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One learner at a time

On a recent visit to a large community college in the South, I heard from faculty members about some of the considerable challenges their students faced balancing work, family life, and their studies. Some had not been well-prepared for college. Not surprisingly, many struggle.

I found the discussion a welcome reminder of how important the personal is in education—and how those of us involved in applying high technology to learning should never lose sight of the individual.

There’s been a great deal of talk the last several years about dramatically expanding access to education through the Internet. Many educators have been excited about reaching vast numbers of learners through massive open online courses, or MOOCs. But it’s worth noting that the first letter of the acronym stands for “massive,” because all too often it seems the emphasis with MOOCs is on signing up as many students at possible, not on actually achieving positive educational outcomes. (Completion rates for MOOCs continue to disappoint).

If we’re serious about improving outcomes, however, we need to focus first on the individual learner—and his or her success. We need to create and perfect learning experiences that are tailored for individuals. The idea is to succeed one learner at a time.

We’ve concentrated on that goal at MindEdge. Our online adaptive learning and diagnostic tools are meant to ensure student success by providing the specific guidance a given learner needs. For example, students can take a diagnostic assessment offered through MindEdge’s writing program and surface those elements or topics (grammar, thesis development, tone of writing, etc.) where improvement is needed, and they are immediately connected to learning resources designed to shore up their skills. We also have found that “pre-tests” are a valuable way to help students “fail forward.” (For more on this, see “The value of pretesting.”)

We’ve taken a similar personalized approach to adaptive learning (AL). Relying on the wisdom of experienced educators, we’ve identified content areas where students struggle and responded with layers of scaffolding—additional explanations, exercises, and drills. Students can opt out of this adaptive learning with a click, but few do. The response to our AL has been very positive. (For more on this, see “Adaptive Learning: Exploring the Iceberg”).

There’s little doubt that the digital revolution can transform the way we learn. Starting from the individual student—and getting that experience right—is the key. If we can do that, then expanding personalized learning to large scale will indeed lead to the much-hoped-for transformation of education generally.

Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, at Babson College, and at Boston University.

Copyright © 2015 Jefferson Flanders


Failure can be a scary word. When we fail at something, we often question our self-worth, our skills, and our goals. But is there a way that “failing” can actually tell us something different about ourselves? Is there a way, rather than be struck down by failure, we can be motivated and even guided by it?

There would be no reason to take a course if you already knew everything about that subject. That said, it can be hard to determine where your gaps in knowledge might fall. This is where pretesting comes in.

Many MindEdge learning resources start with a pretest.

Pretesting is an important part of the learning process. Knowing where students stand in relationship to course material, from the get-go, helps guide their learning. Taking a pretest at the beginning of a course, and at the beginning of each learning module or assignment, can help students in understanding their starting place. They can see which areas need extra attention as they work through the course material. In essence, a pretest guides their learning.

Research by Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays, and Robert Bjork at UCLA has shown that “People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail.” Their research further found that “if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning. It’s an idea that has obvious applications for education, but could be useful for anyone who is trying to learn new material of any kind.” (Source: Henry L. Roediger and Bridgid Finn, Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn,”Scientific American, October 20, 2009)

By initially “failing,” students can see exactly where they need to grow. Benedict Carey, a science reporter for The New York Times who has written a book on learning, puts it well: “We fail, but we fail forward.”

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-web-seo-analytics-concept-flat-design-modern-vector-illustration-website-data-analysis-using-modern-electronic-mobile-image35512084EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative defines learning analytics as “the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information.” Many institutions of higher education are focusing on the data that is now available from online education.

MindEdge collects significant amounts of “click-by-click” student data from its learning resources and simulations. When it comes to employing this data as part of MindEdge’s continuous improvement approach to online learning resources, we consider the Four P’s. They are:

  • Principles
  • Progress
  • Performance
  • Pivot Points

The principles involved are simple: first, to consider the data in context; second, to analyze the data without preconceptions; and finally, to revise or adjust the learning resource based on those insights garnered from the analysis and then carefully assess the impact, positive or negative, of those changes.

We look first at student progress. How smoothly are students proceeding through the learning resource? What do completion rates look like? Are there modules or assignments where students spend longer periods of time? How does the rate of progress compare with the past? Are assignments being completed on time?

The next point of focus is performance. How are students doing on quizzes or tests? How does their performance compare with the past? Are students completing graded assignments?

Then we analyze the data looking for pivot points. Where do students encounter difficulty? Are there specific places in the learning resource where progress stalls or performance falters? Are there key trends apparent? What revisions or adjustments may be helpful at these pivot points?

We see learning analytics as a way to help in:

  • Intervening when students encounter barriers or struggle through alerting instructors to take action;
  • Personalizing the learning resource by developing adaptive learning based on the data analysis;
  • Predicting student outcomes based on past performance data;
  • Revising the learning resource to provide additional scaffolding where appropriate.

MindEdge has developed an extensive data dashboard to allow real-time monitoring of student progress and performance. Allowing instructors to review this data, and empowering them to act on it when necessary, is a key step in the process of improving student outcomes.

One sometimes overlooked aspect of learning analytics is the role of the student in monitoring their own progress and performance and “self-correcting” when they fall behind. MindEdge seeks to offer students access to this data in an easy-to-read and understand format within the learning resource—especially within adaptive learning segments—so that they feel in control of their own “learning destiny.”

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.

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