CASE STUDY_Navigating Extraordinary Times

A look at the free, online course we created in collaboration with PowerED by Athabasca University

In those first weeks following the breaking news of a global pandemic and the introduction of physical distancing measures, we here at Digital 55, like so many other businesses, were busy trying to get a handle on what exactly was happening and navigating the new workplace realities introduced by COVID-19. With a heavy heart, we cancelled our long-anticipated travel plans for Austin to attend SXSW, settled into work-from-home routines, applied for available resources and funding, and joined a myriad of webinars all aimed at preparing us for what was to come for businesses and start-ups—all the while still delivering on the pre-COVID projects we’d already had on the go. 

We were frustrated, overwhelmed, and saddened by the seemingly sudden turn the world had taken, and we weren’t always certain about how to best move forward. But we were also motivated and inspired by the questions that came to light in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions like: 

  • What does it mean to authentically connect and empathize with others in the context of physical distancing? 
  • What do innovation and creativity look like in the midst of such unprecedented restrictions and limitations? 
  • What is the role of digital tech in building caring, resilient, and psychologically safe communities and workplaces, both for today and tomorrow?

Drawing on our existing creative partnership with the incredible team at PowerED by Athabasca University, we set out to create a free self-directed online course that could provide leaders with some strategies and frameworks for navigating the current realities and support their transition into the next normal, whatever that may be. Born from our desire to contribute our experience and expertise to answer these important questions, Navigating Extraordinary Times was created.


As we sat down with the PowerED team—via videoconference, naturally—we knew that the resulting course offering had to check a few key boxes. 

First, the course had to be timely and relevant, reflecting the principles of just-in-time learning. 

With just-in-time-learning, training is provided at the exact time and by the exact means necessary to satisfy the intended learner’s needs. This means successfully anticipating needs that may still be in the formative stages  a task that can feel difficult at the most predictable of times, and nearly impossible in the context of an unprecedented global health crisis. As we rushed to meet our ambitious project timelines, we often found that what we thought leaders would need had already shifted in light of new information or developments. We had to remain agile in our approach and committed to our overall vision while still staying flexible enough to fine-tune and course-correct as needed along the way. 

Second,  the course had to be engaging and manageable for its intended audience. 

We were ecstatic when PowerED announced that they would be providing the course for free to anyone and everyone who was interested, and because of this we wanted to ensure that the design and layout really resonated with leaders of all ages and backgrounds. But we also knew first-hand how little time and energy many leaders have at their disposal these days, as they struggle to not only adjust to shifting workplace realities but also shoulder the day-to-day demands of life in isolation and quarantine. We knew that if the course was to be truly impactful, it couldn’t feel like another thing to add to the list. Rather, the course had to feel fresh, compelling and modern, delivering clear takeaways and encouraging deep thinking without being obtuse or strenuous. To achieve this, we drew on an integrated design system with custom animations, original illustrations, fun interactions, responsive polls, and real-world stories—all delivered in a short, easy-to-digest modular format that allows leaders to work through the course at their own pace, pursue their own interests, and explore, coming back as often as needed. 

Last, but not least, we wanted this course to be as empowering and optimistic as possible. 

Everyone is under enormous strain and we have all had to give something up during these difficult times. We wanted to remind leaders that it is perfectly ok to feel whatever they are feeling and let them know that they are not alone in their current struggles. But we also wanted to remind them that just because they may feel powerless in the present moment, doesn’t mean that they actually are. Through our interactions and activities, we wanted to encourage leaders to focus on the things they can control or influence, and uncover the unexpected opportunities that will help sustain their organizations, teams, and communities into the future. 


Online digital learning has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in the wake of COVID-19. And while it is true that the digital learning experience is remarkably different from the one provided in a traditional classroom setting, the reality is that—in a world defined by lockdowns and distancing measures—it is the way of the future. 

At Digital 55, we have always been optimistic about the power of digital tech to facilitate engaging, meaningful learning experiences; to disseminate knowledge to wide-spread audiences, spark interest and curiosity, encourage critical thinking, and ultimately support actionable change for learners of all levels. 

In the week since its initial release, Navigating Extraordinary Times has received a great deal of positive feedback that leaves us optimistic about the power of digital and learning design to be a force for good in this fast-changing world. We look forward to being a part of these conversations in the months and years to come as we move into the next normal!

Since its launch, thousands of learners have registered to take the course. 

Here’s what they are saying so far:

“I found the design to be one of the best I have seen so far, if not the overall best!”

“This was the best content I have experienced so far. Love hearing about psychological safety, vulnerability, helping leaders to lead. Excellent course!”

“The supporting videos and articles gave tangible takeaways that I will be able to implement immediately in both my personal and professional life.”

“Everything was thoroughly researched and the information was presented in so many different modalities that it really kept my attention. Excellent course. Thank you!”

Check out the course here

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