Meet Amazon’s Senior Learning Program Evaluator
Posted on January 10, 2023 by Hadyn Henderson
Dr. Jessica Bauer, a senior learning program evaluator at Amazon, grew up in small-town Snelling, California. She earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in social psychology from California State University, Stanislaus. Bauer wanted to start her career in corporate training evaluation at a major company in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, the financial crisis of 2007 put a stop to her plans.
For several years, Bauer taught undergraduate classes in psychology, human sexuality and behavioral statistics at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and Modesto Junior College in Modesto, both in California. Her consulting business, Jessica Harlan Consulting, provided instructional design, program evaluation and program development services. Key clients were the University of California, Irvine; the University of California San Diego; the University of California Office of the President; University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources; Thinc Design in New York; the Smithsonian Institution; Mobile Baykeeper in Mobile; and the College Brain Trust (now the Collaborative Brain Trust) in Sacramento.
Bauer then decided to push herself to the next level and returned to her studies. She was very interested in the corporate training field and researched doctoral possibilities. She discovered the University of South Alabama's Instructional Design and Development Ph.D. program.
“I had already gone beyond what I thought was possible for me, but the program and opportunity were there,” Bauer said.
At South, Bauer served as a graduate research assistant and worked with Dr. James Van Haneghan, now the chair for the Department of Counseling and Instructional Sciences. Bauer assisted in research as part of a National Science Foundation grant under Van Haneghan's direction. She earned a doctoral degree from South in 2016.
“I walked out of my Ph.D. program with a better ability to have rigorous academic and research scaffolding to bring to the table,” Bauer said. “That’s fundamentally because of Jim’s mentorship and willingness to provide the right balance of autonomy and coaching.”
Bauer knew she would not stay in Alabama long. She completed a graduate internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Policy and Analysis (now Smithsonian Organization and Audience Research) in Washington and accepted a position as senior program evaluation specialist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
After working at Hopkins for nearly four years, Bauer decided she needed more opportunity for growth. As senior research consultant at Gallup in Washington and then director of assessment, evaluation and educational scholarship at the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Inova campus, Bauer gained invaluable experience.
At Inova, Bauer thought she was finally where she was meant to be. However, an Amazon recruiter reached out and presented a compelling opportunity.
“They were looking for a unicorn, and I was the unicorn,” Bauer said. ”Amazon’s evaluation program has the funding and ability to achieve limitless possibilities in understanding adult learning and development.”
In April 2022, Bauer began work in Arlington, Virginia, with the Learning Science and Engineering team within Amazon's Global Learning and Development organization. Her team includes machine-learning scientists, instructional designers and other research scientists. Bauer works with Amazon to evaluate workplace learning programs and their impact on business outcomes.
“The Learning Science and Engineering organization’s vision is to reinvent workplace learning by building the programs, products, technologies and mechanisms that make teaching and learning fast, effective and scalable for Amazon employees,” Bauer said.
Within her department, Bauer most recently worked with an instructional designer to build an online course to serve as a workplace guide for creating an inclusive and accessible learning experience. She and her associate will identify which employees need to take the course. then determine if the course was impactful. They will use the data they gather to improve the course if necessary.
Bauer works with Amazon customers to ensure that each stage of their own training programs furthers business success. That includes determining whether the programs positively influence the trainees. The goal is to produce greater productivity and diligence through employee growth, thus improving outcomes for everyone involved.
“There really is an emphasis on the voice of the customer and the voice of the employee,” Bauer said. “I think it’s really delightful to see that it’s not just a numbers game.”
Bauer’s job also involves global interviewing and qualitative research. She’s collaborated, using rigorous methodologies, with other researchers from various parts of the world. Bauer and her associates use the gold standard of qualitative research — interviews and focus groups. That allows individuals' voices to be acknowledged, even in a company as large as Amazon.
“I’m working on actual program evaluation that has real-world consequences.”