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How Report for America lowered barriers to learning so journalists could get to work

Moving from in-person to messaging-based learning ushered in a new feedback-rich era for learning design

Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.


Role of learner

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"I'm really excited about how scalable this course is as our program grows, and how it makes onboarding more interactive and less overwhelming for our new corps members."


▶️ 85% completion rate compared to small percentage of learners who retained a 50 page handbook
▶️ 4.34 out of 5 star learner response
▶️ Plans to roll out to 1000+ journalists in local newsrooms nationwide

The challenge

Report for America is a national service program that places talented, emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Each year they hold an orientation for new journalists in the program. The orientation is complemented with a 50-page handbook covering all concepts and procedures new Corps members need including benefits, training, and mentorship.

As many learning leaders can imagine, getting a large cohort of learners to read 50 pages, let alone reliable data about efficacy is no small feat. As local journalism declines further, journalism educator Linda Austin felt the need to innovate onboarding to ensure journalists they place can have maximal impact from day one.

How Report for America delivered onboarding “one text at a time”

Drawing on the experiences of the Thomson Foundation, who had used Arist to successfully train 1,200 journalists in Sudan, Report for America began breaking their 50-page handbook into bite-size, text-message lessons. The small form factor and Arist curriculum model — which focuses on immediately actionable prompts and feedback — forced course designers to focus on the most meaningful learnings.

"It came down to what were the key things that people really needed to know? And there was a lot of stuff they needed to know, because they were all coming to this from outside the organization with varying degrees of familiarity…"

To cover the breadth of the handbook, the course was extended to 19 days. But with each lesson comprised of 1,200 characters, questions and prompts, each day was manageable to lower barriers to engagement. With ongoing data from participants, Report for America were able to hone their offerings and plan to deliver similar courses to larger cohorts nationwide soon.

Impact of Arist in Report for America onboarding

The “Essentials for Corps Members” course rolled out in 2021 and immediately received an 85% completion rate with a rating of 4.34 out of 5 stars for learners. Learner data capture was a vast improvement from anecdotal reporting regarding completion and retention of a physical handbook. With plans for onboarding 1,000+ journalists in the next few years, text-message courses will continue to play a key role for data-driven and high-engagement onboarding for Report for America.


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