Changing Students, Changing Education
“The new student today is much more diverse than they were. They come from diverse backgrounds, ages, and experiences. We need to think about the best way to serve each student while making sure they meet the standards of each credential. The program’s flexibility and alternate pathways make this possible,” says McManimon. “We are creating not only alternative pathways to allow a student to look at the subject matter in a different way, but also to say ‘look, I’ve been working in this industry for ten years. I know this stuff already.’”
Personalized Learning Increases Success
Everybody’s story is different, but for most adult students, the issue often boils down to not being able to take the time to complete a full-time program while juggling other life obligations such as family and a full-time job.
“We had a student come to us who was taking one class at a time because that’s all she could fit into her schedule. At the rate she was going, it would’ve taken her 10 years to complete a two-year degree,” says Turner. “By utilizing the tools within Brightspace we were able to create short, six-week courses that can be taken one at a time. It allows a student to complete a full business associates degree, that would be a two-year course as a full-time student, in two years and nine months.”
One of the keys to success for the FlexPace program is that learning can be personalized to accommodate every student’s pace. Incorporating mastery-based elements, Riverland has tapped into capabilities in the Brightspace platform such as release conditions and intelligent agents to massage existing business courses into a delivery format that is well suited to working adults. Using the platform’s Competencies tool, student activities are tied to specific competencies. Students must demonstrate “mastery” of the material before moving on. Alternate pathways allow students to spend more time on what they don’t understand and skip over what they already know. “To me, ‘reach every learner’ is all about that adaptation, that customization. Everybody is unique,” says Turner. “If you give students enough time, anyone can achieve mastery. With tools such as Brightspace, we are finally able to more easily offer that kind of customization.”
In addition to the platform’s conditional release and intelligent agent capabilities, McManimon relies on checklists and the Grade book tool to manage her courses. “Brightspace gives me lots of capability to flexibly deliver things to students. Not everybody wants to look at the material in the same way. We do things in units and the Grade book lets students know when they have completed something by releasing the next level of content. It has made my job as an instructor much more manageable.”
Helping Employers and their Employees
“By 2020, 74% of the jobs are going to require some form of post-secondary education, and only 44% of the workers have that. There’s this huge skill gap because you’re working full-time, you can’t get away to school, you’re just stuck. By the same token, the employers are stuck, too, because they’re not able to get the personnel they need to fill those jobs,” says Turner.
The FlexPace program caters to working adults. Students seeking to enroll have the same entrance and admission requirements as any full-time student, but also require employer verification. “These fully-employed students are bringing a richness to the class that I haven’t seen in the past,” says McManimon.
She relates a recent conversation with an employer. “They were telling me a story about one of our students who came back to work after taking one of our classes and said, ‘give me a problem that you are working on as a manager and let me take a look at it. I’d like to come up with a solution to that problem.’ The employer was blown away.” McManimon notes, “This wasn’t an assignment. The student wanted to take what she was learning theoretically and apply it in the workforce. She saw the opportunity to immediately use the information she was learning. It’s been really fun to watch that.”
The FlexPace program is allowing mature students to realize their education goals and balance life’s responsibilities. Says McManimon, “We have a gentleman who is an entrepreneur. He has his own business. He often has to step out of class because he’s managing a huge project. This program allows him the flexibility to do that. In a normal class that would not be possible. He told me he would never have been able to return to school without FlexPace.”