Expanding access, success, and equitable outcomes through the effective implementation of digital learning

A Sense of Urgency

Many public colleges and universities have embraced the mission of increasing access to higher education by recruiting more diverse student populations. Unfortunately, institutions continue to see significant persistence and completion gaps for their low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students. In response to this problem, many two- and four-year institutions have set goals around equity, success, and completion. They are also increasingly looking for ways to meet their targets through the effective use of digital tools.

In 2015, I wrote a Frontiers blog post discussing a project I led at Austin Community College – “Recycling, Revitalizing and Reimagining” – which described the transformation of a former mall into a tech-centered learning space that allows for hands-on, collaborative activities to facilitate learning. The centerpiece of that project featured the use of adaptive learning in developmental math, which boosted student success and eliminated equity gaps. I ended that blog post describing one of our students:

I am reminded of one of my students, Rafina, who is an assistant in a nursing home. Last semester, she pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and thanked us for giving her hope back. “I’m 52 years old and I had given up on my dreams of becoming a nurse. But I can do math now in this program. You have given me my hope back.”  This new environment isn’t just transforming their educational experience – it is bolstering students’ confidence and helping them reach their goals.

When we began the work of integrating adaptive learning for the developmental math sequence, there was a steep and lengthy learning curve. The dedicated faculty and staff had to work at an exhausting pace to put changes in place, and it was difficult to get the program in place fast enough to reach all our students. Since that time, numerous institutions have begun to incorporate adaptive courseware across a range of courses. Institutions like ASU, GSU, and UCF have seen positive results with the use of adaptive courseware, which are often accompanied by a restructuring of classroom time to emphasize active-learning techniques. While there are numerous discrete examples of excellent work, the field as a whole is still primarily integrating adaptive learning at the individual faculty level. There is a growing urgency to move faster and more efficiently so that we can reach every learner.

Bar graph of Extent of Courseware Use.
Survey of Adaptive Courseware Use at Institutions
While adaptive courseware holds promise for increasing student success, at many institutions it has not yet been integrated into strategic plans or priorities at the institutional level.

This same “impatient optimism” around adaptive courseware is shared by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In his recent GatesNotes, Bill Gates identified the use of technology in education as one of two resolutions for 2019 that he was committed to learning and thinking about:

How much can software improve students’ learning? For years we have been hearing overheated claims about the huge impact that technology would have on education. People have been right to be skeptical. But I think things are finally coming together in a way that will deliver on the promises.

Maximizing collaboration and communities of practice through a network approach

After recognizing the mounting potential for adaptive courseware and digital learning to support institutions as they drive to increase student retention and success, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested in a new network that will draw on the field’s combined knowledge and expertise to help institutions maximize the potential of adaptive courseware through effective implementation. WCET was selected to serve as the “backbone” of the new network, Every Learner Everywhere. Adopting a “network approach” means that, instead of each individual institution starting from ground zero and working in isolation, those institutions will be supported by a network that allows institutions to crowdsource and share best practices  and lessons learned. This information can help drive the field forward by allowing institutions to strategically integrate technology and use it at scale to improve student success.

Every Learner Everywhere began the work of network weaving in 2017 by bringing together 12 organizations that have been working to reduce inequities through the effective use of educational technology. This new network is focusing its initial work on supporting two- and four-year institutions as they use adaptive courseware to help close persistent achievement gaps. The 12 partner organizations will work collaboratively to support institutions as they transform their teaching and learning practices, align the new technology initiatives to their strategic plans, and use adaptive courseware to achieve their institutional goals.

A picture of Every Learner Everywhere Network Partners with "Every Learner Everywhere" in the center, surrounded by the names of twelve specific partners. The partners are also listed in other locations throughout the blog.

By working collaboratively as a network, partner organizations will be able to learn from each other and present a unified voice to help move the field forward. Our founding network partners include: Achieving the Dream (ATD), the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Digital Learning Research Network, Digital Promise, EdSurge, EDUCAUSE, Intentional Futures, Online Learning Consortium, SXSW EDU Conference & Festival, Tyton Partners, and WCET.

The Every Learner Everywhere network is well positioned to leverage the existing relationships and expertise of its partners. ATD and APLU, which will serve as liaisons to the institutions during the initial phase of work, collectively represent nearly 8 million students at 459 colleges and universities. ATD’s longstanding coaching model helps colleges use data, as well as information from peers in the field, to make strategic decisions and transform their teaching and learning. APLU, through its Personalized Learning Consortium, has significant experience helping institutions use adaptive courseware at scale to improve the student experience. Institutions working with ATD and APLU have already reported promising results of using adaptive courseware, including increased course passing rates, higher retention rates, lower costs for students, and increased student satisfaction.

All network partners are committed to common goals—continuously learning from the field and developing solutions that will reduce inequities across a variety of institutional environments.

Why Adaptive Courseware?

Adaptive courseware has the powerful potential to create a more personalized learning environment in college courses. This technology makes learning more student-centric by allowing students to move through an individually customized path of course material based on their skills and knowledge. However, adaptive technology is not just reshaping the student experience; it is also creating new possibilities for instructors. Adaptive technology gives instructors access to new kinds of data beyond traditional end-of-term assessment scores so they can better understand what students are learning and how they are learning it. Many adaptive platforms allow instructors to see a more complete picture of their students, including real-time study habits, engagement with course material, and patterns of errors. This information empowers college instructors to design more targeted instruction and remediation. Additionally, if students are using adaptive courseware to learn more of the course material independently, instructors can redesign their in-class activities to incorporate more engaging, interactive, and high-impact instructional practices.

Triangle graph with three circles in it. One circle contains the word "quality," one circle contains the word "cost," and the third circle contains the word "access."
Evidence highlights that adaptive courseware has the potential to positively impact the “Iron Triangle” of cost, quality, and access that institutions consider when evaluating their offerings.

What’s next?

During 2019, Every Learner Everywhere will work with a limited cohort of public colleges and universities to develop best practices for:

  • Selecting adaptive courseware products that meet stakeholders’ needs.
  • Aligning adaptive courseware initiatives with larger institutional goals.
  • Collecting and analyzing data to track the success of initiatives.
  • Redesigning courses to incorporate high-impact instructional practices.
  • Moving strategically from smaller pilots to scaled initiatives.
  • Sharing outcomes and enabling peer-to-peer learning.

Every Learner Everywhere will start by working with institutions in three states—Texas, Ohio, and Florida—and then expand nationwide with plans to reach at least 200 institutions by 2022. The initial coaching will use the best practices identified in A Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware: From Planning Through Scaling, which details the successes of eight universities that are now using adaptive courseware with more than 100,000 students. Using this as a starting point, network partners will work together to improve and expand their bank of high-quality, field-tested resources and training.

In the coming years, the network will likely expand its focus to begin exploring other types of educational technology and opportunities for institutional transformation. Learn more about the network at www.everylearnereverywhere.org.



Stacey VanderHeiden Güney
Director, Every Learner Everywhere



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