New WCET Distance Ed Enrollment Report Shows Continued Growth

We are pleased to announce the first issue of a new report, the “WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016: Using IPEDS 2014 Fall Enrollment Data.”

Based on data accumulated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System’s  (IPEDS) 2014 Fall Enrollment survey, we decided to create a single report instead of a series of blog posts. The report highlights differences in distance education enrollments by sector, graduate vs. undergraduate study, student location, and by the number of institutions educating students at a distance. Our aim is to enlighten readers about the current state of the industry through graphs, data tables, observations, and commentary based on our insights.Reads "One in Seven Students Learn Exclusively at a Distance"

Our Partnership with Babson Survey Research Group

We are also pleased that we partnered with the Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG) this year. Today they released the latest in their series of reports of online learning: “Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States.” Through our partnership:

  • BSRG’s “Online Report Card” includes:
    • Highlights of IPEDS enrollment data based on analyses conducted by WCET.
    • BSRG reports on surveys of online learning leaders in the U.S. that they conducted on their own.
  • WCET’s “Enrollment Report” provides additional enrollment results not found in the “Online Report Card.”

BSRG has announced that, in the future, it will wind down its annual online education report. In the future, WCET plans to continue providing insights into IPEDS distance education enrollments. We also will focus on different aspects of the data from year-to-year.

Reads "One in four students are taking at least one distance course."Highlights of Enrollment Analyses

Overall distance education enrollments are continuing to grow from year to year, even as overall higher education enrollments decline. But, you have to look more closely at the details to get a more complete picture for the Fall of 2014. Note especially the difference by higher education sector.

In our report, we again highlight some of the problems with the data collected by IPEDS. Even so, this is the best and most comprehensive data that is currently available.

Distance Education is a Key Component of Higher Education in the United States

One in seven (14%) of all higher education students took all of their courses “Exclusively” at a distance. More than one-in-four students (28%) enrolled in “At Least One” distance education course.

Distance Education Grows while Overall Enrollment Dips

Overall higher education enrollment declined by 2% from 2012 to 2014. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled “Exclusively” at a distance grew by 9%.Shows the "Exclusively Distance Education Percent Change in Enrollments from 2012 to 2014: Public +12%, Non-profit +33%, For-profit -9%, and Total +9%.

Growth Differs Greatly by Sector

Enrollments for those learning “Exclusively at a distance grew by 12% for the public sector and a remarkable 33% for non-profit institutions. Meanwhile, the number of for-profit students declined by 9% over this same time period.

Of special note is that the for-profit sector almost fell to being the sector with the fewest distance enrollments “Exclusively at a distance. This is a remarkable outcome considering the for-profit sector led the private, non-profit sector by more than one-quarter million (297,521) enrollments in 2012. In 2014, that difference fell to only 422 enrollments.

Identifying the Location of Distance Students Continues to Be a Problem

The survey asks for the location of the student, which is interesting both from analyzing geographic reach of institutions, but also compliance with state authorization regulations. The WCET State Authorization Network helped to support this report.

There was a large increase (66%) in the “Student Location Unknown/Not Reported” category and a decrease (14%) in students reported in the “In U.S., State Unknown” category. The increase may be mostly due to a few large institutions that changed their reporting.


Many thanks to Terri Taylor Straut. This is the third year that she has contracted with WCET to perform the dirty work of making her way through the intricacies of the data sets and has helped in providing useful insights.

We also appreciate partnering with Jeff Seaman of the Babson Survey Research Group. Working together we were able to identify new dataset parameters that improved on each of our practices in previous years. Additionally, by dividing the work, we were both able to provide more results for our users than we were able to do working separately.

We hope you enjoy the new report and we look forward to obtaining your feedback.Photo of Russ Poulin with a bat.

Note: We reported some preliminary results in December. Any differences should be due to the changes that we made in harmonizing our data set with that used by BSRG. We suggest using the updated data and analyses in this report.


Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis


If you like what we do, join WCET.

The Great LMS Review Adventure

Who wants the best LMS?  We all do!  How do you pick the best LMS?
*cricket chirp, cricket chirp*

A choice of a Learning Management System (LMS) is a critical one for colleges and universities on so many levels – it is the most important academic technology system in the majority of higher education technical infrastructures and has tentacles into every facet of learning and teaching.  This brief post will share some lessons learned from a 14-month long LMS review process at Cuyahoga Community College.

Picture this – a large community college with approximately 23% of FTE attributed to online courses, and another 8% attributed to blended or hybrid courses.  With an annual student population of 52,000, this Midwestern college has a strong shared governance structure with a well-established faculty union.  Now picture this – the college has used Blackboard since 1997.  It’s a “Wild Wild West” model of online courses, whereby faculty can put any course online and there are no systemic processes for instructional design, accessibility, or quality assurance in those courses.

This was the case as Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) set off on its adventure of analyzing and selecting the best LMS for Tri-C.

Part of the cover of a brochure used to inform faculty and staff on the LMS Review process. It gives a status that the College was down to the final three: Blackboard, Canvas, and Desire2Learn

This is part of a cover of a brochure used by Tri-C to update faculty and staff on the LMS Review progress.

And that’s an important distinction.  From the very beginning, the premise of the review was not to find and select the best LMS available.  It was to select the best LMS for the college.  Why does this matter?  Culture.  Culture is so critical in the adoption of online learning, the acceptance of its legitimacy and value, and the time and effort put into creating courses and supporting them.  In this strong shared governance culture, it was important that from the very beginning, we weren’t looking for the best system, we were looking for the best fit.  The process that found us that best cultural fit could be broken into 6 primary phases:

  1. Initiation,
  2. Input Gathering,
  3. Needs Analysis and Demos,
  4. RFP,
  5. Testing, and
  6. Consensus Decision Making.

1) Initiation

So why do you want to review your LMS?  Is your contract up and you’re not feeling the love?  Maybe your LMS is being phased out, or you’re unhappy with recent functionality changes.  In the case of Tri-C, we were coming out of a major Title III grant, which funded Blackboard systems.  We also had been a Blackboard school for about 18 years and had a list of frustrations about functionality – specifically system “clunkiness” – that begged to be examined.  And so we did.  Tri-C has several committees that support technology within academics, and this project was initially supported by the Technology Forum Governance Council, a combined committee comprised of members of AAUP (American Association of University Professors) and Tri-C administrators.

