As learners develop and finalize their degree plans during their early terms, there are several services and academic requirements that can help them prosper in the new universe of learning.
Advocacy Throughout the Learning Journey. Distance and blended learning can be an isolated and lonely experience. And, as we have already discussed, learning is, intrinsically, a social as well as intellectual activity. There are two kinds of community that can make a significant difference in the life the learner. One, which will be discussed in the next blog, is the availability of accessible space and communities online where learners and teachers can gather and work collectively. The second is the presence of an identified staff advocate for each learner throughout her experience.
Learners have a bewildering array of hoops they have to jump through not only as they enter college (financial aid and enrollment procedures, among others) but also throughout their journey (academic disputes, need for remediation, among others). Resolving these issues as they arise can be difficult on a campus. Obstacles range from finding the right office, to getting good and sympathetic advice and assistance, and finally resolving the issue positively.
Handling these issues in an online environment, however, can be exponentially more difficult. Learners become demoralized at the often baffling process of trying to get their questions answered and problems resolved. Assigning one advocate who is the learner’s personal “go-to” person when trouble arises is the answer. This person is a problem-solver, not a traffic cop. A person who will work with the learner to solve the problems, not just tell her who to call; and whose job is to promote and protect the learners relationship with the university. This service is the key, I believe, to improving learner success through non-academic services.
Clear Academic Rules and Pathways. The hard work in college should be the academic work. So, after a crisp and informative on-boarding experience, the next step is choosing an academic pathway and program that makes clear to the learner how the learning she will do meets her goals, why the learning she will do is important and what she has to do each step of the way to succeed. This suggests to me that the university should be aligning courses and learning outcomes with the learner’s needs and beginning position; giving more direction and allowing less choice. As one who, earlier in my career, advocated for a great deal of choice, I have come to believe that guided programs, with described personal relevance and impact, are a wiser choice, especially in pre-professional and professional areas.
Career Clarity. Career counseling and the alignment of learning outcomes with work readiness competencies will see dramatic change and improvement in the new universe. Using big data analytics, we will be able to assess career interests and aptitudes for every learner, not only at the beginning of the program but throughout as conditions and circumstances change. Learners will also be able to review real time job postings complete with salary information and legal or other requirements in and around their area of primary interest. And competency-based assessments will allow a tight alignment between academic and job requirements. This way, when a learner is ready to graduate, she is also ready to work.
These three elements – advocacy, degree pathways, and career clarity – will create, for each learner, a personal version of their learning journey, impossible to provide prior to the new universe of learning.
What other services do you think would further personalization and success?