How can personalization in learning technology aid students? How can developers help instructors become comfortable with personalization technology? And can personalization help higher education attract more students and see them through to their degrees?
National Louis University President Nivine Megahed moderated the keynote panel at the Educelerate conference Sept. 24, guiding a discussion featuring presenters Raghu Krishnaiah, COO of Western Governors University and soon-to-be COO of the University of Phoenix, and Phil Komarny, CEO of app developer Robots and Pencils, which developed TEx, the University of Texas system learning app which debuted in early September 2015.
“Personalization is the latest trend everyone’s talking about, and it’s being proposed as an answer to the national achievement gap we’re all grappling with,” Megahed said at the day-long conference, held at NLU’s Chicago campus.
While personalized learning, often grouped with competency-based learning and adaptive learning, can mean different things to different people, the foundational idea is that it uses technology to let students learn at their own pace. For example, if a teacher is presenting a reading lesson to 30 students, the technology might enable students who have already mastered the material to receive more challenging assignments, and open up additional teaching time for students who need to catch up.
Noting the Lumina Foundation is predicting a shortage of 11 million college graduates to fill future workplace needs, Megahed asked how personalization could help address that.
“There is going to be a significant change in the way we think about education,” Krishnaiah said. In the past, education was seen as the transferring of knowledge from one person to another; it is now becoming seen as the absorption of knowledge, he explained.
Much of what Western Governors University has done involves bringing contextualization –making learning useful and putting it into context—and timing—supplying the learning at the time the student needs it— he said.
“What’s worked most for us is getting faculty engaged, and knowing what to do at that moment in time to help that student,” he said. As an online University, WGU’s faculty and students work from home, but through technology, faculty are able to have one-on-one conversations with a pool of 80 to 100 students.
That has helped Western Governors grow from 3,000 students to more than 60,000 students with graduation rates well above the national average, he said. Most graduates earn what they spent on their schooling within two years of graduation.
Komarny brought up the fact that teachers have to become comfortable with this way of teaching.
While a CIO at Seton Hall University, Komarny said he focused on using psychology to get faculty and others to use the technology. Both men agreed that faculty, students and others can be afraid of data, but if they can get over that, they will find it useful.
While they agreed data is only a tool, not the end goal of facilitating learning, Komarny said it’s important to get the right metrics in compiling data. However, holistic analytics can enable schools to take student experience and see it as one data set.
“All these things together give us a picture of the students,” he said. That’s one indicator educators can take into account as they consider personalization and responsive technologies for learning.