From there, we approached the leadership of our Faculty Senate and the AAUP as well as the campus presidents and other critical stakeholders for an initial round of exploratory demos on February 14th of 2013.  We were feeling the love from vendors, getting a lot of insights into the roadmaps of different LMSs, and even a couple add-ons.  Faculty Senate leadership recommended full-time faculty to participate in the year-long LMS Review Taskforce, and every constituent group from administration was included:  IT, procurement, legal, access office, student affairs, and academic executive-level leadership.  We secured a project champion in one of our campus presidents, put together a project charter and got to work.  A full list of taskforce membership can be found on the blog documenting the process, which also included a published list of attendance at Taskforce meetings – transparency was a key component of the process.

Because of the length and intensity of the Taskforce commitment, descriptions of what the work involved were created and disseminated at the very beginning for both faculty and administration and staff.  The expectations were clear, and the Taskforce members committed to the length of the project.

The structure of the project management itself reinforced accountability and commitment.  Small work groups were created of four to five people who could more easily arrange times to get together in between the Taskforce meetings, which occurred every two weeks.  Activities were assigned and conducted in two-week “Sprints,” which enabled us to have a series of small, intensive work timeframes and avoid “initiative fatigue” so common in large institutions.  Each work group had a lead who was responsible for the completion of those activities.  The work group leads determined many of the activities and contributed to the agile nature of the project.  The project plan was flexible, and continually adapted.  This was truly a case of distributed ownership.  The plan adjusted as new ideas were brought forward and new problems were tackled.

2) Input Gathering

Right from the bat we started gathering input.  In a strong shared governance environment, it was critical that not only were faculty voices heard, they drove the conversation, testing and selection.  Our front lines with our students are faculty, and their belief in the best system for Tri-C students would be the critical piece of the decision-making process.

In order to get this party started, we brought in Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill from Mindwires Consulting to conduct a couple of full-day workshops to educate the LMS Review Taskforce so that we would start with a common core knowledge-base around the current marketplace as well as industry trends.  Additionally, Mindwires conducted college-wide surveys of faculty, staff, students and administration as well as focus groups on each campus with the same constituent groups.  It was valuable to use outside experts to come in and support this education process for the LMS Review Taskforce.  It enabled our department – the Office of eLearning and Innovation – to remain the logistical and project management lead rather than getting into the weeds of gathering input.  Additionally, using an impartial outside group ensured that there wouldn’t be any question of influencing that input.  Because that feedback was a snapshot in time, we also created a continuous feedback form that students, faculty and staff could use at any time in the process to communicate with the Taskforce.

3) Needs Analysis and Demos

Immediately, the group jumped into the messy process of listing out the functional requirements in a Needs Analysis.  You can find the messy working version here.  Relatively simultaneous with this, a series of intensive demos were held with each of the five systems that were in the running:  Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L, Canvas, MoodleRooms and Remote Learner (which is also a Moodle hosting service.)  Though it might seem counter-intuitive to conduct those two activities relatively simultaneously, the timing strengthened the needs analysis process, as some of the LMSs that were being demoed had functionality that faculty at Tri-C were unfamiliar with, and decided that they wanted.

We did a comparison analysis of systems, almost an informal RFI process. The needs analysis, combined with the analysis of systems, enabled us to synthesize categories of needs and functional requirements to create the RFP.

4) RFP

The Request for Proposals (RFP) process was conducted by (you guessed it) the RFP Work Group.  In addition to asking for information about the functional requirements defined from the Needs Analysis, questions were added that were future-forward in order to plan for what tools would help make students successful in 3, 4, or 5 years.  We asked about ePorfolio functionality and digital badging capabilities, Competency-Based Education support, gamification potential and integrating in external tools as well as social media.  The resulting RFP was pretty robust.  It was also exhausting to read the results – so be prepared for reading hundreds of pages per vendor.

After the demos and the results of the RFP, a downselect was conducted which eliminated the Moodle-based LMSs.  This downselect was conducted using a defined consensus decision-making process, which I’ll touch on later in the final step.

5) Testing

And then came testing!  A series of sandbox environments were set up in each of the systems – one that was a “blank” course, one that was an import of a course that had a variety of content, and one that was vendor-created.  A rubric was created for testing that was aligned with the RFP (and therefore with the needs analysis.)  The rubric then became a part of the final scorecard that was applied to the remaining systems.

The Student Experience Work Group and Mobile Learning Work Group combined forces to get feedback from students on the remaining systems.  The testing process was one that – upon reflection – I would recommend changes to.  Because the naming conventions in each of the systems are so different, a lot of valuable testing time was spent trying to figure out which functionality was parallel to what faculty had been used to in Blackboard.  This could have been resolved by either changing the naming of tools in the other systems to match what faculty were used to, or by providing training in each of the testing systems.  We did conduct multiple sandboxing sessions on each campus where faculty could stop in and explore the systems together.  Faculty individually filled out their rubrics, which were then fed into the master rubric.  Those results were then fed into the scorecard.

Sample of the LMS Review Master Rubric to grade products on several criteria.

The above was the first tab of an Excel-based rubric. There was a tab for each of the categories which fed into an overall rating. The rating also captured the number of reviewers. All reviewers did not review all tabs; for example, faculty did not review Software/Network Management, and members of the IT group did not review Calendar Integration, Communication/Collaboration, etc. The above numbers are placeholders.

A sample of a part of the LMS Review rubric used to grade the products on Assessments ,Quizzes, Tests, and Exams"

This is an example of one of the tabs that fed into the overall rubric. A full rubric was calculated for each of the LMSs in the running, being tested on the four browsers noted. The rating are placeholders.

6) Consensus Decision Making

It was important from the very beginning of the process – and at the recommendation of Mindwires – that this not be an exclusively quantitative process.  Each institution has a unique culture, and the LMS needs to fit and function within that culture.  The conversation and discussion around the systems needed to be paramount, and this was reflected in the prioritization of the scorecard.

In order to accomplish a truly collaborative process, one without voting that might have traditional winners and losers, we utilized a consensus decision-making tool.  First, the decision is clarified – what solution is being proposed, and what exactly does it entail.  Then each individual involved needs to decide their level of agreement with the solution.  There is discussion, and then everyone determines their level of agreement with the solution.  It ranges from an enthusiastic “1” to a “over my cold dead body” at 6.  The goal is to get everyone to a “4” – which basically says that though that individual doesn’t agree with the decision and wants that to be noted for the record, he or she won’t actively work against the decision.

On this one, everyone weighed in on the selection of Blackboard as a “1” through “3.”  Success.

