On-campus and online. In-person and virtual. Mutually exclusive modalities are a thing of the past. Fluid, lifelong learning is the new reality for higher ed institutions post-pandemic.
“We are moving into an era of a six-decade-long learning cycle as opposed to four years,” says Dr. Judy Olian, president of Quinnipiac University.
At Quinnipiac, students range in age from 19-68 and online learning was the norm even pre-pandemic. “For us to think that people have to come physically to do these things is just dreaming,” she said.
Olian was one of four panelists in US News and World Report’s recent webinar, “How Virtual Learning is Enabling Lifelong Skill-Building.” Panelists from top online universities — Quinnipiac, University of Florida, and California Virtual Campus — offered best practices for transitioning campuses from a four-year model to a lifelong learning model.
5 Best Practices for Transitioning to a Lifelong Learning Model
1. Rethink the Traditional Student
The university experience is no longer reserved for the four-year residential student. Learners of all ages, stages, and locations need continual skill-building to navigate a modern workplace. Online learning — for both on- and off-campus students — enables that.
Marina Aminy, executive director of California Virtual Campus, said online learning helped her institution expand its reach exponentially. Its innovative CVC exchange, powered by Canvas LMS, is a cross-enrollment tool allowing California Community College students to enroll in any online course at another campus.
“It takes students from having 1-2 choices for courses to having 100,000,” Aminy said.
2. Partner with Employers for Upskilling
Career readiness doesn’t just apply to an undergrad’s first job, it also includes adult learners upskilling and reskilling to compete in an ever-changing market.
Olian urged institutions to reach outside the walls of higher education to determine what the labor market’s learning demands are. “Look outwards instead of inwards to define course and certificate offerings,” she said.
Panelists offered examples of how their institutions are partnering with employers to reskill and upskill the workforce:
- Quinnipiac University’s new partnership with Hartford HealthCare builds college-to-career pipelines and encourages lifelong learning for current employees.
- University of Florida’s new partnership with Amazon covers tuition and fees for one of 25 UF bachelor’s degrees via UF Online.
- California Virtual Campus developed 80 fully online Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs
- Utah State University’s partnership with Northrup Grumman allows employees to turn their vocation into a degree.
Institutions want to attract students. Employers want to train their workers. It’s a win-win solution. But only if a university’s robust virtual learning makes it possible.
3. Personalize the Virtual Experience with a Low Student-to-Advisor Ratio
A one-size-fits-all approach to virtual learning is impossible, says Dr. Evangeline Tsibris Cummings, assistant provost and director of University of Florida Online.
To serve a student population ranging in age from 12 to 75, UF Online invested in a cadre of academic advisors. This low advisor-to-student ratio ensures students feel connected to campus and gives UF valuable insight into the student experience.
Cummings says for a massive institution like the University of Florida, tethering students to a buddy is invaluable for personalizing a virtual experience and helps UF retain students.
4. Ensure Online Course Quality with Peer Review
Aminy encouraged institutions to set up their own local processes for ensuring quality of online courses.
With CVC’s Peer Online Course Review (POCR) rubric as their guide, faculty review courses for content presentation, interaction, and assessments. In addition, the review determines if accessibility requirements are met.
Aminy said campuses can use CVC’s rubric as a roadmap for designing new online courses, improving existing courses, or as a foundation for setting up their own local review process.
5. Use Data for Diversity
Cummings said the prevalence of online learning presents an amazing moment for campuses not only to pivot and be more competitive but also to be more welcoming to non-traditional students.
“The accessibility, flexibility, and multi-pathway nature of online learning should be inextricably linked to your focus on diversity and equity,” Cummings said.
Using data is a key step in meeting diversity goals. Aminy said institutions too often make assumptions about what students need. This “parentalism” — requiring prerequisites for instance — can be a detriment to students’ educational goals.
Chase the data to determine if an online course is designed for successful student outcomes. Ask questions like: How many students are passing this course? Is there retention? Are prerequisite policies impacting certain minorities disproportionately? Are working students dropping a certain modality of learning and why?
Panelists predicted that ten years from now we will see an even more fluid, more personalized higher education experience. To remain relevant, institutions need to embrace online learning beyond a pandemic necessity and as a new reality. This article offers tips for engaging students with online learning.
Watch the full webinar here.