Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

A Continuous Effort to Bring Transparency to the Higher Ed Journey

A conversation with Joel Hernandez, CEO of eLumen

Joel Hernandez, CEO of eLumen, finds his motivation in helping higher learning institutions and all individual stakeholders “succeed on purpose.” He and his team have developed an all-in-one platform that enables colleges and universities to integrate their curriculum, assessment, and student success processes in a manageable fashion within their operational budget capacity. eLumen can help schools establish student pathways, based on a backward mapping approach from the learning objective to the learning design. The result is students understanding the courses they need to take to achieve a certain career path. 

Hernandez’s experience navigating the “opaque mystery” of determining courses and a student pathway in college gave him the perspective needed to shape a vision for eLumen. “When I was an undergrad, it was an incredibly opaque, complex process that was very manual. It was paper, tickets, and phonebook-sized catalogs. It was a design-your-own journey but without any of the tools,” he says. “I think one of the things that immediately attracted me to edtech and, in particular, the ideas of our academic founders was, ‘What happens when that journey is no longer opaque? What happens when it has handles?’ I think that’s a really powerful idea.”

As eLumen took shape and Hernandez began working directly with higher ed environments, he found that institutions were putting the proper SAS and LMS in place, yet the student-focused success pathways were missing. “Now, schools have to think about systematizing student success, and that is where we [come in]. What does that system look like? How do I make success happen on purpose?” 

It takes continuous conversations and a realistic approach that incorporates all strata of the higher ed environment to bring about successful change. Hernandez applies the advice he received from an earlier boss that proclaimed, “The fastest way to learn is to have a hundred conversations.”

According to Hernandez, sustainable innovations come when you get down in the trenches and have meaningful conversations with all the people involved. “I often say that I’m not so much an innovator as somebody who likes to talk to people. When you have a hundred conversations, you see the sixty-two things in common, thirteen of which are really hard problems. You say, ‘Great! Those are the things we need to go tackle. If I ever [do] a TED Talk, it’s going to be on the four dumbest words in the English language: ‘Why don’t you just?’ – because if you talk to the people responsible for doing the thing you say, ‘Why don’t you just?’ they’ll tell you why they ‘can’t just.'”

Many eLumen clients are large urban community colleges, and Hernandez feels they are often under-recognized for the important role they play in higher education. Incorporating eLumen has proved extremely beneficial to community colleges that are under constant pressure to innovate faster with fewer resources. “The challenge of the big community colleges is they have to do more with less, faster than anyone else. So they really become our wheelhouse because they are, frankly, at the forefront of what has to innovate because they don’t have a choice,” he says. Hernandez believes that in many respects, community colleges will play a crucial role in driving the future of education through constant invention that stems from necessity. “I think they’re sort of the unsung heroes of the higher ed sector. And it’s a shame that they’re unsung because they’re 40% of higher ed,” he adds.

Early success stories like San Antonio College revealed takeaways that allowed Hernandez to better effect eLumen strategies on other higher ed environments. As he recalls, “One of our marquee stories was San Antonio College (one of the biggest colleges in the Alamo system). They came to us because they were on warning from SACS. A new president was brought in to innovate, and they came to us wanting to get things in order. They didn’t come to us with grand visions. They said, ‘We just need to fix this.’ I remember going to do a site visit and talking to some of the leadership and deans. I said, ‘How are things going?’ I expected to hear all these superlatives. And they said, ‘Things are calm.’ ‘That’s sort of a boring answer. Why is that an answer?” I asked. They said, ‘You don’t understand. It’s amazing because now we don’t have to wonder what our continuous improvement results are going to be. Now, we don’t have to wonder what our data is going to be; we can actually get initiatives done.’”

Covid-19 is affecting all higher learning environments. As schools prepare for reopening in some capacity by fall, many large public institutions are faced with the main hurdle of “pivot and learn.” Hernandez adds, “I think one of the things that Covid is doing is teaching us that even for schools that say they are learning organizations, they are really going to have to learn.” 

He foresees fall programming being very ad hoc with higher ed institutions learning, deciding, and acting in rapid loops. “Those five and ten-year quality improvement and strategic plans are going to get thrown out the window,” says Hernandez. It’s about transparency, he explains. “All of [it] becomes transparent in real-time. Schools are going to have to learn how to do that over the next year. And once they do, they’re going to do great because that’s exactly what needs to happen.”

About Joel Hernandez

Joel Hernandez is Chief Executive Officer of eLumen, a company dedicated to providing colleges and universities with the right tools for student success. Prior to joining eLumen, Hernandez held leadership roles in user experience and product development for companies including UnitedHealth Group and Ceridian.

After nearly 20 years in software development, he has learned that there is always more to learn, as well as the following: user experience is key, agile development is empowering, and lean thinking can drive you forward. His achievements include buy- and sell-side leadership through mergers and acquisitions, and earning the patent for the first SaaS benefits administration platform. Through working in ERP, HCM, Ad Tech and Ed Tech, he has found that these industries don’t differ in their need for great cultures, a commitment to execution, and value-driven leadership.

With eLumen, Hernandez is thrilled to be working to make competency-based assessment approaches possible—and addressable on a wide-spread basis—for post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and Canada (and later, worldwide). If we can put learners first, teachers right beside them, and harness technology as a servant to both, he believes, we have unprecedented opportunities to connect the work of teacher to teacher, and learning opportunity to learning opportunity for students to truly make a difference in student outcomes.

Follow Joel Hernandez on Twitter @elumen_ceo

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