The most important part of this project, though, was the continuous, unrelenting transparent communication.  This cannot be overemphasized, particularly in an environment of strong shared leadership and governance with faculty.  Transparency is critical for everyone to know that there’s no agenda going on behind the curtain.  To do this, we put together a Faculty Communication Work Group.  There were faculty leads on each campus who were the “go to” people for questions.  They led (and led well,) in partnership with Tri-C’s Interactive Communications department, an assertive communication campaign consisting of emails, videos, Adobe Presenters, posters, articles in the Tri-C newsletter, announcements on our intranet, and (as a throwback option) even paper flyers distributed in inboxes.  The eLearning and Innovation team published regular blog post updates that flowed to a Twitter feed that was embedded within our college portal and the Blackboard module page.  We kept a Communications Traffic Report in order to document the outreach, just in case someone managed to avoid every communication stream.

With the length of time of investment the college had already made in Blackboard, as well as the faculty time invested already in training and course design and development in the current system, Blackboard was the best choice LMS for Tri-C.

Subsequent to this process, we found out that we likely would never have access to Blackboard Ultra as a self-hosted institution.  We explored moving to managed hosting, with the end goal of moving to SaaS and gaining access to Blackboard Ultra, but with the number and length of delays in its development, we decided instead to re-evaluate the system status for sustainability and to see if it still meets the needs of Tri-C in another year and a half.

Yes, that’s what I said.  Revisiting in a year and a half.

The process ended up being an incredibly valuable one despite these late complications.  It revealed a need for redesigned, college-wide faculty training and started the discussion of having shell courses for high-enrollment courses to provide accessible learning objects as resources for faculty.

Though it was exhausting and a nearly obsessive project that took incredible amounts of human resources, it built a robust discussion around online learning and how academics and student needs should drive technology discussions, not the other way around.

Find all the information on the process on our blog here, and search “LMS Review” to get all the historical blog posts. Sasha Thackberry


Sasha Thackaberry is the District Director for the Office of eLearning and Innovation at Cuyahoga Community College.  In February she joins the team at Southern New Hampshire University as the Assistant Vice President for Academic Technology and Course Development.  She can be found hanging out on Twitter @sashatberr or at

Mind the Skills Gap

In the final chapter of our three-part set of guest blog posts focusing on the future, we welcome Michelle Weise. Formerly at the Clayton Christensen Institute, Michelle now serves as Executive Director of the Sandbox CoLABorative for Southern New Hampshire University. In that role, Michelle focuses on thinking through the challenges and potential partnerships that the university can forge in service of building more affordable and accessible pathways to a high-quality education. Thank you Michelle! – Russ Poulin

= = = = = = = = =

Here we need the Aristotelian distinction between instrumental knowledge and knowledge for its own sake. An education centered in a research university will focus on knowledge for its own sake: knowledge that forms a major part of a fulfilling life.
       –Gary Cutting, “Why College Is Not a Commodity

Make no mistake: Coding bootcamps are on the rise. In 2014, approximately 6,000 students graduated from a bootcamp, and another 16,000 were estimated to have completed in 2015. Major companies such as Facebook, Adobe, Etsy, Google, Goldman Sachs, and the New York Times now recruit highly proficient web developers from these brief, targeted programs that run anywhere from 6 to 15 weeks.

Michelle Weise peering into the future

Michelle Weise

Despite the hefty upfront costs ranging from $10k to $20k for these streamlined programs, coding bootcamps pride themselves on their excellent outcomes, boasting job attainment rates that range anywhere from 63 to 99 percent and notably high starting salaries. Contrast that figure with the 57 percent of people, according to the American Bar Association, who are able to land a job after attending law school.

Could we be witnessing a new form of vocational training? Even massive open online courses (MOOCs) in their latest evolution are moving more towards workforce alignment: Udacity was boldest in its early narrowing of focus to nanodegrees; edX followed with its Xseries, and now Coursera offers various Specializations.

The Obama Administration certainly has been keeping up with these burgeoning, alternative learning pathways that lead to middle- and high-skills jobs in demand today. These nontraditional programs have served as the impetus behind the Administration’s latest invitation to an experimental sites initiative (ESI) entitled, Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships or EQUIP. Underscoring the importance of connections to skills and work, EQUIP is intended to enable students to access federal financial aid and apply it toward non-traditional providers of education that have partnered with colleges and universities as well as a quality-assurance auditor.

The Education vs. Vocational Training Conundrum

Yet, as alternative learning providers gain traction, we can always count on a recurring line of defense in academia that insists that higher education is and should not be about training students for jobs. Postsecondary education is about learning how to learn for a lifetime and knowledge for its own sake. Tim Johnston from the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences captures this sentiment well when featured in a recent article from Inside Higher Ed. He explains that there is a “‘mistaken emphasis’ on a student’s first job out of college. ‘A college education really is a preparation for life, it’s not training for the first job you get,’ he said, adding that most people these days have ‘changeable and unpredictable’ career paths.”Railroad tracks with a sign reading "mind the gap" to warn passengers boarding the train.

Such refrains beg the question: Why do we believe that if a student’s learning is aligned with labor market demand that this will somehow preclude him or her from learning how to learn for a lifetime?

There is an unfair dichotomy—an either/or proposition—between the supposed life of the mind and vocational training. Even if we’re unsure of the payoff of a liberal arts degree, we tend to insist, as Peter Capelli does in a New Yorker article, that there is “‘no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise.’”

New data from American Institutes for Research (AIR), however, suggests that this is not quite true. Sub-baccalaureate credentials can lead to middle-class earnings and sometimes even exceed the earnings of graduates with bachelor’s degrees. In states such as Colorado, Texas, and Virginia, the earnings of students in associate’s and certificate programs in fields such as Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment professions, Criminal Justice and Corrections, and Fire Protection—credentials that help students learn how to fix things or fix people—have high earnings: “In Texas, individuals with technical associate’s degrees earned on average over $11,000 more after graduation than did those with bachelor’s degrees. In Colorado, graduates with associate degrees in Applied Sciences out-earned their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees by more than $7,000 and in Virginia by more than $2,000.” Moreover, these earnings premiums are not just for the first year out of school, but true five and ten years out of these programs. AIR has tracked seven different states longitudinally and proves that there are practical, work-based degrees for students that not only lead to earnings premiums but are also in high demand.

There’s more: We’re often shortsighted in the way we characterize that first job. We tend to lament how newly minted graduates find themselves landing lowly retail jobs. According to a paper called “Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills,” produced by Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies, and Harvard Business School, however, great middle-skills career pathways surprisingly begin in what we tend to denigrate as retail work. In fact, these jobs lead to “more robust and diverse prospects for career advancement,” such as management and supervisory roles in logistics, administration, accounting, sales, and customer service. Such competencies and skillsets are not only in demand but they are also cumulative and linked to further learning and growth. So even if an education leads to just a first job, there is immense value in students’ learning vital workforce competencies that will carry them into their second, third, and fourth jobs.

