In conjunction with Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), we sat down with Joe Pace, Chairman of the Board, Global Education at The Pacific Institute® Education Initiative, Anthony Piña, Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning at Sullivan University, Dave Sherwood, Co-Founder & CEO at BibliU, and Josie Sutcliffe, CMO at BibliU to discuss how utilizing digital content can improve retention rates and student outcomes.
Here are 6 key takeaways we uncovered during our conversation.
1. Digital and hybrid learning are here to stay.
COVID-19 impacted colleges and universities in multiple ways, but perhaps the most lasting impact is the permanence of digital learning. While face-to-face learning will remain a powerful learning and teaching method, a combination of in-person and digital makes learning an extraordinary experience.
“Online learning is here to stay” - Anthony Piña
For those students who need extra support or time to review content and concepts, digital learning lends itself particularly useful. While instructors may not have time to repeat concepts until the entire class comprehends, digital assets allow students to review materials at their own pace and in their preferred learning style until they reach comprehension.
Furthermore, digital learning allows for synchronous and asynchronous activities. For learning activities that require immediate feedback and discussion, live video lectures and group discussions are essential. However, asynchronous learning activities, such as discussion forums, blogs, or wiki pages, allow students to have robust interactions and conversations with peers and instructors conveniently.
Digital learning boasts other benefits: rich search functionalities that allow students to get the info they need quickly, analytics that colleges and universities drive retention, and cost savings by automating admin workflows.
2. Digital learning requires strategic planning.
Not every instructor excels naturally in online instruction. Not every student excels naturally in online learning. So, well-developed instruction and content plans that follow sound +principles are essential for both the instructor and the student. What works well in the classroom may not work well online.
Digital learning requires a hyper-awareness of desired student outcomes, and online++courses should be crafted to align with those outcomes. A solid principle to follow is ensuring that all assignments and assessments support your desired student outcomes and take each student on a content journey to those outcomes. During our discussion, Joe Pace said it best: “Attention equals retention.” The more attention you give students over time, the more significant student outcomes and retention.
“With the advent of online learning, three things are important: the online technology, the curriculum and how it’s designed, and the instructor.” - Joe Pace
Specific attention to the online technology used in digital learning is critical. The curriculum for each course should be crafted to utilize the technology best, and instructors should embrace both curriculum and technology as helpful tools to themselves and their students.
3. Eliminating barriers to learning helps increase student retention in online education.
Online students need support, inside and outside the classroom, as much as in-person students, and often this infrastructure is neglected for online learning. Support such as financial aid, admissions assistance, tutoring, advising, and student services can be overlooked for online learners.
“Not being able to access third-party materials is a chief source of student stress.” - Anthony Piña
Furthermore, eliminating technological barriers can help improve retention rates. If the actual course content is complex for students to find and access, if the online user interface is clunky, if links are broken, or if students have to use multiple course codes or accounts to access third-party info, student performance can suffer significantly.
4. Digital content supports a universal learning design.
Making content accessible to all students can lead to better learning outcomes and retention. Using digital content is helpful to approach complicated subjects more efficiently but can meet the learning needs of each student. Learning has never been one-size-fits-all, and digital content provides more affordances regardless of time, place, or learning needs.
Additionally, using digital content ensures that every student has access to the content they need on the first day of class, without waiting for a print book in the mail or paying more than they can afford for print material. Digital content is meant to be convenient for learners, removing time and location barriers (i.e., needing to be on-campus to use a library reserve text for the allotted time). It is a powerful tool for creating a learning experience that is efficient, effective, and equitable.
5. Focus on the student experience.
The student experience shapes learning outcomes and retention rates. By applying practical tips and techniques to digital learning, you can bolster the student experience. Techniques such as repetition, gamification, jokes, illustrations/visuals, and storytelling can make content more memorable and engaging for students. At the core of all learning should be a focus on the student experience. Creating a comfortable and relaxing digital environment leads to more engaged students who are more likely to have that “aha!” learning moment.
“To be fully engaged, students need to be relaxed.” - Joe Pace
6. Data should drive decision-making and inform improvements.
As the saying goes - you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Data allows you to make decisions and improvements regarding student retention rates, content effectiveness, and learning outcomes.
“You need to collect data that is useful, and you need to collect data that you can control.” - Anthony Piña
The key to collecting good data that informs is to collect multiple data points and only measure what you can control and improve upon. In other words, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean that it’s useful.
It is not enough to rely only on end-of-course evaluations. Other data points like student help desk tickets, LMS engagement rates, and content use statistics will all vary per institution but are valuable data points that each institution can measure and control.
The Bottom Line
At its core, digital content is a powerful tool for learning enablement. With the proper planning, implementation, teaching techniques, and support, colleges, and universities can successfully integrate digital content and online learning into their learning ecosystem and student experience. After all, digital isn’t going anywhere. It’s here for the long haul.