After working in Human Relations for nearly a decade, Iraqi Khadijah Abdul-Nabi decided to pursue a career in her first love, art and design.
She searched online for education options and stumbled across California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) Online Learning curriculum within its Extended Studies Program.
The program allowed Abdul-Nabi, who still lives in Iraq, to take free, online graphic design courses taught by CalArts faculty and launch her new artistic career.
“When I finally worked up the courage to pursue graphic design, this specialization was just what I needed,” Abdul-Nabi said. “The Graphic Design Specialization was the perfect starting point for me to switch careers. It was so logical, organized, and flexible – and that was a huge help when I was just starting out and had no idea what I was doing.”
Abdul-Nabi was just one of more than half a million students across the world CalArts reached through the online, Open Learning portion of its Extended Studies program, which offers credit and non-credit bearing options to students of all ages for creative exploration in the arts.
Specifically, the Extended Studies program allows students to participate in on-campus residencies and summer institutes, off-campus professional training programs and workshops, and online courses within six CalArts programs of study.
“There is a larger audience out in the world that wants access to arts education and specifically what we offer here, which is pretty special,” said Jen Hutton, project director for online education and research in the Office of Global Initiatives and Extended Studies. “Either because of where they might be in life or where they might live in the world, it might not always be feasible to come back to school full-time.”
Through its Extended Studies programs, CalArts is able to reach a number of “non-matriculating students,” or those who are not enrolled in colleges. The program serves high school students, students at different universities and adult learners through its various offerings.
“We’re really trying to reach what we call the nontraditional student market or lifelong learners as well as pre-college,” Hutton said.
The Extended Studies program began more than five years ago when Character Animation Faculty member John Mahoney began teaching a portfolio development workshop class on YouTube.
“We wanted to formalize the program and make it a part of CalArts,” Hutton said. “It’s been a successful program and is one we still run today.”
In 2012, the institute decided to extend its offerings and reached out to educational partner Coursera to develop online courses for large-scale open access learning.
“For us the partnership really works because it gives us a really wide reach and more visibility than we could have imagined otherwise,” Hutton said. “They’re constantly evolving their platform.”
Three years later, CalArts also partnered with Valencia-based Kadenze, founded by CalArts Associate Dean for Research and Development in Digital Arts and Director of Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence and Design (MTIID) Ajay Kapur.
Together, along with the CalArts Office of the Provost, the educational platforms form CalArts’ comprehensive Open Learning program and provide anyone with free, non-credit courses in Graphic Design, Game Design, Writing and Digital Arts.
“These courses are MOOC or Massive Open Online Courses,” Hutton said. “The courses are designed to be more self-directed so students who are interested in learning about graphic design, poetry, game design or web development. They can sign up anytime, the content is always available for them and they move through the course at their own pace.”
Taught by CalArts faculty, the courses also allow staff to monitor progress and answer student questions as they move through the coursework. Students also have the availability to earn a program certificate if they pay a small monthly fee.
“The open learning program gives us an opportunity to experiment with online learning on a large scale and allows us to bring our brand and the type of education that CalArts is known for to a larger audience at a very low cost,” Hutton said.
To meet student demand, CalArts will be launching a new program and a new specialization this spring that will both be open to the public and all of CalArts’ online learners.
The first is a specialization in User Interface Design and User Experience Design, or UIUX, that will consist of four courses on Coursera.
“It’s something the graphic design program teaches,” Hutton said. “It’s about how you design a screen-based environment in a way that makes it easy for a user to do what you need them to do.”
The specialization is rooted in visual cues and evaluates how to select colors and where to place buttons on a web page based on behavioral science.
In mid-February, CalArts will also pilot its new program called Project Lab that will provide graphic design students with three intermediate-level courses in publication design, type design, and typography and context.
Based on the institute’s own market research, Project Lab will provide students with a more advanced curriculum as well as expert feedback from an instructor at a low cost.
“It’s going to be a new model for a course that we can produce quickly as an organization and really empower an instructor to make the type of course that they want and give them the flexibility to teach the course how they want,” Hutton said. “It also gives a student the opportunity to have some facetime with an instructor, no matter where they live in the world.”
During the course of the program, students will also receive feedback from their instructors during specific stages of their design project in a small, intimate class setting.
“I think a lot of online courses for adult learners tend to be more about software and learning really specific technical skills, but not developing creative or conceptual skills, which is something I think CalArts really excels at,” Hutton said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_