Innovation in College & Career Preparation

A Collaborative Approach to Personalized Learning

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo L. Esters, Senior Program Director, USA Funds

How can adaptive learning technologies best meet the individual learning needs of students?

Last summer, a group of postsecondary institutions embarked on a quest to find out — and develop scalable programs that improve student learning, retention and graduation.

Personalized Learning ConsortiumIn a project through the Personalized Learning Consortium of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, schools are collaborating to:

  • Demonstrate the capabilities of next-generation learning technologies, and how adaptive approaches can improve student outcomes.
  • Create discipline-specific cohorts of faculty to develop and pilot learning modules and courses at multiple institutions.
  • Evaluate and report on institutions’ and students’ experiences using these new approaches.

Personalized — or adaptive — learning adjusts learning experiences based on an individual student’s progress. To help promote innovative approaches to college and career preparation, USA Funds® is supporting the Personalized Learning Consortium’s project. The work is in line with USA Funds’ focus on Completion With a Purpose℠, building a more purposeful path for students to, and through, college and on to rewarding careers and successful lives.

Meaghan Duff, Executive Director of APLU Personalized Learning Consortium
Meaghan Duff

I asked Meaghan Duff, Executive Director of APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium, to share some insight into the benefits of personalized learning — and how this project aims to broaden its use and improve student outcomes.

Q: What are the benefits of personalized learning?

Personalized learning is changing higher education, transforming the ways students access information and learn. As college and university educators embrace new learning technologies, students are the direct beneficiaries.

Grounded in the principles of learning science, and designed to improve content mastery, adaptive learning solutions can deliver instructional experiences informed by students’ prior knowledge — and tailored to what they need to learn next.

Q: How are educators using personalized learning?

Personalized learning comes in many forms. University faculty have long employed the tutorial approach, which pairs single or small groups of students with a tutor to convey information directly, teach by example, or guide learners through problem-solving exercises.

With the advent of digital content and Web-based learning technologies, developers and instructors are pioneering new methods to personalize learning. Adaptive courseware, which combines proprietary or open instructional content with embedded assessments, offers one exciting approach to personalization.

Q: What goals did you set out to achieve in this project?

When the Personalized Learning Consortium at APLU partnered with USA Funds, there was a joint mission. We wanted to improve student success by creating rich and scalable adaptive learning experiences that enhance student performance at the course level and increase completion rates across universities.

We also believed institutions could gain strength and insight from working together. Our efforts would advance faster and have greater impact across higher education when institutions shared pedagogical strategies, technology expertise and campus practices, and to solve common instructional challenges together.

Q: How are schools collaborating to achieve those goals?

Our current initiative engages four APLU institutions to develop adaptive courseware for English composition. With support from USA Funds, faculty from Georgia State University, Montclair State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Mississippi have selected an adaptive learning technology vendor. They also have identified the common learning objectives and skill inventories for introductory writing and begun developing course content. The team’s goal is to deliver four adaptive learning modules for pilot use this summer.

With an approach that empowers faculty, harnesses the resources of multiple institutions, and focuses on student needs, personalized learning can become as good as its name. It can make the learner-centered academic experience, so common in previous generations, available to all 21st century students.

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