Vocational Training Also Has Long-Term Educational Value

Skills that align with labor market demand are not all one-stop, dead-end pathways. There’s a reason why new learning providers are infiltrating this space. Even online competency-based education (CBE) providers are creating direct business-to-business (b2b) channels with employers. The result? Here’s how one College for America student describes her learning experience:

“I learned about Lean Principles, the Federal Reserve, globalization, and the moral philosophies of Immanuel Kant and John Stewart Mill. I learned about the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment while exploring art from masters such as Giotto, Donatello, Rembrandt, Manet, and Picasso. I studied how the earth cycles water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous; the enormity of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; and the devastating impact pollution is having on sea turtles, birds, fish, and the overall health of our precious oceans.”

Does that sound like voc-tech?

This is not about training for a single job. Northern Arizona University’s online CBE program called Personalized Learning recognizes that its core mission is to teach students to become autodidacts in a rapidly changing world. They view themselves as teaching students proficiency in how to learn so that if they emerge, for instance, with skills in a specific programming language that is no longer as popular, then they will easily be able to adapt to that change and teach themselves how to learn the next skill. Isn’t this precisely what we mean when we talk about learning how to learn for a lifetime?

Moving Past the Conundrum and the Focus on the First Job

Rick Staisloff explains the conundrum deftly: “The trap is that we think…we are either pursuing the life of the mind or that we are a beauty school…We want students to get immersed in a culture. Well, the workplace is a culture.” Students need to know how learning connects to work; they need guidance about middle- and high-skills career pathways. Successful career pathways are not as obvious or clearly demarcated as we assume they are. This is why sites like Pluralsight and Udemy have millions upon millions of users seeking out the extra skills to help them land those first, second, and third jobs.

The first job does not make a career, nor do I mean to imply that workforce training is the end-game for higher education. We can imagine that decades from now, there will inevitably emerge a new set of constraints or new inertia from this particular set of approaches to learning, which will require a new release. Nevertheless, in order to train students to form the habits and skills that lead to a better society, democracy, and citizenry, then we must also acknowledge that students must be connected to the full ecosystem, which includes the workforce and most certainly includes that first job.SNHU Sandbox Collaborative logo.


Michelle R. Weise, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Sandbox ColLABorative
Southern New Hampshire University



“Mind the Gap” Photo Credit: Morgue File.


Higher Education in the Year 2050: The Age of IoT Global Connectivity

Have you met Robbie Melton, Tennessee’s emerging education technologies evangelist? We sent her back to the future and an in today’s guest blog post, she shares what she found there. Thank you Robbie!

What are your thoughts about the future?
Russ Poulin, WCET 

android, cybernetic intelligence machine in 3dHello, I’m Robbie Melton, and I’m writing this blog from the future, the Year 2050. Come join me in a futurist discussion of how technology has transformed education in the years to come.

Blogging to you from 2050, I want to reveal that everything that I interact with including utensils, clothing, furniture, flooring, lights, cars, weather, people, and even myself will instantaneously and automatically provide data ‘to me’ and ‘about me’ that will determine on-demand in real time my education pathways. I want you to know that in the future that I am my own teacher, evaluator, and employer.

The predictions by Tina Barseghian, ‘School Day of the Future in the Year 2025’, are now universal standards across the globe , “Gone are the days when the adults involved in learning primarily served as teachers, administrators, and tutors. Now a whole host of learning agents support learning, with some specializing in particular content and others focusing on pedagogy or assessment design. Networked collaboration is the norm.” Furthermore,

  • Amid a culture of flexible innovation, learners shape their own learning experiences, drawing upon a rich learning geography to identify resources that meet their needs.
  • Personalization of learning experiences are the norm, so the K-20 system no longer dominates learning. Those schools and districts that remain have become part of a complex and vibrant set of options that together form a loose learning ecosystem. Learning is available 24/7 and year round across many learning platforms and beyond geographic limits.
  • Smart networks of resource providers form lightweight, modular learning grids to offer flexible learning experiences as demand dictates.

Would you believe in the future that there is no more teaching; only learning; no more schools and classrooms, only 24/7 living learning environments; and no more curriculums, only data driven content for addressing learning on-demand and/or prepared predictive based learning. Yes, Hal Varian’s vision, Chief Economist for Google, is now a reality, “The biggest impact on the world is the universal access to all human knowledge.” There is no limitation to Internet access and mobile devices, smart tools and wearable data tech are available at no cost to everyone worldwide. Please know that this is having a significant impact on literacy and numeracy; resulting in a more informed and more educated world population.

Come take a peak of my world in 2050. Watch how we are incorporating education and technology into our daily lives:

You will note that the primarily role of an educator in 2050 is to design and code/program items and situations (virtual, augmented, and real) for students to interact with and to connect to for personal and adapted learning opportunities.

Also, in 2050, the core design of education delivery is based on “A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things” . Many of the following innovations were predicted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project way back in 2014,

  • Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries. The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
  • The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.
  • Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.

electronic man pressing virtual computer screen.CLASS of 2050

For degree obtainment and verification, David Hopkins’ (2014) forecast is now mainstreamed, “Competency-based degrees are no longer limited to schools, colleges, or universities in providing the learning ‘degree’. Students are now able to take MOOCs from anyone and any provider, whereas, businesses like Starbucks can now provide their staff with ‘degrees’ depending on the prescribed content and outcomes. . . .Unlike in the past, the best tutors will not be professors or dons, but something similar to coaches and caddies, there to help motivate, soothe after frustrations, and offer advice on which tools to use in a rough spot. . .

Unfortunately, in the Year of 2016, we are still addressing ‘human dynamics and social issues in education’, “even in 2050, computers will not have cured us of vanity and folly. Although it may be faster, cheaper, and easier to learn anything than ever before, the status-based campus may be with us yet.” – See more of this look at the future by David Hopkins.

Click here to transport into the Year 2050 Blog.

Together, we will address questions and concerns about the fut­­ure impact of the transformation of education and technology based on leading futurist experts and your insight). Let’s explore the possibilities for shaping education for the 22nd Century….or next semester, whichever comes first.

