off-campus students

Trend: Online learning going personal


The panelists elaborated on numerous personalized learning techniques used by their online programs, including integrated planning and advising services, analytics to share with students how they’re doing in their classes, doing more with mobile learning, and using prior learning assessments to reward students for their past education experiences.

Harnessing Prior Learning

“The way that prior learning assessment fits into the personalized learning environment is that it extracts from a student’s experience what their prior learning has been, applying that to their degree plans and providing credit for it so they’re able to take that amount of course work and take the time that they specifically and individually need to complete their credential,” said Keith Brender, vice president of Academic Operations for Kaplan University. “Students with a portfolio of prior learning are twice as likely to graduate, so it’s not just about speed to degree, it’s also about persistence. Persistence and getting our students to completion is a critical goal, especially with students that are first generation or are high risk. This is really helpful for today’s ‘new traditional’ student, which is the non-traditional student.”

Brender went on to add that Kaplan’s students have earned an average of 27 credits through this process, and then receive a personalized blueprint that tells them exactly what courses they need to take in order to complete their degrees.

Adjusting for a Mobile-First World

The panel also agreed that mobile apps, learning analytics, open educational resources, dedicated e-portfolio systems for capturing competencies, and student management systems should also all be integrated together as cohesively as possible in order to create the smoothest possible online experience for a student. This also allows students to get a clear visual look at how they are doing in school and what they need to focus on most at any given time in order to succeed; including assisting their media literacy and technological prowess, as well as coming to important agreements on what sort of data can be collected.

“There are so many tools out there that each student will pick certain tools, sequence them in a certain workflow that makes sense for them,” said Ernest Hernandez, director of video technology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Now what we’re doing with faculty is teaching them how to utilize other video tools so they can have a personal approach with their students. We live in a mobile-first type of world right now…so it’s important for us to be able to think in those terms as a student is communicating with faculty: how they’re communicating, what device they’re using, and what they’re expecting to see. We know social media is a very important part of what faculty are using in communications with students, so there again we want to show them the best way to utilize a piece of video for their online courses in any learning management system or in a social media context.”

“It doesn’t matter what the technology takes shape of in five years time, they should still know how to extract the best out that technology, effectively preparing them for the unexpected,” added Dr. Arunangsu Chatterjee, director of Technology-Enhanced Learning at Plymouth University’s Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

Embracing CBE to Personalize Online Learning

This sentiment also speaks to another that was consistently reiterated by the panelists, which is that institutions need to constantly adjust to and embrace the rapid changes that often come in the education environment in order to best serve their students. This includes potentially embracing competency-based education ideals.

Similarly, it was noted that institutions should consistently be on the lookout for students who are struggling and provide them with the necessary resources for success, which is another important aspect of personalized learning. Again, clear-cut course guidelines and personalized feedback from classes go a long way in helping students to prosper as well, agreed the panelists.

“The face of our students, the type of students has changed,” said Brender. “Because they come from so many different backgrounds and situations and are living through so many different issues in their lives, the requirement for us to be flexible and meet them where they are is paramount. If we’re going to get them out with a credential and meet the needs of society with more college educated people having the right skills in this new marketplace, we’ve got to do it differently. Those institutions that can meet that challenge use the technology, use the big data, and have the people engaged – faculty, staff and everybody else – to help students over the hump. I think that’s the way of the future.”

“The long term goal is helping our students identify how they can mash up these various recipes using these tools and achieve what they want to do in their life beyond their formal education,” concluded Chatterjee. “Hopefully we’ll be able to empower them on a continuous basis and make them students of lifelong learning.”