Time and cost are two key barriers standing in the way of college completion, and that’s especially true for working adults going back to school. To eliminate these barriers and help registered nurses make faster progress toward earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, the University of Memphis School of Health Studies is using adaptive learning technology and other practices to accelerate completion—reportedly saving participants more than $100,000 in collective tuition costs in a single year.
“Students shouldn’t get bogged down with paying to learn things they already know,” says Richard Irwin, dean of UofM Global, the university’s online program. “Adaptive learning helps students move through the content at a more rapid pace.”
How adaptive learning changes the game
Through a partnership with West Tennessee Healthcare, UofM Global is helping nurses earn a BSN degree through the university’s fully online “RN-to-BSN” program. The program uses not only adaptive learning but also credit-by-exam and experiential learning to eliminate the need for students to learn material they’ve already mastered.
This competency-based approach to instruction isn’t new, but what makes UofM Global’s approach stand out is the use of adaptive learning technology to help drive it.
UofM Global uses a flexible, content-agnostic adaptive learning platform called Realizeit to provide intelligent pathways to mastery for each individual learner in the RN-to-BSN program.
Instructional designers at the university have broken down each course into discrete skills and concepts, and they have directed the Realizeit platform how to take students through this content to ensure a proper progression of learning. The online system continuously assesses students, and once students demonstrate mastery of a concept, they are accelerated to the next phase of learning automatically—so they don’t have to waste time relearning it.
Health studies instructor Niki Bray estimates that each chapter or module took about 10 to 15 hours to build within the platform. But this investment in time “has been so worth it,” she says. “These students are all working adults, and most have families. They have vey little time for education, so anything we can do to reduce costs and accelerate their learning makes sense.”
Expanding the effort
A one-year pilot program supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved so successful that the university has received a second round of funding to expand the initiative beyond its initial 55 students.
Irwin says the university hopes to recruit at least another 100 students into the program. He believes the future of higher education depends on how well colleges and universities can serve adult students who are returning to school, and adaptive learning and other practices that can accelerate completion are critical to these efforts.
“We are very keen on helping students save time and money,” he says.