Robbie Melton with Google Glass on


Dr. Robbie K. Melton, 2016
1St App-ologist (Curator of Smart Apps and EduGadgets as Education and Workforce Tools)
Associate Vice Chancellor for Emerging Mobile Technologies
Tennessee Board of Regents



Tina Barseghian, ‘School Day of the Future in the Year 2025’, are now universal standards across the globe

School Day of the Future: Learning in 2025

Hal Varian’s vision, Chief Economist for Google, Digial Digial Digital Life in 2025 BY JANNA ANDERSON AND LEE RAINIE

The World on 2050 the Best Technology Best Education (YouTube:

David Hopkins, Classrooms in 2050, Technology Enhaned Learning Blog,


Emergence of the Linked Services Sector in American Higher Ed & Lifelong Learning

By now, it borders on trite to declare that American higher education, and, in fact, global higher education stands on the precipice of dynamic, revolutionary, and disruptive change. But the cards that I see being dealt as we enter 2016 indicate that the fracturing of higher education’s dominant model will not only continue, but accelerate.

musicalchairs with horses from StateLib_South AustraliaThis fracturing will occur within the context of worsening budget woes for most institutions, be they public, private, or proprietary. As admissions flatten and/or decline, state appropriations flatten and/or decline, and the federal government ratchets up its accreditation, accountability and loan reforms, many existing institutions find themselves in a large-scale version of musical chairs, trying desperately avoid being among those without a place to sit when the music stops.

In future blogs, you will hear from Michelle Weise from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Robbie Melton from the Tennessee Board of Regents as they address how SNHU will build on its innovations in forging its path to the future and the ubiquity of technology, respectively.

The Future is About What the Technology Allows Us to Do

It is, to paraphrase James Carville, “about the technology, stupid.” But it is beyond what the technology can do. It is about what technology and data allow us to do, as learners, education providers, and employers. And, through this lens, I see significant impacts in at least four areas of activity:

  • well-branded and currently healthy public and private institutions, including the Land Grant institutions and state flagship institutions (20%),
  • the remaining traditionally organized accredited institutions (80%),
  • the existing “leaders of the innovation pack” such as WGU, ASU, UMUC, Excelsior, Charter Oak, Kaplan University and SNHU, and
  • a soon-to-be burgeoning non-institutional sector focused on the relationship between competency and work-readiness, regardless of traditional educational attainment.

Much has, and will be written on the first three. It is on the fourth sector of activity that I would like to focus.

The Growth of the Non-Traditional Education Options

For the last five years at least, we have seen major innovations, departures from the norm, like MOOCs, the Global Open Courseware Consortium (now the Open Education Consortium), the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework (PAR), StraighterLine, and Open Study. Each has, in its own way, spot-lighted a specific function or service that can be done differently, more effectively, more cheaply, and/or better with new technologies.

Now there is a whole new area of endeavor, which I will call “linked services”, which operates beyond the boundaries of the traditional model and without its imprimatur. The “linked services” sector shifts the focus away from institutional approval as a pre-condition for success and towards a far more horizontal enterprise, a collection of linked services that shift the learning/assessment of competency enterprise towards the workplace or the objectives of the learner, separate from institutions of higher education.

The “linked services” sector (LSS) is fraught with unknowns, of course. That is what happens when you strike out boldly into uncharted territory. But there are some early, emerging themes that distinguish its activities, values, participants, and approaches from the other three.

  • The LSS wants to organize around shared understandings of competency and qualifications.
  • The LSS ties its accountability to the learner and the employer, not the college or university.
  • The LSS includes government agencies, state and local governments, and other for- and non-profit groups working complementarily to achieve the goal of far improved alignment between assessed learning, competence, and work.
  • And the LSS will, I believe, welcome higher education into the sector, but will not allow them to dictate the terms of engagement. For the first time, using competency-based assessment principles, employers and third parties will determine and share with the public not only what was taught, but , more importantly, what was learned, and what is necessary for work readiness on Day One. They will do this as equal players on a level field with institutions of higher education and educational accreditation groups.

Examples of the “Linked Services” Sector

Here are three examples that, I believe, herald the dawning of the LSS era.

The Credential Transparency Initiative (CTI)
The CTI  is led by an Executive Committee that includes major educational and economic players, including the Business Roundtable, the Committee for Economic Development, the Manufacturing Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce. Educational members include several institutions, the AACC, ACE, and UPCEA. The CTI vision sees “A Coherent, Transparent Credentialing Market”. And their goals are “transparency, clarity, and to align credentials with the needs of students, job seekers, workers, and employers.” CTI plans to achieve these goals beginning with 100 pilot sites that address three objectives:

  • Define common terms for credentials and credentialing organizations and Quality Assurance (QA) bodies that accredit, endorse, or approve them;
  • Create a voluntary web-based registry; and
  • Develop and test software apps that facilitate use of the registry.

This work is challenging and complex. But I believe that, by positioning themselves in the LSS, the Credential Transparency Initiative has a good chance of establishing a badly needed beachhead in the credentialing transparency world.

Innovative-Educate has, as its goal, nothing less than “nationwide adoption of new industry-driven, competency-based hiring frameworks and alternative jobseeker training and credentialing.” They open up the opportunity to connect a person’s competence both to instructional activities and also to the specific job readiness competencies required by employers. It is a short step from that connection to an assessment of the same evidence (data) for academic value.

Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP)   Although this new experimental initiative may be confusing to some observers given other departmental initiatives, it gives us a look into one version of what the future in the LSS might look like. The key phrase in the EQUIP introduction is. “…will allow participating institutions to provide title IV aid to otherwise eligible students pursuing program of study for which 50 percent of more of the content and instruction is provided by one or more title IV ineligible organizations (non-traditional providers).”

This means that the horizontal world of non-traditional service providers, with appropriate oversight and QA, can be brought from the margin to the mainstream by institutions which choose to work with them.

The Linked Services Sector is upon us!

photo of Peter SmithPeter Smith

WCET Executive Council Chair

Advisor to the President, Kaplan University




Photo Credit: State Library of South Australia

WCET, OLC, & UPCEA Partner on Higher Ed Act for the 21st Century Learner

WCET partners with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) in creating a unified voice on pending federal regulations for today’s higher education students.

By working together, we can have more impact on the process. We also avoid having competing priorities or contradictory recommendations. Today, we release a jointly-authored two-page handout focused on issues that we think are essential in addressing the needs of the 21st Century Learner in the upcoming Higher Education Act.Reads "The internet is a necessary component of our personal, educational, and professional lives."

What is the Higher Education Act?

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Act was the beginning of Congress’s attempt to codify the relationships that the federal government has with higher education. Over the years, the rules for institutions to remain eligible to offer federal financial aid have grown. Congress often uses it to impose additional requirements on colleges. Although the Act is expected to be “reauthorized” every five years, the last time such action was taken was 2008.

With the great leadership of Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Murray (D-WA), the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee can build on their initial work last year to “reauthorize” the Act.

And there is hope that this could happen soon. Along with other Committee members, these two Senators have uncharacteristically worked across the aisle. Last year it led to similar reauthorization legislation for the Elementary-Secondary Education Act.

What’s Included in the Handout?

It’s a challenge to communicate complex ideas quickly. Our goal was to make this piece an introduction to the issues that will get the reader to question pre-conceived assumptions.

