A major report on digital learning from Arizona State University

What are the best ways to support and structure digital learning?

On April 4th, Last week Lou Pugliese joined the Future Trends Forum to describe a forthcoming research project he’d just completed. I’d heard about the research secondhand and was intrigued. One text described it as looking into institutional return on investment (ROI) for digital learning. So I convinced Lou, senior innovation fellow and managing director technology innovation Action Lab at Arizona State University, also co-creator of Blackboard, to appear on the Forum and give the community an advance look into the report’s findings, before they were published:

I’m grateful to Lou for his generous time. (You see why the Forum is so cool?)

Here is the report. I recommend reading “Making Digital Learning Work: Success Strategies From Six Leading Universities and Community Colleges,” because this is important stuff. It is likely to be influential, even if you disagree with some of the results.

Let me pull out some highlights I found especially interesting for the future of education and technology.

The report finds three benefits for colleges and universities that get online learning right. They save money, expand access, and offer the same or better quality as face-to-face learning.

Testbed – the authors picked a very interesting mix of campuses to study. They include Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Houston Community College, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Rio Salado Community College, and the University of Central Florida. Note the absence of Ivies and liberal arts colleges. Instead, the focus is on higher ed sectors that reach the largest numbers of students: public universities and community colleges.

Organization – the report strongly urges centralization of services, curricula, and analysis. It refers to a portfolio approach, as in “a portfolio of digital delivery models tailored to the particular needs of different student populations.” “Strategic” is a term that resonates.

Enrollment – online learning grew the number of students at each campus or system. This isn’t a surprise, but will probably aid institutional leaders seeking to expand distance learning offerings.

Student support – Pugliese insists that direct student support services make a huge difference. In our conversation he described a range of services, including phone lines. The report refers to “a network of remotely accessible support structures”.

Diversity – the report argues that high quality online learning can yield “increases in the proportion of specific populations including Pell Grant-eligible students, older students and female students.”

About quality: the report emphasizes learning design and learning science as domains institutions must draw upon. It also recommends expanding data analytics.

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