Starbucks’ Impact on Instructional Design

After a recent strategic decision, Starbucks’ impact on Instructional Design may go deeper than keeping us caffeinated throughout the workday. On June 16, 2014, Starbucks announced that it would cover college tuition expenses at ASU Online for any of its employees working at least 20 hours a week with very few strings attached. With the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, employees do not have to make a commitment to work at Starbucks for a predetermined amount of time, and there are no repayment clauses. It seems, on the surface, that Starbucks just wants their employees to make a commitment to themselves: to continue (or start*) their pursuit of higher education.

*It is worth noting that employees in their junior or senior years will receive full tuition reimbursements to finish their degrees, while freshmen and sophomores will receive financial assistance.

But WHY?

Professional development can completely alter your workplace environment. A lack of corporate training or a generally uneducated workforce can lead to problems with internal business processes, employee morale, and even competitiveness in the job market. This bold move by Starbucks to drastically increase educational opportunities could lead to a number of corporate advantages:

  • University-driven, well-rounded educational development for employees
  • Attracting higher caliber employees
  • Possible increase in short term (4 year) retention
  • Raised employee morale, dedication, and responsibility
  • Enhanced corporate reputation
  • Hiring advantage over competitors

If all of these outcomes were to come to fruition, even on a small scale, Starbucks would hold a clear competitive advantage over other coffee shops. If you were a barista, which coffee shop would YOU want to work for?

We could talk all day about the potential benefits and pitfalls of Starbucks’ professional development practices, but what I am interested in is this:

If this program is successful, what are the potential implications on the practice of Instructional Design?

At the company level, Starbucks is putting a premium on general education. They are moving beyond internal professional development practices, and encouraging employees to receive a well-rounded education outside the confines of the coffee shop. Sure, there will still be training on core business practices, but Starbucks wants employees that are trained in the kinds of soft skills and hard skills that are highly touted successes of the university experience.

Within institutes of higher education, there will be an influx of learners into existing educational opportunities. Right now, Starbucks has partnered with a single university, which will surely increase the resources required by that university to provide high-quality instruction. Either class sizes will increase, or more instructors will be brought in to teach existing courses. Either way, instructional designers will have to re-evaluate how they are designing courses to fit the evolving nature of the modern classroom.

In the case of corporate-sponsored educational opportunities, that influx of learners will likely be of the non-traditional variety. These will not be 19 year old digital natives who are living on their own for the first time. These will be people of largely varied ages and backgrounds who have jobs, families, and other priorities apart from their final transcript. More importantly, they will have had more time in their lives to accrue knowledge, and will have more pre-conceived notions and experiences that designers and instructors will need to plan for. This existing knowledge, whether “correct” or “incorrect,” presents the building blocks for educational environments grounded in Constructivism.

In addition, many of these companies, like Starbucks, will be looking to Online Education in order to minimize the time employees spend away from the workplace. Instead of working limited hours while attending traditional in-person classes during the day, employees can (and in Starbucks’ case: will) take online courses, which can be completed based on the employee’s specific circumstances. As a result, the importance of effective eLearning (whether in online or hybrid formats) will increase substantially. How do we, as designers, create the most impactful learning opportunities possible?

One of the goals of Designed:2:Learn is to explore these questions and brainstorm solutions to increase the effectiveness of learning opportunities across many fields. Check back often for more resources and discussion!

What do you think will be the biggest impact of large scale corporate tuition plans on the industry of Instructional Design? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

Kegan Remington, an Instructional Designer from NAU, specializes in Active Learning Pedagogy and the development of dynamic, collaborative, technology-enhanced learning environments. With a decade of experience in education, Kegan’s career is focused on developing high-fidelity learning materials, integrative learning environments, and promoting effective instructional techniques for the 21st century learner.

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