Meet Our Product Advisory Board: How Megan Kohler Uses Her Acting Career to Inform Instructional Design

Written by: Gabe Fink

As a Learning Designer with the Dutton Institute for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Pennsylvania State University, Megan Kohler believes her work is similar in a key way to her earlier career as a professional actor—both are about connecting with audiences.

“As an actor you impact an audience,” Kohler says. “You can make them laugh, you can make them cry, but the experience makes them think more deeply about the world around them. Similarly, learning design is about creating experiences that are impactful, engaging, and meaningful for learners. A lot of skills from theater, such as communication, creativity, and collaboration, are fundamental to instructional design.”

Kohler recently joined the CourseGateway Product Advisory Board and is bringing her unique perspective on instructional design to the courseware review process.

Creative approaches in teaching

Kohler began her acting career at age 11, inspired by the collaborative and multidisciplinary creativity of the theater. She pursued that career until her late 20s, when a chance encounter at a workshop while on tour piqued her interest in instructional design. She shifted her focus from the stage to the classroom—including online classrooms—and earned an MS in instructional technology.

Collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches now inform her approach to learning design. For example, Kohler is co-editor with Chris Gamrat of The Multi-Disciplinary Instructional Designer, which examines how instructional design can leverage the diverse range of academic fields and professional experiences that designers come from.

And with her Penn State colleague Penny Ralston-Berg, Kohler is developing and workshopping the Collaborative Content Design (CCD) model, which draws on the synergy of improv comedy to enhance faculty-instructional design collaborations.

“Instructional design is not one size fits all,” she says. “Typically, instructional designers bring in blueprints, timelines, and course maps. It’s very procedural and linear. The CCD model is about approaching the process in a way that’s meaningful to faculty. The end result is a great course the instructor feels really comfortable with. It’s impactful because you’re engaging them in creative idea-sharing sessions. You’re working with an individual, not just a process.”

Empowering neurodivergent students

Kohler also has a particular focus on learning design that empowers neurodivergent students, inspired by the experience of her child’s diagnosis and learning journey and by her own later-in-life realization that she is neurodivergent.

“As I was looking into my child’s condition, the light bulb went off,” she remembers. “It answered so many questions.”

Creating inclusive learning for neurodivergent students is difficult, she says, partly because of the lack of visibility associated with the condition: “They refer to it as the ‘invisible disability’ because you can’t identify whether or not someone is neurodivergent just by looking at them.”

Kohler has developed workshops on understanding the unique skills and abilities that set neurodivergent students apart from neurotypical students and how they can be supported. For example, learning design can anticipate the difficulty that some students have differentiating important from unimportant information in compressed time spans.

“Unfortunately, it has become common to view neurodivergence as deficient, but that’s not the case,” Kohler says. 

“There’s so much neurodivergent individuals bring to the table, and that’s not really explained or highlighted. I want them to feel empowered, because education is important, and I want them to feel like they can be successful.”

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