  1. Headspace. This app provides users with a library of mindfulness resources, including different guided meditation programs suited to a variety of needs, videos, articles and research, and animations. First-time users can access a free meditation basics course and a free 14-day trial. You can then choose from an annual subscription at $69.99/year (or $5.83/month) or monthly at $12.99/month.
  2. Calm. Similar to Headspace, the Calm app offers a variety of tools to sustain a regular meditation practice. Rather than offering multiple-day programs, Calm provides a new meditation technique each day. The app also includes music and visual nature scenes that users can queue up throughout the day, as well as a robust offering of guided meditations for specifically for sleep. First-time users to use the app’s unlimited services for seven days. After that, users can choose from the following subscriptions: $12.99/month, $59.99/year, and a one-time $299.99 lifetime rate.
  3. Stop, breathe, think. This guided meditation app emphasizes the development of a user’s emotional resilience, and offers different programs for adults, children and educators. The app includes more than 100 activities involving meditation, breathing, yoga and acupressure, and can be customized to fit users’ needs and interests. New users can access a free trial and then subscribe for as little as $4.91/month.
  4. YouTube. It goes without saying that YouTube can be an incredible resource for free mindfulness content. Those looking to complement their meditation with a regular yoga practice should consider the Yoga with Adriene channel, which offers more than 100 free yoga videos.
  5. Tara Brach. Brach’s website offers free guided meditations that range from 15-20 minutes. Beginners can download a free meditation toolkit that includes meditation FAQs, two brief audio meditations, a two-part talk on the benefits of meditation, and instructions/resources for commiting to a regular meditation program.

 

The benefits of meditation and mindfulness

Meditation — or mindfulness — is a practice centered around being fully present and paying attention to the current moment without judgement. While a regular meditation practice is known to alleviate stress, it can also lead to successes in the classroom, the workplace, and beyond. Here are four reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine:

  1. Boost your academic performance. Meditation can improve one’s ability to process and recall information; an essential skill to any student or professional. This increase in brain efficiency is due to growth of grey matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and problem solving.
  2. Reduce stress and anxiety. Adult learners are skilled at balancing competing priorities, and while there’s a certain thrill in the simultanrous accomplishment of both professional and academic goals, that doesn’t mean that the additional projects and deadlines don’t create stress and anxiety. Although you may not realize it, stress can lead to physical symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even physical aches and pains. are all symptoms of this type of response. Meditation is an effective tool in combating these symptoms by encouraging your body to slow down. By taking the time to meditate, the body is able to recognize that it is no longer in “flight or fight” mode.
  3. Strengthen your emotional resilience. The occasional failure is a crucial part of professional development. Without failure, and the ability to control the negative emotions associated with failure, there is no room for growth and improvement. Frequent meditation is proven to strengthen the emotional resiliency necessary to process and overcome negative experiences.
  4. Improve your overall health and wellness. Meditation has even been linked to a stronger immune system. A recent study found that meditation can potentially impact inflammation, cell-mediated immunity and biological aging.

Starting a meditation practice may seem overwhelming, but thanks to technology, mindfulness resources are more available than ever before. Stay tuned for a roundup of our favorite easy-access meditation tools.

Student Spotlight: John Gillis

Brandeis University appoints data expert Mark Coleman as Strategic Analytics program chair

 

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies has appointed Mark Coleman, Director of Business Analytics at Carbonite, as its new chair of the Strategic Analytics program.

In his role at Carbonite, Mark leads a multi-disciplinary team of data scientists, analysts, and data engineers that provide data-driven insight, analytical reporting services, and predictive modeling to all core functions across the company.

As program chair, Mark is responsible for ensuring that all Strategic Analytics courses adhere to the university’s high quality standards and that the program’s goals and outcomes remain current and relevant. His deep experience and knowledge of analytics as well the latest industry trends will help translate new in-demand skills into curriculum development. 

“I am thrilled to be joining the Strategic Analytics Program at Brandeis,” said Mark. “Analytics and data science have emerged as transformative technologies, driving innovation and disruptions to virtually every industry across the globe. As Program Chair, my role is to both thoughtfully champion the importance of analytics and data-driven thinking, and to ensure our program gives our students the critical intellectual and technical foundations to succeed in their analytics careers.”

