Day in the Life: Heather Hans, Senior Learning Experience Designer

When you ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you probably won’t hear “A learning experience designer!” Careers in instructional design, faculty support, online teaching, educational technologies and teaching research and evaluation are not as well-known, and thus, there isn’t as much information available to applicants for such roles to understand what it takes to do this work. This Day in the Life series hopes to show people what our work entails—the skills required, the daily activities involved, and the satisfaction we find in doing it.

Heather Hans sitting at her desk at her home office. There is a multicolored rug, a light blue chair, a wood and metal desk, a white lamp, and a large monitor.
Heather Hans working remotely from her home office, where she has taken over a corner of the living room.

Name: Heather Hans

Job Title: Senior Learning Experience Designer

Educational Background: Master’s of Library and Information Studies, UNC-Greensboro

Starting Date: July 2018

How did you get interested in this type of work? I worked as an academic librarian and taught classes about research while also creating online resources and tutorials. This led me to explore a position in instructional design at UNC-Chapel Hill and then here at Duke.

What interested you in this position? Originally, being a Learning Experience Designer allowed me to expand beyond the basics of instructional design and help build foundational courses and programs for graduate and professional education here at Duke. And since being promoted to a Senior Learning Experience Designer, my role has focused more on team management, mentoring, leading high-profile projects, and managing our portfolios of work with different schools and partners.

What were some of the jobs you had before this role? In addition to the positions I already mentioned, this job built on my work in media, journalism, web editing, and web design. I often draw on my experience as an editor to review and shape content, and web editing and design skills are very useful when building content in various platforms.

What three skills are essential for your work? Learning design, project management, and collaboration. By learning design, I mean understanding how to teach effectively and how people learn. Project management is a major component of my work, as I work with our team and instructors (that’s the collaboration!) to develop content and learning experiences on a given timeline. This work requires a lot of flexibility and being able to adjust quickly to changing circumstances (improvising!).

My Work

My workday can vary a fair amount depending on how many meetings I have (and what types of meetings) and what stage I’m in on different projects. Nevertheless, almost any day will include meetings, communication on Slack and via email, and checking in with project teams. Depending on what stage I’m in on a project, I may be prototyping or creating templates; reviewing or drafting content; building content in a platform; managing projects, due dates, and timelines; checking in on resources or issues with a project; writing agendas, and so on.

On an atypical day, I might be doing something totally different—attending or leading a workshop, going on a “field trip” to meet instructors and learn about what they do, attending a video shoot, or workshopping content with instructors. I also might be mentoring a grad student or team member; working to solve a technical issue; writing blog posts; discussing team management and policies; discussing how to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in our work; designing graphics; fixing HTML code; and more. 

I really enjoy the variety of my job and the broad array of skills I might use from day to day! You’re constantly learning new subjects and new technologies, and each project is unique. I enjoy collaborating with my awesome team members—We have a really talented group, and we work together well to produce high-quality learning experiences under tight deadlines. Furthermore, this role allows me to work from my values to improve access to education and create a good user experience for learners.

My Day

9:00 AM – I check my email and Slack for important messages, responding to important/urgent messages and making a note to go back to others. I say hello to some of my work BFFs in Slack. I read a couple recently shared articles, including one about un-grading and one about imagining if we started a university now, and save others for later. I review my calendar and (our project management software) and plan my day, writing down my top 3-5 goals for the day in my notebook.

10:00 AM – I work on my most challenging (but fun!) task for the day, which is writing a learning activity about time management (for an upcoming Coursera course on Church Administration in partnership with Duke Divinity School) based on the summary of the assignment that I discussed on the phone with the instructor. First, I outline the activity in a Google Document, and then I work on filling in more specific instructions and details. I email the activity to the instructor for feedback.

11:00 AM – I attend a project meeting for a Drones for Environmental Science Coursera course we’re developing based on our successful Drones course series developed with the Nicholas School of the Environment. I have the luxury of not being the facilitator of this meeting, so I take notes, ask questions as needed, and identify to-dos that I need to work on.

12:00 PM – It’s a beautiful fall day—I eat lunch and then take a walk around my neighborhood. I try to exercise in the middle of the day, because I am unmotivated at the beginning and end of the day!

1:00-3:00 PM – I review to-do items and milestones in for the Church Admin course, then check in with our project team about what we’re working on this week. I ask about where we are with video editing and recording, and we plan as a team how to meet deliverables.

3:00-5:00 PM – I review a couple videos and leave feedback about them in (a video review and collaboration software), mentioning segments where we might need additional slides or a different approach to the editing. Then, I check our tracking spreadsheet to see how the QA (Quality Assurance) is going for the existing course videos. Then, I write an email to the faculty lead on another project about the timeline for completing a project, and afterward I follow up on other emails based on their priority.