Personal experience and a passion for innovation through customer feedback, has led hair and beauty expert, Hayley Costa from Skin Deep Learning, to not only dive into the world of educational publishing but also win the highest honour for tertiary/vocational learning resources at the Educational Publishing Awards of Australia this year.
Skin Deep Learning’s resources look like a beauty magazine you’d pluck off the shelf at a newsagency. Yet behind the covers are the results of involved student research and creative thinking that helps trainers to teach and inspire students of hair and beauty to be more knowledgable about their craft – giving them more opportunities in their future.
The journey to being a publisher for vocational learning started for Ms Costa when she was a salon owner who employed new VET graduates. She went on to become a beauty trainer in the VET sector, later writing for resources, and also working as a Registered Training Organisation compliance officer.
“It was the culmination of these experiences that allowed me to see the gap in the market. What I saw was a lack of resources that were engaging to the learner and gave the trainer the support they needed. So resources with a combined teacher and student focus, that worked in with compliance matters, was born in Skin Deep Learning.”
Skin Deep Learning creates learning resources that are a full assessment system for both teachers and students in the hair and beauty field. “With these resources,” Ms Costa says, “teachers can put their focus into what they do best – training and assessing – rather than spending countless hours writing training materials.
“Our learning products are a safe option for Registered Training Organisations, as they have been thoroughly audited and validated. The trainer can feel comfortable knowing their compliance needs are met.”
In the concept phase, research was conducted on graduate demographics focusing on their understanding and satisfaction of the resources that were available at the time. This was combined with Ms Costa’s personal experience as a trainer.
“I was deeply troubled as a teacher by the level of understanding and engagement by students in the theory of the subjects. These students were great on the practical side but were struggling to grasp the theory and getting them to read a textbook or black and white word-based documents was like “pulling teeth.”
“I had a pivotal moment thinking about what beauty and hairdressing students read, engage with, and enjoy. The answer was fashion magazines and social media. I wanted to develop a learning resource that was targeted in its approach, that provided the student with all of the information they needed to know, and was presented in a way that was not daunting or ‘like school’.”
“The language style is really important too. The conversational writing approach was used to invite the student on a learning journey, and limit any intimidation potentially caused by formal language. The content emphasises the key points to students in an easy to understand way and uses real world examples that students can relate to.
“It may seem simple but there is a lot of thought and strategy into developing the magazine-style learning materials.They look like a magazine, but they have to deliver learning outcomes.
Therefore, we had to come up with a new style that is a hybrid between a magazine and textbook.”
In order to bring the resources to life, Ms Costa admits that she needed assistance.
“I needed help from a graphic designer. We sat together and worked through everything page by page. This was expensive and time consuming, but worth it, as it provided us with a set of templates and methodology. I got a few grey hairs managing all of the content and the magazine layout, but all in the day of the life of an editor!”
Since the resources were first trialled in 2014, a strong product has been recreated due to Ms Costa’s constant connection with teachers and others in the sector. “Without their encouraging remarks, and pestering me to produce more units, I may have just given up a time or two.”
Skin Deep Learning has a philosophy of continual improvement built into a customer/teacher feedback mechanism. This allows design thinking and co-creation principles to guide the development of the resources on an ongoing basis.
“We have a very active customer base. We get feedback on our resources from trainers, students, people in industry, product companies, auditors and compliance personnel. We also have an on-line community which is an additional source of vital information, as it allows trainers and students to chat with each other about assessments and ask for help or give feedback on the resources.
“It’s through these feedback channels that we gain lots of new information which helps us to continuously improve the resources.
“We have systems and processes to manage this information which results in unit updates and our annual Continuous Improvement Report. Every year our resources improve with these multiple sources of feedback, which means all RTOs benefit from the wide range of feedback we receive.”
The resources initially took somewhere between four and nine months to create – but they are always changing and improving. It’s these systems that Ms Costa says are the greatest lesson in her venture thus far.
“I have learnt a great deal on this journey but my take home message from the last phase of business expansion was around systems and structures. They are the only way to increase productivity and keep errors and unnecessary re-work to a minimum. I learnt that in order to meet demand, we had to publish fast, so systems and structure was pivotal. These also impact version control.”
What is next for Skin Deep Learning? “Well we have a number of ideas that will build on the foundation we have created and further innovation in the vocational education market. These will be outside our current markets and of course we will go for the high-volume, high-value courses. Wait and see 2019 should be another transformational year for Skin Deep Learning.”
Skin Deep Learning was awarded two awards at the 25th Educational Publishing Awards of Australia, which were judged by a panel of experts – including teachers – led by Chief Judge Associate Professor Angela Carbone, from Swinburne University.
The Educational Publisher Awards Australia showcase excellence and innovation in the field of educational publishing.