Mark’s robust experience in data science and analytics includes senior analytical management and data science positions at Warner Brothers, The Hartford and Liberty Mutual. He also founded and served as CEO of a successful analytics consulting and forecasting practice for the institutional investment community, and is a regular speaker at analytics industry forums.

Mark has an MA in Economics from Boston College, and BAs in Applied Mathematics and Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

 

Common myths about online learning

Online learning can mean different things to different people. As technology continues to transform the way humans consume information and interact with others, universities have risen to the challenge of providing high-quality digital learning opportunities. But despite today’s prevalence of top-tier online programs and courses, many misconceptions about online learning remain. To deconstruct some of these myths, we sat down with Christie Barone, Assistant Director of Enrollment Management at Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies.

GPS: In your experience speaking with prospective graduate students, what are the most common myths you’ve heard about online learning?

Christie Barone: Many prospective students think they are going to be in a large class. We cap all GPS classes at 20 students to ensure that everyone is receiving a quality, engaging education. Related to that, some prospective students are concerned that instructors will be inaccessible. Our instructors provide direct feedback on assignments and are heavily involved in discussion posts. 

There still seems to be a stigma around online learning. We get a lot of questions about whether a student’s diploma will contain some sort of disclaimer about distance learning. At Brandeis, graduates receive an official university diploma. There is no mention about their programs being online. 

GPS: What would you tell a prospective student who is wondering whether online learning is right for them?

Barone: I would say to someone who is working full-time and trying to figure out how to balance everything that our online format allows him or her the flexibility to choose when they complete their coursework. They do not have to be online at a certain time. Many students (especially those who have been out of school for a while) wonder if they’ll be able to fit graduate school into their already busy lives. Students can take up to two courses before they apply to a program. This is a great opportunity for students to get used to fitting coursework into their schedule and see if online learning is a good fit. I have seen many students have such a great experience that they end up applying to Brandeis. 

GPS: Some students considering online learning might be worried about the remoteness of an online classroom. How do you address this concern? 

Barone: Brandeis GPS students truly get to know their classmates and instructors. This can be through discussion and social forums, group projects, connecting on LinkedIn for networking, and even having many of the same classes with students who started the same program as you at the same time. All Brandeis students have access to Zoom conferencing services for free, and that’s a great way to video chat with your instructor and see them face-to-face. A lot of instructors will be available for phone appointments, via email, and sometimes through a private discussion forum.  Finally, while students technically never have to come to campus, we would love to meet you!  Students do receive ID cards, which grant them access to all campus services and facilities, including the gym and the library. We also invite students to attend our on-campus commencement ceremonies, and we live-stream the ceremonies as well. 

GPS: What makes the Brandeis GPS online learning experience different from other universities?

Barone: Our course content is built in-house. Our instructional designers who create courses and work with faculty are part of Brandeis University, and the whole division is driven to achieve the university’s standards of excellence. Our faculty go through a rigorous, six-week training program to prepare them for the unique nature of teaching online. Going back to our earlier conversation about online learning myths, there’s a misconception that learning online is easier than a more traditional on-campus program, but that’s not true here. These are graduate-level courses and students put in a lot of work to reach their academic — and ultimately professional — goals.

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

Student Spotlight: Carolyn Aquino

Five Apps to Help You Manage Your Money

In honor of Boston FinTech Week, we’re looking at ways FinTech impacts our daily lives. 

As those in the FinTech space already know, managing one’s personal finances is easier than ever. Thanks to the rise of financial technology, users can make purchases, check bank statements, pay bills and track investments straight from their mobile devices.

FinTech apps are constantly evolving

In today’s crowded FinTech marketplace, financial technology companies and their app designers have been forced to up their game, providing more accessible, user-friendly interfaces. . 