Reads "1/4 of US students are taking at least one online"On one side of the handout is a series of infographics highlighting the differences in higher education from 1965 to today. We provide several statistics that show the changed nature of both the learner and the use of educational technologies in shaping the learning experience. It’s important to look beyond online learning to how educational technology is having an impact on teaching in any venue.

On the other side is a list of “Guiding Principles”:

  • Fairness – Do not treat students differently based on mode of instruction.
  • Innovation – Allow greater flexibility for innovations to be introduced.
  • Accountability – Hold colleges to standards of student performance with regulations narrowly tailored to address specific concerns.

The bulleted lists of issues with each principle will be addressed more completely in the future with help from our friend at the Cooley, LLP law firm. Watch for more details on these items.

What’s Next and What Should You Do?

We will share this document with anyone who can help our joint cause.

We will provide additional details on specific issues.

You should use the handout as an informative resource with your government relations staff, Congressional membership, Congressional staffers, or anyone else who can support us.

Finally, thank you to my friends at OLC and UPCEA for partnering. Together, we are stronger!


Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis


If you like what we do, join WCET.


Adaptive Learning: Standing Up to Three Major Educational Challenges

In this week’s blog on adaptive learning, I will share some benefits of using adaptive learning in higher education based upon the three major challenges Richard Culatta, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, says America faces in educating our citizens.

Technology’s Impact on Learning
In a 2013 TED Talk on Reimagining Learning, Richard Culatta, (Twitter handle: @rec54), argued that the United States faces three major challenges in educating our citizens that technology is “uniquely suited to solve”:

  1. We must stop treating all learners the same.
  2. We must vary the schedule to allow learners to learn at their own pace.
  3. We must capture critical performance data sooner to help learners succeed.

In the video, Culatta explains you cannot simply convert traditional instructional practices into a digital format and then expect anything other than “No Significant Difference” as the result.  Technology allows us to totally reimagine the way we do education in this country. I agree with Culatta’s argument that technology allows us to do things that simply were not possible before.  Now, we can create an entirely new learning experience for our students. As Culatta suggests, we should implement this new learning experience and then compare student outcomes to those using traditional learning models to see if there is a difference.

So now that we have addressed the looming question about technology’s impact on learning, let’s discuss how the use of adaptive learning technologies and systems addresses each of these challenges Culatta mentions.

3 Key Benefits of Adaptive Learning:

  • Meeting Individual Learners’ Needs.
  • Addressing Demographic & Socioeconomic Factors.
  • Data, Data, Data.

Meeting Individual Learners’ Needs

Meeting individual learners’ needs requires that we stop treating all learners the same.  Today’s learners come to us with a wide range of knowledge, skills, abilities, and disabilities and thus require very unique strategies to meet their individual needs.  Getting to know each learner – what they already know, which of their skills are strong and which need developing, the unique abilities and deficits each learner brings to the classroom – is important to know before you can effectively teach that learner.

Researchers argue that incoming knowledge, what learners already know, is THE single most important factor determining future learning (Shute & Zapata-Rivera, 2008).  With this in mind, an accurate learner profile is critical in establishing a learner’s optimal starting point in their pathway.  Adaptive learning (AL) does this by identifying what each learner knows as they begin a new lesson and then continues monitoring their progress by showing faculty exactly where each learner is in the learning process, what they are having trouble with and the supports needed to help them get back on track.  Likewise, AL also prevents faculty from holding back learners who are ready to move forward by allowing learners to move at a pace that is best suited to meet their learning needs.  So, if a learner has more knowledge on the current topic, they are not only allowed to move along the pathway faster but could also be allowed to take on greater challenges to extend their knowledge or be allowed to move on to the next learning node, or topic in their pathway.

Addressing Demographic & Socioeconomic Factors

Access to quality education or resources is one of the major reasons there is such a large gap in student achievement in our country.  For this reason, we must stop keeping the schedule constant while varying the degree to which students learn and keep learning constant allowing the schedule to be varied.  Every learner is different and so is their prior knowledge.  Those with greater prior knowledge will grasp new concepts more quickly because they have a mental model they can easily attach the new incoming knowledge to and thus quickly make sense of it.  However, for those who lack enough prior knowledge, the new knowledge can be quite challenging to grasp primarily due to the fact that the learner has no mental model to recall.

The use of adaptive learning helps close this gap by providing access to learning in ways that meet the needs of your individual learners.  So for learners who lack prior knowledge, an adaptive system can quickly determine this through the ongoing knowledge checks and seamlessly offer those learners a learning path more suited to meet their individual needs and knowledge gaps.  For the learner who has a substantial amount of prior knowledge, he/she can not only move ahead but could also complete the lesson quicker and move on to more challenging lessons where they may need more or less time to complete.  In doing this, learners all reach the same outcomes (learning) but at varying rates (schedule).

Recently, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education created a report on over 70 research studies, Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning, providing concrete examples of how technology has made a positive impact on student success.  The evidence provided in their report is powerful and, if your institution is committed to reaching those at-risk, this is a must read to open your eyes to the numerous ways in which technology, such as adaptive learning, can empower higher education institutions to meet learners where they are and ensure every student reaches the outcomes set for each course.  There is a great video about this work on the Alliance for Excellent Education website I would also recommend viewing.

Data, Data, Data

As an educator for nearly 20 years now, one of the most time consuming aspects of my job is assessment and evaluation.  More frustrating than the time required to grade student’s work, provide effective feedback, and analyze assessment data is the fact that by the time I am done, we have already moved on to the next lesson and then I have to figure out how to circle back and tie in any reteaching that may need to be done with the current lesson!  Obviously, I cannot do this for only one student and I constantly have to make the difficult decision of when to reteach and when to move on – essentially deciding to leave some students behind.

An adaptive learning system (ALS) monitors and assesses student’s work, providing personalized feedback, and organizing data for each learner and each outcome as well as the entire class in real time and at a very granular level.  An ALS collects hundreds of data points on each learner every second they are logged and neatly organizes the enormous data so that the professor can easily determine who needs help, who is ready to move on, and what challenges students are ready to tackle when they meet next.  Now professors can spend more class time engaging students one-on-one and in small groups to solve real-world problems and challenges they will likely face in the workplace.

RealizeIt and Smart Sparrow have produced a couple of YouTube videos that give you a deeper look into how an ALS can help a professor teach to each student and not the class.  Another adaptive learning platform, CogBooks, offers insight on how using an adaptive learning system can allow professors to teach uniquely to each student.


