Charting new paths to student success and degree attainment

Three college students laying on the grass looking at an open textbook

The vital need for public and private collaboration to move education towards new learning modalities

“Nothing that happens is without effect. If you throw a stone in a pond, the universe isn’t quite the same as it was before.”  – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

Deciding to take action in the pursuit of one’s life goals is no easy task. The process finds each of us at odds with our own ambitions, roadblocks, and circumstances. Education is largely thought to be the conduit to achieving the aforementioned goals because, for many, it is believed to be the foundation of democracy and the road to a better, more rewarding future.  Still, even this construct is affected by the varied approaches surrounding ideas related to the attainment of solid financial stability, deeper social engagement, professional advancement, and/or personal and emotional growth.

While education is a bedrock for these areas of growth, traditionally the method for engaging in learning has been very rigid and mostly an exclusive enterprise. Perhaps it’s time learning modalities adapt to the needs of the new market – a market that requires flexibility, functionality, and personalization.  Perhaps it’s time to chart new paths to success.

Redefining learner success

Through a combination of forces, including an increased demand for education that proves difficult for many schools to accommodate, changing expectations in the workforce, evolving technologies, and growing social inequity, diverse models for engagement with learning are taking hold. In fact, while still maintaining value and importance, it may be that success is no longer limited to the time-bound degree.

Most would argue that acquiring this hard-earned distinction is the ultimate objective, however, life, as the adage goes, “gets in the way” and ultimately prevents many students from completing this endeavor. When this occurs or that formidable opponent self-doubt surfaces, individuals are not only systemically considered unfit for education but adopt this stance personally as well. These attitudes result in drop-outs and feed into a downward spiral of negativity that tremendously affects individuals, their families, and eventually, the nation.

Here is something to consider: is it possible that focused pathways with clear entry and exit points that inevitably lead to degree attainment are goals that can be met one step at a time? That the capacity is present in one’s life for such a gradual development? From my perspective, this is a resounding “yes.” We must, for example, cease reading a hiatus from the pursuit of a degree as failure and instead think of it as a resting point, a placeholder for the next step to be taken. An effective education cannot be the result of a singular methodology or a continuance of the way things have always been done.  If the field of education is to truly reach the majority and to be inspirational and innovative, we must give credence to the whole student.

Reimagining new learning models

We must redefine success by inviting necessary supports, such as a robust technical infrastructure, mentorship and coaching, goal-setting and keeping through personalized dashboards to stay on track, a solid and diverse curriculum that includes a combination of courses (liberal arts and applied-workplace competencies, for example), and strong faculty connection and engagement, to significantly provide students with the education for which they are so richly paying. Innovation in this field is about catering to flexibility and the fostering of long-term student support and engagement. This is the future and it will no longer wait.

As cliché as it might appear, it is a salient assessment that in a democracy, each person is of value and should be afforded equal opportunity to a quality education; one that prepares them to be actively and critically engaged in the society in which they live, to obtain their individual professional and personal goals, and to effectively engage in a competitive workplace that contributes to the overall well-being of the nation. The rising expectation for an educated workforce continues to grow while the traditional “one size fits all” structure of education is not working for the majority.

Evolving educational pathways and opportunities could very well lead to greater outcomes fostered by innovative two-year and four-year institutions, passionate educators, market demands, entrepreneurs, and evolving technologies. Public and private collaboration and infrastructural development is within our grasp and the urgency for more comprehensive choices in the approach to educating students is upon us more critically, perhaps, than ever before.

 

This article originally appeared on Emerging EdTech June 15, 2016.

 

About the Author

Holly Custard, Ph.D., is head of academics for online learning services at Pearson. She previously led the design and development of online resources at University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Teaching and Learning. For the past 20 years, she has researched, taught, and worked in educational media and technology, and online learning in the K-12 and higher education sectors. Follow her on twitter at @hcustard.