College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development

Bridging the Gap Between Academia and Business

May 2, 2018

In a career focused on learning design that has spanned decades, Shahron Williams van Rooij, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development’s Instructional Design and Technology program, has come to a realization: professionals in the world of education who want to make the jump to business often struggle.

The exploration of this idea, over time, led to the publication of Williams van Rooij’s first book: The Business Side of Learning Design and Technologies, which came out last year. To be successful in learning design and technology you need to learn business skills, she maintains—even if the end goal of learning design is to teach others.

“It’s a shift in mindset and it takes time,” she says of people who come from the world of education. Her book is the first one to tackle that shift. Back when PowerPoint was “on stone tablets,” as she describes it, Williams van Rooij was interested in going into academia and gaining a better understanding of social science perspectives on learning and instruction. After graduating, she realized two things: to be a good teacher, you need to know a lot more than just what’s in the textbooks; and while you may know your subject matter, you might not know the intricacies of actually teaching it. That was the case for her when she completed graduate school.

“While I enjoyed what I was doing, I really didn’t know how to teach,” she says. “I knew my subject matter back and forth, but I didn’t really know how to teach.”

Williams van Rooij entered the workforce by taking a job in market research. She moved around, working in advertising and marketing. In the mid-1980s, she worked in product marketing for a software development company. At the time, the company was looking to make a change in how it taught customers how to use its software—it needed to switch from a technical, “this button does this” explanation to something that better connected with users. Williams van Rooij took on the task and found herself looking at the intersection of business and teaching.

The Business Side of Learning Design and Technologies explores the connection between these two disparate fields and how to balance the goals of each. According to Williams van Rooij, academia focuses on building a whole person and preparing them for the workplace, providing them the foundation they need to be successful. Learning is different in the non-academic world—it’s about building a skillset and improving job performance.

The book is designed to be an accessible read for all practitioners and includes real professionals’ points of view. According to Williams van Rooij, one place a burgeoning practitioner of learning design can begin to bridge the business/academia gap is right here at Mason.

“[Mason] provides a safe environment for them to make mistakes,” she says. “You learn from success, but you learn more from failure.”