Published on 2019/02/11
The EvoLLLution | The Dave Matthews Band Effect and Your Online Learning Team
Like a great band, online learning teams must be in sync, supportive of one-another and focused on working together to deliver a transformational experience.

From the first note of a Dave Matthews Band (DMB) concert, the audience is hooked! They sing, dance and sway, fully engaged for the entire 2.5-hour show. By the end, DMB has delivered beyond expectations and the audience is grateful and moved, vowing to return again soon. This is the DMB Effect. You may know people who have attended dozens of DMB shows. The reason? DMB deliver the best possible audience experience. They are unique and authentic. As a result, their audience keeps coming back for more. With over 100 million concert tickets sold, DMB has been filling arenas and concert halls for nearly 30 years.

Great. So, what does this have to do with my online learning team?

I’m glad you asked! A lot, actually.

While it may feel like a forced simile at first, I believe a high-functioning online learning team is like a great band. I’m reminded of this daily through my work at Berklee Online, where many staff members are musicians.

Great bands, just like high-functioning online learning teams, share these attributes:

  • They trust each other. Making music is giving of yourself both personally and professionally. It’s important to share in that experience with those you trust.
  • They support each other. Throughout a performance, band members alternate between lead and supporting roles.
  • They depend on each other. Rhythm section instruments (drums, bass, guitar, keyboards) provide the underlying foundation or groove. Lead instruments and vocalists sing and play melodies along with the groove. Each part plays a vital role in creating the ultimate experience for their audience.
  • They improvise. All members in the band are given opportunities to solo, or improvise, adding their own unique contribution to the overall sound, and creating a customized experience for their audience.
  • They are excellent communicators. They engage in verbal and nonverbal communication—anticipating, adapting, adjusting as they move through the music in real time.
  • They collaborate. Be it songwriting, arranging, or the programming and production of the show, all aspects of the show as well as the underlying business require collaboration.
  • They are nimble problem solvers. Things can—and do—go wrong during a performance, but the show must go on!
  • They are authentic. They put forth that which is unique about their particular band every time.
  • They are united by common goal. They want to create the best possible experience for their audience.
  • They love what they do. If their heart is in it, the audience will feel it.

While the actual members of the band are on the front lines interacting with the audience, there are many others working behind the scenes, including producers, managers, engineers, technicians and roadies.

Applying the Lessons to Higher Education

The analogies to an online learning team write themselves, really. Replace “audience” with “student” and think about the functional areas of your organization compared to a band. Producers are akin to your marketing, course development, and video production teams, developing and positioning “the product” for your audience. Advising, finance and the registrar are like a band’s management team. Your technology and support departments are like the sound and lighting engineers, instrument techs, and roadies. And finally, your instructors are the artists.

Great bands—like online learning teams—rely on all areas of the business to work together, “in concert,” to deliver the best possible experience. The result is a high satisfaction rate and fans/students that keep coming back: The DMB Effect.

To further illustrate the similarities between great bands and high-performing online learning teams, I asked Berklee Online’s curriculum design lead and course developer, John Scotti, for his thoughts.

He focused on innovation and transformation in these two worlds:

“Great bands take established song forms and musical influences and transform them into something unique and individual. Similarly, high-functioning online departments possess creativity and technical agility, and rethink traditional education. Like a great band, the output is greater than the sum of the parts, and if one listens to the Rolling Stones, the Flaming Lips or Miles Davis’ historic quintets, what we hear is a signature voice shaped by a team pulling in the same direction and interpreting the material in a fresh new way. My experience developing courses at Berklee Online has been much like working in a band that fastidiously prepares, records and releases compelling new albums to the public each semester.”

The lessons to be learned from great bands like DMB are vast. For leaders of online learning units, I recommend building a team with staff members who embody the attributes of a great band. Then, set the vision and strategic priorities, support the team, remove their obstacles and watch them soar. And, hire musicians! They are excellent communicators, collaborators and problem solvers, and will help your enterprise successfully achieve the DMB Effect.

Fun Fact: The DMB’s longtime bassist, Stefan Lessard, has taken many courses with Berklee Online over years. Check out his story and how he manages touring while pursuing his education online.

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