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A Cinematic Visionary Transforms Learning & Online Education
CEO of Genius Produced
Kim Rocco Shields’s company philosophy is to engage learners by creating educational content using the language of cinema to make it compelling, exciting, and highly accessible to a broad audience.
“There’s no reason educational content can’t be just as bingeable as any show you’d see on Netflix.”
That sounds very enticing but does it really work?
“Through my years working in Hollywood, I witnessed first-hand the power media and story had in reaching people and connecting them to themes and ideas. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think anything I was doing in Hollywood was necessarily making the world a better place. And I want to do that.”
It was at that point Kim Rocco Shields realized the techniques and approaches she had mastered in the entertainment field could be put to even greater use in the education field. Before starting Genius Produced, Shields was already working to incorporate media into an online learning platform and quickly realized the emerging online education market was in need of a serious revamp.
“The field leaders were still relying on static lecture videos and PowerPoint slides, which simply aren’t enough to keep modern, digital-age students engaged. And now, with Covid-19 changing our world forever – it’s clear that if online education is going to actually teach — and also become a legitimate, respected alternative to the traditional classroom, it needs something extra,” she states.
Studies show that cinematic presentations of educational material can be incredibly powerful teaching tools.
Shields explains, “When students watch cinematic content, they process information faster and develop an empathic emotional connection with the material. That connection allows for greater retention of the lesson’s content.” But why is that? According to the Pioneer Thinker, students become more engaged when they’re presented with a story that includes captivating visuals because the brain releases chemicals, such as cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin, which help with awareness, arousal, and ultimately action. “I think the math is pretty straightforward,” says Shields. “More engagement equals more retention equals more learning.”
At Genius Produced, storytelling serves as the foundation of their proprietary Cinematic Engagement approach to content creation, which Shields affectionately calls “Visual Instructional Design.” She and her team have been refining their approach and making a name for themselves in the education industry since the emergence of Distance Learning over a decade ago. Their approach focuses on teaming up with Subject Matter Experts to build characters, situations, and problems that accurately recreate reality, which in turn, builds familiarity and fosters an emotional connection to the topic. These stories provide relevance, and relevance helps the learner understand the value of the material in his/her own life. “Think about that feeling you get when you hear a song that reminds of a person, or an event. It takes you right back there. That’s what we strive to create. That kind of memorable experience with the content.”
Guided by the vision and mission to use film to create transformational educational content, Shields has crafted the Genius Produced brand, culture, product design and shaped a senior management team to deliver on the company’s goal to provide the most innovative online learning experience possible. “No one out there does exactly what we do. No one.” Shield says with pride.
Utilizing her innovative focus to build both a creative vision and a solid business framework, Shields is delivering on that promise to her clients. “We’re basically the secret sauce for a number of Fortune 500 companies and high end universities. And believe me, there’s plenty more sauce where that came from!”
And she was right.
During the summer of Covid-19, a crisis developed for Master’s in Social Work students whose programs required a field placement to complete their degree. Social distancing and lockdowns meant in-person social services were being curtailed or shut down completely causing these students major setbacks in completing their programs. A born problem solver, Shields did what she does best and, starting last Spring, began to innovate a solution. She pivoted Genius Produced to focus on the urgent need of getting these MSW students a significant portion of the 900 plus hours of field placement and practicum time they need to complete their programs. Shields knew that Genius’ unique approach to education could help provide these students with accessible simulation based training that would allow them to continue on their career pathway uninterrupted.
Shields had previously proven how effective this approach can be while working with the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to create the first virtual course to accredit as part of an internship. That immersive experiential learning system gave students the unique opportunity to practice their counseling skills with live actor/clients.
Dr. Gary J. Wood, PhD, LCSW, who is currently the VP of Curriculum at Genius Produced, explains, “In 2012 we began development of the Virtual Field Practicum (VFP) which was a semester long, 200-hour course focused on skill development, instead of knowledge acquisition. This was initially begun to help students delayed in starting their internships to develop skills while waiting. This proved so popular and so valuable that a whole semester course was created to develop the kinds of skills students would acquire during their first semester of internship. When students then did start their internship, they did so with a strong clinical skill set already developed, and performed as well, if not slightly better, on competency measures than traditional on-campus students.”
Shields has now taken that concept two steps further when she partnered with 2U to create the Virtual Field eXperience (VFX).
VFX is a ten week experience designed to replace the first year of field placement required for social work programs and integrates 80% asynchronous and 20% synchronous learning for students. VFX works to engage students through a “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach to the social work competencies followed by simulated client sessions where students are challenged to further develop their clinical skills with live actors. Preliminary results from VFX have demonstrated that students perform at the same level, if not better than their peers in “traditional” learning environments. Shields has no doubt that while the pandemic spurred this innovation, VFX will continue to be a viable piece of social work education well into the future.
What’s Next for Genius Produced?
For Shields, VFX serves a particularly prescient need. As mental health outcomes have worsened across the board as a result of Covid-19, social workers contributions are more critical than ever. Bolstering the practical training of future mental health professionals has become a mission for Shields who, after completing VFX, is now partnering with other top tier universities and partners to develop Virtual Experiences for a variety of career paths that serve the public in these trying times.
At the end of the day, accessibility of education has always been a key priority at Genius Produced. As Shields explains, “We’re developing an exclusive series of courses marketed directly to consumers, opening up our education brand to provide access to everybody.” These new courses are intended to be comprehensive and immersive experiences created in conjunction with experts and leaders in various important and in-demand topics that aim to provide anyone with an interest or a goal the chance to broaden their knowledge and practice new skills. “Our first course in this series is one after my own heart. It’s called “How to Change the World” and it’s going to explore how video, film, television, and other forms of media can promote and inspire positive change in individuals, their communities, and the world,” beams Shields.
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