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Change: Hard, Messy, and Gorgeous

By Julie Rice Suggs, Ph.D.

May 24, 2021

One of my favorite quotes about change comes from Canadian writer Robin Sharma: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous in the end.” During grad school, this was never more relevant for me than the time I spent working on revisions for peer-reviewed articles. The coveted minor revisions recommendation meant you were off to the races. But the recommended major revisions let you know things were indeed going to get messy before they got better. Only after much effort, many sleepless nights, and copious amounts of coffee would the gorgeous end be achieved.

Now, for me as the academic director of The Packaging School, this quote still holds true. It is never easy to critique your hard work. But our team knew that waiting too long to update our online courses could compromise the training experience. So, our team began the process of reviewing our educational offerings, starting with the Certificate of Packaging Science (CPS), a 12-course online curriculum that teaches the materials, processes, and influences shaping the advancement of the packaging industry. The CPS program is an integral part of the full suite of free online courses available to AICC members.

The CPS program encompasses 60 hours of content and is composed of 572 lessons, so we knew from the start—this venture would be no easy feat. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that in order to remain fresh and relevant to the packaging industry at large, our courses must be continuously revised and improved.

You may be wondering how we approached this task. For starters, we took a page out of the peer-review process and started sorting lessons into two piles: major revisions or minor revisions. In order to group them accordingly, we asked questions such as: Is terminology changing? Are there important concepts we are not covering? Is the material outdated? Are we covering pertinent packaging trends and hot topics? Our process is a targeted needs analysis—looking into where our online courses currently stand, seeing how much work is required to update them, and asking ourselves which aspects of our online training strategy need some fine-tuning. For example, our first port of call in this process was tackling our market overview lessons. These lessons cover a brief synopsis of the specific packaging market, aiming to provide a current snapshot of the market in order to better understand its key features.

Along with identifying hot topics and gaps in learning, we use exit surveys and interviews. These methods allow us to ask for student feedback regarding the content and setup of the courses. When reviewing this data, we look for patterns or specific trends in answers to gauge aspects of the material needing improvement.

And not all our updates are fact-based. Our creative team has also been hard at work refreshing our e-learning templates to give the courses a more modern feel. Along these lines, we have been reevaluating our aesthetics by taking a closer look at course graphics, charts, and color schemes. The goal is a look that is clean, clutter-free, and entrenched in the digital age.

Additionally, we have been incorporating curated videos into the curriculum. During the pandemic, our creative director, Kevin Keigley, came up with the idea for a social media offering called The Packaging School Show. The show was born out of a desire to stay connected while everyone was quarantined at home. Keigley wanted the videos to be fun and educational, and he wanted to highlight the innovative ways people all around the globe are working hard (specifically in the packaging arena) to make the world a better place. Adding this bonus content to our more formal curriculum makes the courses relatable and appealing to the younger generations.

Overall, in the last year, our team has updated more than 120 lessons within the CPS curriculum. And we’re not the only online education provider seeking to better their content. AICC has translated 20 courses on their educational platform into Spanish as yet another way to make members more successful.

Mary Niemiec, associate vice president for distance education at the University of Nebraska, gave the following response to any who believe that online courses can be left untouched after the launch: “That’s like telling a faculty member, once you develop a syllabus, don’t worry about updating it.”

The team here at The Packaging School and our partner, AICC, are motivated and determined to keep this “syllabus” updated. Whether we have minor or major revisions in the quest to make our courses as useful, appealing, and as up to date as possible, we are prepared to go through the messy middle to reach the gorgeous end.

PortraitJulie Rice-Suggs, Ph.D., is academic director at The Packaging School. She can be reached at 330-774-8542 or


PortraitAlli Keigley, who contributed to this article, is production coordinator at The Packaging School. She can be reached at