Meet Mike Straus: NovoEd’s Senior Director of Product Management
Mike is our new Senior Director of Product Management. Mike developed a passion for online learning when it was still a nascent concept and is excited to leverage his experience to empower collaborative online learning at NovoEd. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
Tell us about yourself. What sparked your interest in online learning?
Professionally, I fell into online learning from a previous role at a company that was used by the education community for managing content and collaboration. This company was later acquired by Blackboard, where I continued to explore the many directions that online learning could take at that time as a member of the Blackboard Learn product management team.
Personally, my experience with distance-learning goes deeper, however. When I was a student at RPI, I had the opportunity to work in a distance-learning program, at the time when LMSes were still very new. I watched this program develop from sending VHS videos to learners to running real online and hybrid courses. I also jumped on the opportunity to take the first online undergraduate courses offered. That democratizing journey of moving from in-person to online learning has fascinated me, and was a primary motivator when I decided to move to NovoEd.
Tell us more about your decision. What distinguishes NovoEd?
As a product, the NovoEd platform is truly distinguished by its social and collaborative nature. It goes well beyond the LMS in that it actually embeds social interaction into the learning. Most LMSes are still relying on LTI tools and disjointed experiences to bring social components to online learning; NovoEd builds this in.
How would you describe the relationship between product and pedagogy? How does this apply to the NovoEd platform?
In many ways, this connects with the previous question: in order to successfully execute a pedagogical approach that places social and collaborative learning at its core, you’ve got to embed that social component into the content. In other words, social interaction should take place in the context of the content. This can look like anything from in-video quizzes, to having discussions embedded with content in lecture pages.
From a product perspective, we are continuing to look for ways to expand on this. While building what is essentially a content repository can be important, the best learning experiences happen when users are invited to actively and socially engage with that content.
Describe some of the feature releases you have overseen since starting at NovoEd. What, in your opinion, has been the most exciting?
Automated Completion and Statements of Accomplishment was certainly the meatiest feature so far for me. I joined midway into its development. My involvement was to work on finalizing the specification and moving it into production. What excited me when it went out was the sense that this feature would a real difference to both our customers and their learners. Customers now have much-needed capabilities to define completion and automate issuing certificates of completion; learners have a clear sense of their progress thanks the Progress Bars that now appear for them. This bar will really compliment some of our gamification features insofar as it serves as yet another motivator. I believe that a good feature improves the experience of the admin and the user.
In what direction do you hope to take the NovoEd platform?
In the near-term, our focus is going to be on improving the admin experience. We want to reduce the time it takes admins to build and manage courses and make common tasks a delightful experience. We want admins to continue making their courses beautiful without, for instance, having to learn HTML. Not only will this save time, but it will enhance the learning experience. Ultimately, our goal is the bring the same delightful learner experience to the administrators of the platform.
What do you enjoy most about coming to the office each day?
The people! The social and collaborative element that we build into our product is definitely reflected in person. We really live by our message – I’m coming in each day because I love working at a company that’s aligned in its values, and is dedicated to improving lives. This is made even better with a great culture and fun work environment.