Want to learn more about adaptive learning? Be sure to check out the resources on our WCET adaptive learning issue page and follow along on our weekly adaptive learning twitter chats Thursday at 6pm MST (8pm EST/ 7pm CST/ 5pm PST) using #WCETAdaptive.

photo of niki bray

Niki Bray

WCET Fellow, Adaptive Learning
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis


Highlights of Distance Education Enrollment Trends from IPEDS Fall 2014

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) released the third year of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data that reports Distance Education (DE) student enrollment for the Fall of 2014. This is the third consecutive year that IPEDS included the enrollments for Distance Education and that WCET has reported on the yearly counts and the year-to-year trends.

For the third year, I am pleased to be working with Terri Taylor Straut who is contracting with WCET to compile the data and perform the analyses with me. This blog post gives you a few highlights of what we have uncovered so far. Early in the new year, we will provide you with data tables and graphics on the most interesting statistics. We will follow that (probably in February) with a deeper dive into the context and interpretations of some data items. For example, we will follow-up with select institutions to see if they still are experiencing some of the problems submitting the IPEDS data as we reported two years ago. 

Meanwhile, here is a little Christmas present for the data geeks out there. Analysis of the sector data reveals that many of the trends we identified in the 2013 data earlier this year continue with the 2014 data. Below are initial observations from Terri.
Russ Poulin, Director Policy & Analysis, WCET

Distance Education Enrollments Continue to Grow, But Vary Greatly by Sector

Enrollments by students Exclusively in Distance Education continued to rise in 2014. There were 2,824,334 fully online enrollments in 2014, compared to 2,659,203 in 2013, representing a 6% increase in just one year. Last year, one-out-of-eight of all higher education students were enrolled exclusively in distance education. In 2014, it is now closer to one-in seven students being enrolled exclusively at a distance.


Graph displaying the following DE enrollments: Exclusively DE: 2012: 2,638,653; 2013: 2,659,203; 2014: 2,824,334. Some but not all ED Enrollments: 2012: 2,806,048; 2013: 2,862,991; 2014: 2,926,083.

DE Enrollments Continue to Grow While Overall Enrollments are Declining

As we noted in our blog about the 2013 data, the distance education growth is in the context of a slight decline in overall enrollments, as reported to IPEDS. This trend continued in 2014. Total enrollments were reported at 20,207,369 in 2014 for all U.S. degree-granting institutions with 2 year or higher degree-granting programs. This represents a small decrease (-0.8%) from 2013 enrollments of 20,375,789. Looking over the three years of reported data, enrollment is down 2.2% from a high in 2012 of 20,642,819.

Distance Education enrollments continued to rise in all categories, during this time of total enrollment decline. Fully Distance Education enrollments are growing at the greatest rate 6.6% in two years and enrollment in ‘Some but not all Distance Education’ grew at 4.1% over the reporting period of 2012 to 2014.

outlines of 7 people one filled in - one-in-seven students is enrolled exclusively at a distance


For-profit Institutions Enroll Less Than a Third of All Exclusively DE Students

Enrollment exclusively in Distance Education continues to vary by sector and the trends we identified in 2013 are also evident in the 2014 data. Public institutions represent 49% of all enrollments with 1,381,897; Private For-Profit institutions represent 30% of enrollments with 838,219; and the Private Non-Profit sector remains the smallest with 604,218 enrollments or 21% of fully online enrollments.

For exclusively DE enrollments; 49% are public, 21% private-non-profit, and 30% were private for-profit institutions.

Public and Private, Non-Profit Institutions Enrolling More DE Students

Now that we have three years of IPEDS data for Distance Education, we can begin to look at trends with more confidence. Comparing 2014 Exclusively DE enrollments to the same sector data from 2012, reveals interesting trends.

Private Non-Profit institutions continue to grow their exclusively DE enrollments at the highest rate, 22% in two years. Public institutions are also growing DE enrollments, but at a lower rate, 9%. However For-Profit institutions have seen an 11% decline in DE enrollments over the same two year period. The average growth in the two year period for all sectors is 6%.

Percent change in DE enrollments from Fall 2012 to 2014: 9% Public, 22% Private non-profit; -11% private for-profit; and 6% increase total.

Institutions Continue to Report That They Don’t Know Where Some of Their Students Are Located

While much of the data represents good news for distance education, there is one troubling trend revealed in our initial analysis, institutions continue to report that they don’t know where some of their students are located. In fact, there is approximately a 5% increase between 2013 and 2014 in Exclusively Distance Education enrollments in the U.S., State Unknown (4.5%) and 5.3% reported Location of Student Unknown/Not Reported.

DE Enrollments Student Location Unknown. Graph show a slight degrease for the "state unkown" category from 2012 to 2013 and stable for 2014. The graph shows growth each year in those reporting "location of student unknown/not reported"


We have previously reported concerns with the reporting methodology used by many institutions when reporting their DE enrollments to IPEDS, but the IPEDS data is currently the best source or enrollment data. It is possible that the 2014 data is more accurate, as institutions have had more time to refine their reporting.

We will explore this issue, other issues behind the data, and additional statistical analyses when we conduct deeper research early in 2016.

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy New Year.Terri Straut

Terri Taylor Straut
Ascension Consulting


With help from….

Photo of Russ Poulin with a bat.

Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis


If you like our work, join WCET!

State Authorization & Supervised Field Experiences: Easier Than You Think

We welcome guest blogger Alan Contreras who is a former regulator for the state of Oregon and is the chief interpreter (not his official title) for all the details of how states and colleges are implementing SARA (the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) in their own settings. SARA allows some field experiences (face-to-face clinical, practica, interships and the like) in other states. Alan guides us through some misconceptions and misdirection that he has encountered. He reminds us of our own “Dear Abby” giving us advice on our authorization troubles.
Russ Poulin

In recent months as SARA has grown and states grapple with complexities in supervised field experiences, I have encountered a few cases that give rise to the need for some explanation.

Photo of a man looking confused and a woman making a face of disbelief

Field experiences and state authorization have you confused? Our own Alan Contreras can help.

Nervous in New Jersey: A Parent Gets Bum Info about a Clinical Placement
First, even if a state regulates most on-ground activities, it might not regulate clinicals or other field experiences.  A recent case involved a college in Virginia simply assuming that it could not place a student in a clinical site in New Jersey because New Jersey had not yet joined SARA.  Setting aside for the moment the question of what SARA does and doesn’t do, the school made a mess that it did not need to.  The student’s distraught parent called me.  The parent was in New Jersey and the conversation went something like this:

Parent: “how can our family suddenly be expected to pay for our daughter to do a clinical far from home; she planned to stay with us.”

Me: “Where do you live?”

Parent: “New Jersey.”

Me: “Why can’t the college place a student at a clinical site in New Jersey?”

