HEaRT offers learners an advantage when they pursue their post-academic career goals: Participants gain vital experience in real-world, employment based challenges, and crucial skills and knowledge in applying a team-based, problem-solving method to these learning experiences.
Creating Experiential Learning Opportunities For Online Students
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), approximately 40% of undergraduate college students do not have the opportunity to participate in an internship. Students who complete graduate and undergraduate programs online are especially impacted by the lack of engagement with external companies. As job seekers, students who participate in a relevant jobs or internships are twice as likely to find a job promptly after graduation.
Southern New Hampshire University, a private, nonprofit, accredited institution and a leader in online higher education, recognized this as a barrier for its online students and started exploring creative strategies to meet their needs. Together with its Career Services department, SNHU created the Higher Education and Real-World Training model—otherwise known as HEaRT. An online experiential learning model, HEaRT connects students with employers, allowing them to build and demonstrate key skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, team building, and project management, all while gaining experience in solving real-life problems faced by employers.
Participants in HEaRT include undergraduate and graduate students from SNHU’s online program, based in the United States, and SNHU’s Global Education Movement students from five different refugee camps based in Lebanon, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, and South Africa.
Learners Gain Valuable Experience Solving Real-World Employer Challenges
HEaRT is a not-for-credit, optional experience for SNHU online learners. HEaRT participants can earn badges and pursue it as a pathway to stackable credentials. The HEaRT model has proven to be agile and adaptive to meet the needs of learners in a variety of degree programs. In summer 2020, HEaRT was adapted to include an employer-based diversity, equity, and inclusion program and was opened to students in social science and business degree programs.
HEaRT offers learners an advantage when they pursue their post-academic career goals: Participants gain vital experience in real-world, employment-based challenges, and crucial skills and knowledge in applying a team-based, problem-solving method to these learning experiences.
Students access HEaRT using the D2L Brightspace platform. In the traditional HEaRT model, participants have access to a course with the employer’s information and specific resources related to a challenge. The Brightspace platform allows for robust team collaboration through Discussion Boards. Students can share documents and create threads to organize their collaborative efforts.
The course includes five phases, with each phase including content to help learners navigate through the challenge and culminating with a team deliverable, including an executive summary and presentation for the employer.
Julia, a HEaRT student, says, “Working in a team is a skill that is so much needed at the workplace, and the HEaRT internship provides exactly that. The resources provided are so good, and it helped me unpack the impending shortage of nurses and what companies should do to avoid the problem.”
HEaRT is also reimagining the role of faculty by placing them in a supportive position so they can use their expertise to offer guidance and recommendations as mentors. The Brightspace platform provides mentors with an easy way to support students and note their progress through the challenge. To ensure the scalability and sustainability of HEaRT, SNHU made use of intelligent agents within the Brightspace platform. One specifically was created to trigger an email to the mentors to inform them when teams have submitted all required deliverables.
As of June 2021, 852 students have successfully completed one or more learning experiences through HEaRT. SNHU has issued 251 certificates and over 465 badges to HEaRT participants.
A Path To Degree Requirements During The Pandemic
As of June 2021, 852 students have successfully completed one or more learning experiences through HEaRT. SNHU has issued 251 certificates and over 465 badges to HEaRT participants. Four participants have completed all six core traditional HEaRT challenges, earning a summit badge. The HEaRT challenge is consistently well-received by learners. The overall rating of the learner experience by participants is 8.2 on a scale of 1-10, and almost 90% of participants would recommend participation to a classmate.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the HEaRT model proved to be an agile learning model for degree programs that require experiential learning. Many students in healthcare degree programs were unable to complete their experiential or clinical learning due to COVID-19 mitigation regulations in hospitals, community health centers, and other healthcare entities. SNHU undergraduate and graduate nursing, health information management, and public health programs and the SNHU University Campus (UC) psychology program adapted the HEaRT model based on their respective degree programs and accreditation requirements. These initiatives are ongoing, but the adapted experiential clinical experiences through the HEaRT model have assisted over 154 students in ensuring their on-time progression and degree completion during the pandemic.
Offering Flexible Options For Students
The HEaRT model has also been adapted to provide greater experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate student learners with the spring 2021 launch of HEaRT Solutions Lab. HEaRT Solutions Lab offers undergraduate students the opportunity to collaborate with one another to develop a solution to an organization’s problem or project. The solutions lab environment is more flexible than the traditional HEaRT model, with students electing to enroll in a variety of shorter employer-based projects that align with the student’s interest, skills, or self-identified areas for personal development. In the initial offering, 7 out of 9 (78%) of project teams completed their assigned labs. Two students were awarded metabadges for completing three individual experiential labs, and one student achieved Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credit.
Moving forward, SNHU is planning to offer the HEaRT model to other student populations, expanding the challenge nationally to include learners from other schools and potentially using HEaRT to offer an experiential-learning executive graduate degree.
“When people operate in a silo, they limit their vision and potential. It is great to share ideas and rearrange them into a final product that has a piece of everyone in it. This is something I had never done before and wanted to see what it was like. The more we open ourselves to the thoughts and opinions of others, I think the better person we become.” Barbara, HEaRT student, SNHU.