Personalization is key when it comes to online learning, leaders say

'The face of our students, the type of students has changed'

Online students need personalized learning too, a group of higher education leaders said at a recent panel. 

The New Media Consortium recently hosted an online panel with leaders from colleges and online education programs to discuss advancements in digital and personal learning.

"There are so many different things involved when you start to talk about personalized learning and putting those tools together," says Vanessa Kenon, a University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) lecturer in the college of Education & Human Development.

At UTSA, staff work to personalize students' plans from the moment they begin the academic process, Kenon says. That includes laying out their degree plans to determine how long it will take to graduate and how much it will cost if they change their academic paths.

"It's an approach that integrates those degree plans with the students getting the right kind of advising they need and a more personalized approach to getting them in the right courses... and try to get them to finish in four," Kenon says. 

Finish in four: Supporting timely graduation for low-income students

Give credit where credit is due

Part of this personalization includes awarding credit for prior learning.

"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," says Keith Brender, Kaplan University's vice president of Academic Operations.

On average, Kaplan's students earn 27 credits this way. They also receive a personalized course blueprint that guides them to degree completion.

Meet students where they are

Mobile apps, open educational resources, e-portfolios, learning analytics, and student management systems must all work together to help students most, experts say.

"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," says Ernest Hernandez, USTA's director of video technology.

"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."

Adjust to each student's pace

Competency-based education can help each student move at his or her own pace, instead of being forced out of school if they can't keep up with a non-personalized course.

"The face of our students, the type of students has changed," Brender says. "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" (Bethke, eCampus News, 6/17). 

Also see: Your students look for answers on their phones. Are you there when they need you?


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