Parent: “SARA doesn’t allow it.”

Me [grinding teeth and silently whispering ‘boolsheet’]: “When does your daughter’s internship start?”

Parent: “In June.”

At this point there were clearly several problems with what the school had done.  First, it had told the parent that SARA “prohibited” the student from being placed in a non-SARA state [boolsheet].  Second, it assumed that New Jersey regulates clinical placements without asking the state.  Finally, it assumed that New Jersey would not be in SARA by June, 2016.

Two of these were demonstrably wrong—I had seen the New Jersey rules the previous month—and the third was almost certainly wrong. SARA does not “prohibit” states from placing students anywhere they like.  The institution had chosen not to place students in non-SARA states because it was inconvenient or potentially expensive.

But was it inconvenient or expensive in New Jersey?  No.  The state doesn’t regulate most supervised field experiences.  The school hadn’t bothered to find out.  Finally, the school had also never asked New Jersey when it was joining SARA.  The answer is that the state is almost ready to apply and we’d be astonished if it isn’t a member by June.

I briefly explained to the parent that the school was mistaken about what SARA did and decided that the way to achieve universal bliss was to ask the extremely capable and practical licensing officer in New Jersey to talk to (a) the parent and (b) the school.  He did so, fixed the problem for the student, and I had a call from the parent a few days later saying “I love you!”  Well, now, that’s pretty good for twenty minutes’ work from three time zones away.

Krazy in Kentucky: Army Student Initially Refused a Field Placement
We had a similar case arise in which a Virginia college (something in the water?) refused to place a pharmacy student at the U.S. Army base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because of the well-known stiffness of Kentucky regulations.  That e-mail conversation went kind of like this:

Student: “the school says that Kentucky isn’t in SARA and they don’t want to brave the unspeakable horror of the Kentucky regulations.” [ok, he didn’t say “unspeakable horror,” that’s my gloss]

Me: “Did the school ask Kentucky if it regulates activity on military bases?”

Student: “I don’t know. The base crosses a state line but the mailing address is Kentucky so….”

At this point I copied the conversation to the also very capable Kentucky licensing officer, who replied the same day explaining how Kentucky law worked and that a clinical placement of this nature onto a military base was NOT regulated by the state.  Not much horror to be found there after all, if one phone call had been made.

The lesson: some situations, even in high-regulation states, are not the swamps full of R.O.U.S. that they seem to be.  If you want to help your students, make a couple of phone calls.  Hand out some help, get some love.

It’s the College that Decides Where to Obtain Authorization
Finally, those of us who work for SARA are becoming weary of the unfortunate sounds made by those colleges that tell students: “SARA doesn’t allow us to place students in your state.”


This is simply a cover for schools that don’t choose to engage in proper state authorization and prefer to blame it on SARA rather than own their own decisions.  SARA is not perfect and we are happy to own what we do (and fix what needs fixing), but if a college chooses not to operate in a non-SARA state, we’d appreciate it if the school tells the students the real reason why.Alan Contreras

Alan Contreras, J.D.
SARA Coordinator

“Confused” Photo Credit: Brian Talbot

The Promise of Adaptivity

WCET seeks to raise awareness on the why, how and what of adaptive learning; to develop a community of faculty, administrators, designers and providers to share promising practices and ideas; and for WCET to be a valuable resource on this important emerging application of technology. To support this, we have selected Niki Bray to serve as our 2015-2016 WCET Fellow on Adaptive Learning. This is her first blog post in a series to come over her time as Fellow about adaptive learning. You can also join her weekly on Thursday nights from 6 – 7pm MT, for #WCETAdaptive twitter chat. Follow her @adaptivechat. Welcome and thanks, Niki!

At this year’s WCET Annual Meeting, Dale Johnson asked the participants in the session to imagine a heterogeneous incoming class, whether it be a freshman class or an adult learner class that’s coming back after years of being out of college, and being able to guide them, understand where they need additional support, and being able to personalize the learning based upon individual needs, such as a learner who needs a video instead of a section of reading – that is the promise of adaptive learning.

young students at computersI had the opportunity to participate in this session with Dale Johnson, Arizona State University, as well as Thomas Cavanagh, University of Central Florida,  Dror Ben Naim, Smart Sparrow, Nick White, Capella University, and Judith Komar, Colorado Technical University, arguably a panel of the top leaders in adaptive learning. The session was Adaptive Learning as an Applied Innovation: How to Get Started and in this post I summarize Dale’s discussion of how using adaptive learning improves student success. In the future I’ll publish additional posts about the adaptive learning insights from the Annual Meeting.

As an educator we can all agree that students typically fall into one of three categories for each unit of instruction throughout the semester – below the expected level of prior knowledge, at or near the expected level of prior knowledge, and above the expected level of prior knowledge. In Dale Johnson’s opening remarks to this session, he discusses the promise of adaptivity. In his commentary, he shares the fact that Arizona State University has some lecture-based courses with nearly 400 students enrolled in a section. The use of adaptivity, Johnson contends, allows professors in these large size courses to identify who needs help, who is on track, and who needs to be challenged – the key issue behind the concept of differentiation. Using the tools that adaptive systems provide, Johnson suggests, allows the professor to determine precisely what each student needs help with and the best way to help at scale. Now, we can single out students who not only need additional support but also those who can accelerate their learning and move in a more rapid fashion.

Prior to the use of adaptivity, detailed information about student progress, specifically at the granular level, was virtually impossible to determine for even a small number of students much less classes with large enrolments. At best, most professors today do not know how students are progressing until the first exam, which is oftentimes the midterm exam. By this time, it is often too late to provide the additional support students need to improve learning as too much time has passed and likely the class has moved on to other lessons. The adaptive learning systems that are available now give us information that we have never had before and they allow us to know where students are relative to the curriculum and to other students at any moment in time during the duration of the course. Imagine being able to know exactly where students are in their learning and what they are struggling with at any given time. Also imagine immediately knowing what you need to do to be able to help them – thanks to the big data being collected in the background.

A member of the audience posed the question to Johnson about the role of adaptive learning for supplemental instruction. Johnson responded by suggesting that adaptive learning works across the entire spectrum of learning needs, be it earning a credential or earning a credit. Oftentimes, students who are required to take remedial math, for example, have to pay in upwards of $1,500 for the course and they do not get any college credit for taking it. “That’s a tragedy!” Johnson exclaims. He suggests that the use of an adaptive system can eliminate the need for these remedial courses, which a high number of students drop or withdraw, and save students money, too.

On my next Frontiers blog, I’ll share the benefits of adaptive learning.

photo of niki brayNiki Bray
WCET Fellow, Adaptive Learning
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis


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