Evolving Pedagogical Models
While traditional classroom learning isn’t going away anytime soon, many schools are making progress toward pedagogical models that better meet students where they are and address educational needs within, but also beyond, a traditional degree program.
The annual Inside Higher Education’s CAO survey shows a lot of schools pushing the boundaries of the traditional course-based model. About half of institutions report offering some sort of competency-based programming, and nearly everyone is offering online and more career-focused programs, including professional degrees and STEM-related programs. And given the focus on more professional and skill-based programs, it’s not surprising that many schools are utilizing more outside-the-classroom experiences – internships, self-directed capstone projects, mentoring, and more.
All of this is great news. There are increasingly more options for learners to get what they need for job skills, when they need it, and schools can serve more students at different points in their educational journey. However, the question of effective measurement of impact on learning continues to cast a long shadow over higher ed.
Measuring Progress with Meaningful Data
While the CAO survey shows the breadth of innovation going on, the IHE Chief Business Officer survey highlights these challenges with measurement. When asked about their ability to make informed decisions about the efficacy of academic programs, about half of respondents said they “Agreed” or “Strongly Agreed.” The vast majority of that number felt they “Agreed,” but didn’t “Strongly Agree”.
One way to look at that number is to say, “Half! That’s great – it’s more than would have said that in the past.” That may be true and progress, however slow, is still progress. But I can’t help but walk away from that statistic dismayed that half of CBOs feel as though they are shooting in the dark on mission-critical decisions.
These statistics are all the more confounding when you think about them in context of the innovation that’s happening. Schools are investing large amounts of time and money testing learning models and moving into new areas of programming without consistent, widespread confidence in their ability to get meaningful insights on the impact of these investments.
This isn’t a surprise to me or likely anyone who has worked in educational technology for a while. In order to get meaningful insights, you first have to have meaningful data. And the fact of the matter is few, if any, learning platforms provide such data.
The ugly truth is that the technologies most institutions rely on to deliver their academic programs and support services are rarely designed around the academic needs and goals of the student. These technologies were created to serve mostly administrative, process-based activities such as course administration and bursar account management. Getting meaningful learning data and extracting insights from them is a difficult, laborious, and often futile effort. So it is equally no surprise to me that one of the most agreed upon statements in the CAO survey is that “faculty at my college view assessment as requiring a lot of work on their part.” (A resounding 81% “Agree” or “Strongly Agree”).
If higher education is going to start moving towards new models of learning, then it also needs to rethink how it goes about measuring the impact of that learning, which starts with taking a critical look at learning management systems and how they get in the way.
Putting the Student at the Center of the LMS
So what if we rethought the entire approach to an LMS? What if, instead of being grounded in measuring activities around course administration, it was organized around students and the learning outcomes they need to achieve? Instead of students seeing that they need to read an article this week or submit a paper next week, they could see how they are progressing on learning the skills and competencies they went to school for in the first place?
And what if faculty and administrators could see how their whole class, or the entire program, is progressing against learning outcomes in a straightforward dashboard? How much more quickly could students get the targeted support they need to master more challenging areas?
Building around learning outcomes first represents a radically different way of thinking about the LMS. It means that schools can offer both traditional classroom-based instruction as well as experiment with less traditional approaches all on the same platform and without costly – and often kludgy – workarounds. But more importantly it means that data on learning outcomes – real learning outcomes and not process-based activities – is easier to access, surface, and share.
True Innovation Starts with Data
So going back to our CAOs and CBOs, instead of shooting in the dark on mission-critical decisions, they can make sound, data-informed decisions about how to best meet their students’ learning needs. And that’s how true innovation and progress begin.
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