Years ago, retailers successfully figured out how to deploy technology that allows for a personalized shopping experience, putting the shopper in control. Higher education must do the same by creating a personalized learning experience, putting the student in control.
As one of the last sectors yet to benefit from the technological revolution, higher education’s focus has always been on the success and longevity of the institution. That outdated paradigm must now be flipped to focus on the success of the student.
Every student approaches their education with a unique set of experiences, challenges, and needs. Depending on where they’re starting from, some learners need help establishing good academic skills. Others need guidance with developing social/emotional skills. The task is to create individualized student-centered systems that build off each person’s experience.
Higher education institutions must innovate by harnessing the power of data and technology.
Personalized learning also takes the form of innovative support services—a community of care—that’s designed to enhance the student experience. For example, the Learner Care Dashboard (LCD) is a visual tool that gives WGU Program Mentors an at-a-glance view of specific student indicators to ensure timelier, more personalized faculty support. The implementation of the LCD has led to increases in same-day outreach to students in need, more engagement with Instructors, and increases in Competency Units and courses completed.
WGU also created the Environmental Barriers Program (EVB) to proactively identify and support students who are facing barriers to their academic success due to natural disasters or other major events. The EVB team monitors disruptive incidents across the country—such as floods, wildfires, and even the COVID-19 pandemic—and reaches out to potentially impacted students to provide support if needed.
WGU’s data-driven approach informs the creation of the Next Generation Platform (NGP), a unified set of software, tools, and business processes that will fill the gap between the traditional higher education model and the need for a more personalized, dynamic educational ecosystem that responds to the experience and goals of students now and in the future.
More than just a student-facing app, the NGP is a complete reimagining of how the university captures, stores, connects, and uses data across all internal academic and business systems. The NGP will move WGU from a single-learner, single-path experience to supporting multiple types of learners on multiple paths to multiple academic and professional achievements.
Student-centered learning requires a data-driven approach. WGU Labs, the university’s innovation incubator, has begun utilizing advanced analytics with particular emphasis on four vectors of equity research.
First, geolocation data: where do students come from? Second is interactions with students. What does and doesn’t work as we seek to address their needs and concerns? Third, we examine data about a student’s learning experiences, including content and assessment. And finally, we look at any operational friction such as policies, user experience, or business processes that hinder a student’s ability to persist. Mapping this data to learner profiles allows WGU to draw conclusions about the impact of support services on specific outcomes like on-time progress, graduation, and post-graduation employment.
A key consideration in personalized learning is ensuring students can gain both the skills needed in the workplace and the credentials trusted by employers. While that often means earning a degree, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why WGU has introduced a new kind of credential: “microcredentials” tailored to workforce needs that don’t require students to complete a degree program before they have something to show for their work.
Recent examples include a medical coding career accelerator program that can be completed more quickly than a full degree program, and a “micro” bachelor’s program in information technology that provides an affordable, six-month sequence of courses focused on immediately transferable skills to meet current needs of IT employers.