Five free or low-cost  FinTech apps 

1. Venmo

Venmo allows users to request or send money from their family and friends by either connecting to their personal bank account or by depositing funds into the app.(Free)

2. Mint

Mint gives users an opportunity to see their finances all in one place. The app houses credit scores, bills, balances, investments and more. Users can set savings goals, manage budgets, and track their progress. (Free)

3. Acorns

Acorns is an app that takes a user’s spare change from their daily purchases by rounding up to the nearest dollar and puts that money toward savings or investments. ($1, $2, or $3 per month depending on a user’s account balance)

4. Wally

Wally is a daily tracking app designed to give users an overall picture of their financial activity as well as to set goals for the future. (Free)

5. PocketGuard

PocketGuard is a money management app that enables users to see where they are spending their money in simple and easy-to-understand graphs. PocketGuard provides tips on where users could potentially be saving money and creates unique budgets for each individual. (Free)

 

Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.

What is Learning Experience Design and why is it the next frontier in learning and development?

By Brian Salerno

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of instructional design, learning and development, and educational technology, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard a lot of new terminology over the last five or so years. Learning architecture, learning engineering, and learning experience design are just a few of the newest word combinations being used to describe the field of practice that was once primarily encapsulated by the term instructional design.

These are not just buzzwords, but a sign that the field is rapidly changing in ways that are transforming the way learners experience education and training, and the impact that learning has on their careers, personal lives, and pursuit of lifelong learning.

So, what does it all mean?

If you consider how education and professional training have evolved over the last decade and a half, it’s clear that learning has undergone (and continues to undergo) a massive digital transformation. Technology and mobile connectivity have given life to a whole new way of learning – on demand, on-the-go, and wrapped around and between all the other aspects of our busy lives – this digital transformation has also transformed the way educators approach the design of trainings, courses, and academic programs.

With the rise of online learning and other digitally-enabled approaches, providers of education and training are increasingly coming to the realization that effective and impactful learning isn’t simply a transactional experience that starts and ends with a final grade or with a student’s successful completion of a certification test, but instead is a holistic and integrated approach that considers the entire learning experience.

This is where the field of Learning Experience Design comes into the picture. Learning Experience Design (also known as LX or LxD) is an interdisciplinary approach to the design of learning and training that is grounded in human-centered approaches adapted from user-experience design (UX), user-interface design (UI), design thinking, cognitive psychology, learning science, and instructional systems design with the goal of creating learning experiences that converge curriculum and technology in a manner that creates powerful, contextualized, and transformative education and training experiences.

Learning Experience Designers don’t simply design educational resources and assessments, but instead they use learner research techniques to understand the ‘persona’ of the intended learner audience and map a learning journey that will ensure learners meet their goals, they curate and create learning content that is flexible and adaptive, they evaluate and adopt learning technologies that help the learners apply their learning in a real-world content, they develop highly applied and experiential activities that help learners meet outcomes and demonstrate competencies, and they leverage learning analytics and data to continuously improve the learning experience.

Learning Experience Designers will often leverage design thinking and rapid prototyping techniques to guide the creative process of developing impactful, memorable, and transformative learning experiences. Learner-centered approaches to designing education and training frequently require subject matter experts to break out from traditional approaches to educating and assessing student learning, and Learning Experience Designers use these techniques to help to understand and empathize with the learners, define the learning goals or competencies, guide the ideation process to come up with the most learner-centered approaches, protype and test those ideas, and implement learning solutions that engage learners in new and powerful ways.

For many years, companies have understood that experience design is a valuable and even necessary approach to making their products and services accessible, desirable, and enjoyable to use for their customers. In the field of education and training, we don’t often like to think of our learners as customers, but we know that our learners’ ability to access and use learning technologies, their desire to learn and engage with educational content, and the level to which they enjoy learning has a significant impact on their levels of engagement and even the level to which the learning content ‘sticks’ and can be applied later on…

This is why Learning Experience Design has emerged as the next frontier in learning and development, because positive and relevant learning experiences that keep the learner and their needs at the center help to ensure that our learners become engaged experts, lifelong learners, and powerful contributors to their fields.

Brian Salerno is the chair of the MS in Learning Experience Design program at Brandeis GPS.

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