University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Greater academic success for all


U-Pace is an innovative instructional approach to online learning developed by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM).  The approach has been proven to increase academic success by combining self-paced, mastery-based learning with instructor-initiated assistance in the online environment.


How to Put a Vast Supply of Knowledge to Work 
Many students struggle to complete their degrees in a standard four year timeframe.  The good news is that learner analytics are accelerating at a time when changes to post-secondary education are badly needed.

“D2L is on the forefront of advances in learner analytics,” says Diane Reddy, professor of psychology and Co-creator and Director of U-Pace Student Learning and Instructor Training. “They have predictive algorithms as well as information analytics about student engagement and student performance. But the missing piece for us has been what to do with that information. How do we use it to maximize success for students?”

With the creation of U-Pace, UWM set out to close the critical gap between what we know about learning and helping students achieve more.


The Dynamic Relationship of Success and Support
U-Pace is an approach to online learning developed using the Brightspace platform. It combines mastery-based learning with instructor feedback called Amplified Assistance. What makes U-Pace unique is that instructors can reach out to each student personally even when the student hasn’t asked for help. Students believe that they can succeed, and that makes all the difference.

Instructor-to-student support is powerful because it’s rooted in analytics. The personalized feedback comes from a bank of email templates created by UWM that are based on analytics functionality capable of determining why students give up or fail. When instructors are signaled that students are struggling, they borrow from the templates to reach out to those students.

The feedback works hand-in-hand with the mastery component. “Students study small, manageable amounts of material at a time, and they can only move on to new content if they achieve at least a 90% on a quiz—and that requires a deep level of understanding. Students are supported in that process with Amplified Assistance, which motivates them to keep moving forward,” says Reddy.

Control May be the Most Important Ingredient
In a course taught the U-Pace way, students decide when and at what rate they engage the material. As they master one unit at a time, it builds the link between their efforts and positive outcomes. They begin to develop a sense of control over their learning.

“What our research tells us is that when you feel that control, it leads to better psychological outcomes and increased persistence in the face of academic challenges. Students who don’t have a history of success often times give up prematurely. That’s why the Amplified Assistance messages are very empowering: They communicate an unwavering belief in students’ ability to succeed,” says Reddy.

Brightspace Makes U-Pace Work
Much of what makes U-Pace so successful is enabled by the functionality of Brightspace technology. It’s rooted in how instructors monitor student progress—and it’s the reason U-Pace instructors can deliver timely, tailored support through Amplified Assistance.

“The conditional releases are easily set so that students can’t move on until they demonstrate mastery. You can see the number of attempts that a student has made on a quiz then the high score is recorded in Gradebook. As well, communication tools are used to monitor and respond to the students’ behavior. All of these things are done through the Brightspace platform,” says Dylan Barth, Interim Associate Director, Learning Technology Centre, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

“The potential for widespread implementation and impact is incredible. U-Pace is freely available, can be applied across disciplines, and can be implemented in virtually all colleges.”
Dylan Barth, Interim Associate Director, Learning Technology Centre, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


U-Pace is More Effective than Conventional Teaching
The U-Pace approach has been rigorously evaluated at multiple universities with different student populations. Again and again, findings reveal that all students demonstrate significantly greater academic success and improved learning outcomes with U-Pace than with conventional face-to-face instruction.

It also helps level the playing field: Students who are economically disadvantaged or disadvantaged from conditions associated with racial/ethnic minority status receive the support they need to achieve more. U-Pace helps to narrow the success gap with non-disadvantaged students.

“We even tested the persistence of U-Pace learning over time,” says Reddy. “We brought back students six months after the course and gave them another exam measuring core concepts. U-Pace students scored 16% higher than the conventionally taught students.”

What does it all mean? With U-Pace, students are getting more out of school, but they are also acquiring the skills needed to get more out of life.

“One of the most exciting findings is that U-Pace significantly improves students’ ability to learn how to learn. By strengthening the capacity to acquire new knowledge and competencies, U-Pace means greater personal and professional success. Wide-scale adoption of U-Pace instruction may even strengthen our nation’s economy,” says Reddy.

Read the U-Pace Instructional Approach Whitepaper