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5 Keys to Student Success

A report from Strada Education Network offers five best practices for promoting student success in online learning environments — ideas that could benefit on-campus learners too.

happy group of college students

A recent report from Strada Education Network offered key takeaways from last fall's Online Student Success Symposium, a two-day workshop focused on challenges, innovative practices and future opportunities in online learning. But why stop at online learning? I would argue that the ideas presented — centered around data analytics, curriculum, standards and measurement, and mentoring and coaching — are valuable for brick-and-mortar students as well.

The five best practices outlined in the report are:

Understand current and future student populations. "To best serve the online learner population now and in the future, it is critical to gain a thorough understanding of these educational consumers, including their potential risk factors, curricular interests, educational and career goals, and interventions that will support their success," noted the report, adding that this population is likely to change dramatically over time. In other words, understanding students' needs can help institutions better meet them — both online and on campus.

Design online programs and courses to deliver personalized learning. Here the report recommended rethinking traditional course requirements, prerequisites and processes, in order to "adopt a student-first focus." For instance, "rather than requiring general-education classes during the beginning of postsecondary study, effective curricula front-loads academic wins in the freshman year and engages students in their areas of interest immediately by offering practical experience in the field and an opportunity to earn stackable credentials en route to degree completion," the report said. A degree path that inspires students and fosters hands-on experience can certainly benefit on-campus learners as well.

Leverage new technologies to optimize the impact of human coaching and mentoring. Technology is not a replacement for human interaction, but tools such as data analytics can help make student advising and interventions more efficient and effective. "Using our student experience data to be at the right time and the right place with the right focus can be a powerful differentiator for online learning," the report said. There's no doubt that data-driven student advising is key to student success across all types of institutions.

Explore multiple models for building community. Symposium participants agreed that community building is key to the success of individual students, but all had approached that task in different ways. "There are lessons to be learned across the approaches and interest in further exploring the key ingredients within the various programs," the report said. Those lessons can be learned across online and on-campus programs.

Build a data-driven culture of innovation and accountability. "Using hard data that everyone values as relevant can help build a culture that puts student success and lifelong outcomes at the forefront and provides common ground to demonstrate success, share information on what is working, and hold each other accountable for what is not," according to the report. At the same time, institutions need to embrace innovation: "In a fast-paced online learning environment, [that] means developing a mindset that encourages institutions and individuals to reach and experiment while learning quickly from failures as well as successes and adapting to address evolving challenges." Embracing data — while remaining flexible enough to keep up with the pace of change — is a best practice for any institution.

The bottom line: It's worth paying attention to innovations in online learning — at the core, they're not too different from the issues all colleges and universities face.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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