“What jobs-to-be-done are you hiring for?  Wondering about solutions for post high school readiness?  Us too…”: One Story and Path to Adding Value for Our Local Graduates

by Erik L. Hanson, Dean of Digital Learning, Appleton Area School District 

Change has been a big word used in the education space for quite some time now.  Within all of the noise of change, one theme tends to stay constant:  “Buzz words”.  In education, even when I was a high school student myself, I can remember teachers talking about the latest acronym or the newest shiny word.  Today, they are equally alive and well; however, with technology at our fingertips, buzz words appear to rise and fall at a new expedited pace.

As the Dean of Digital Learning for the Appleton Area School District (AASD), one of my roles is to lead the Appleton eSchool’s online learning programming for our district. Our primary focus has historically been and continues to be to serve students who are attending a brick and mortar school. Over 90% of our students who take classes online with us are attending a physical school as their primary school.  We are seeing a growing demand for students with “blended schedules”.  

Keeping our sights focused on strategic goals and commitments is as important now as ever.  One particular challenge many schools solve for is communication with students and the community.  In a society where ongoing flexible learning opportunities continue to show a growth trend, we are passionate about the value of online learning and believe that students should have at least one online learning course in the AASD before they graduate high school.  With this core belief, our eSchool governing board, AASD leaders and AASD school board have worked together to create a goal:  80-90% of our AASD students will have taken an online course before graduating high school.

The commitment of this goal was a big step forward.  Rather than a formal graduation requirement, we felt that it was important for students to understand the “value add” of successfully completing an online course before graduating high school and choose to “opt in.”  

With an “opt in” vs. a mandated philosophy, how do we inform and educate our community of the tremendous ‘value add’ of taking an online course while in high school?

To assist with this challenge, we utilized some strategies from the Clayton Christensen Institute and the authors of the book “Blended:  Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.”  Authors Michael Horn and Heather Staker write about the “Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory.”  In this theory, customers (or people) find themselves needing to get things done.  People have “jobs” that arise regularly that demand resolution, so they look around for a product or service that they can “hire” to help them out.  It is argued that this is how we all experience life on a daily basis.  For example, when we decide we are thirsty, what do we choose to hire to quench our thirst?  Water?  Soda?  Juice?  Other beverage?  When we select that solution, we are “hiring” that beverage for that “job-to-be-done:”  Thirstiness.  

In the contexts of solving for effective communication, we desired to collaborate with the theme of “College and Career Readiness”.    We started asking ourselves, “How can we add value to our graduates when they walk across our stage equipped with their high school credentials?  

It was clear that we needed to “hire” something to assist us in the challenge of communicating the value of taking an online course while in high school and how it helps solve the college and career readiness theme we had selected.  

We decided to do some investigating into higher education and interview former high school parents and students.   We spoke with one of the largest 4 year public Universities in the state of Wisconsin:  University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.  At this University in the fall of 2015, over 8000 undergraduate students were enrolled in an online course as part of their campus experience.   We also learned that this number did not include freshman at the University.  In fact, we learned that freshman at that time were not allowed to enroll in an online course because the University found that incoming freshman lacked the readiness to be successful right away in online courses offered at the University.  In 2016, over 9000 students combine online and face-to-face courses and over 2000 students are fully online learners.   This equates into over half of the undergraduate students are taking online courses as part of their experience at UWM.  

We also looked into some data from the 2016 Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WCET) Cooperative for Educational Technologies report which indicates that 28% of all post-secondary students were enrolled in at least one distance [online] education course.   At Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, WI we learned many careers and programs offered at FVTC include significant amounts online learning courses.  In fact, many job producing programs like Supply Chain Management and Logistics are only offered exclusively online at FVTC.   Two very relevant “job ready” career paths to the world we live in today.  

When we inquired into our parents and students, we received a parent testimonial that indicated the value of online courses as part of their child’s high school education:

“High school scheduling issues and personal interests led our daughter to take several Appleton eSchool classes while a student in another district. During our college search we were surprised to learn that admission offices — both private and public colleges —  were very interested that she had successfully completed these on-line courses. They were an indication to these schools that she was self-motivated and self-disciplined as well as providing her with learning skills she would need as colleges integrate on-line learning into existing classroom experiences. We are grateful for the classes our daughter was able to take via Appleton eSchool.”

We now had evidence that students had at least one solid reason to “hire” online courses in AASD for a “job-to-be-done”:  Post High School Readiness.  We were excited to work on a plan to build awareness around post high school readiness and online courses.  


After about a year of going through our internal processes and collaborating with our neighborhood high schools, administrators and teachers, during the fall of 2016 we launched a badge for our AASD high school transcript:  Online Course Ready.  

The Online Course Ready Badge will help identify and showcase the following attributes for students who score a B or better after completing their eSchool course. Students must also be in good standing in regards to the eSchool academic integrity policy after completing an online course with Appleton eSchool in the AASD:



We are confident that our students will see and understand the value of participating in an online course while in high school.  After all, many careers and programs offered at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) include significant amounts online learning courses.  Again, many programs like Supply Chain Management and Logistics are only offered exclusively online at FVTC.  



More and more activity is happening under the theme of “readiness”, especially around digital learning.  The energies observed around the Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan, Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative and Future Readiness will help provide some guidance and direction to navigate this area.  

Locally, we can take action around the theme of “readiness” for our local graduates.  The “Online Course Ready” badge is change...a change to our mindsets and transcripts.  This enhancement is a “value add” that will play an important role for communicating effectively with our families and communities.   The important future implications of being successful in an online course before transitioning beyond high school is a “job-to-be-done” that our students are depending on us to mindfully “hire for.”

Come be part of the conversation...Join us for a presentation at the SLATE conference in the Wisconsin Dells:

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

3:45-4:45 pm

049. Are Your Students “Online Course Ready” for the Post High School Life?

Learn more about the Online Course Ready Badge:  www.onlinecourseready.com

The Appleton eSchool provides online course options for students in AASD as well as students throughout Wisconsin.  We collaborate with the Wisconsin eSchool Network and the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative to help deliver quality online and blended learning experiences for our students and staff.


Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan:


Future Ready Schools Framework


Keeping Pace Blog:


WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016


Blended:  Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools


Wisconsin eSchool Network (WEN)


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


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