The Evolution of On-Line Learning: Competency-Based Education

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1 Speech 2 The Evolution of On-Line Learning: Competency-Based Education Sally M. Johnstone (Vice President for Academic Advancement, Western Governors University) Thank you very much for returning from lunch. I appreciate it and I am sure your colleagues do as well. Thank you also to our hosts. This has been a wonderful experience thus far and I look forward to further dialogue as the afternoon progresses. We talk about what is an ideal model for teaching and learning in higher education. It is usually held up to be a face-to-face activity where a professor is in a classroom and there may be hundreds of students, but all of our policies, our funding, our quality assurance are all based on this model. The premise of my talk today is that we really can do better. For those of us that work in higher education, we know more than what was known when this became the best way to do things. We know a lot more about how to help students to be successful, how to measure their success, and how to help them move from an educational experience and go into society, whether that is for further education, whether it is for getting a position, a job, or whether it is being a meaningful member of their social group. I am going to take a very high level view of this. Forgive me. For those of you that are learning scientists, I am generalizing here because I want to tell the whole story of why I think we are seeing competency-based education coupled with the capacity of technology enabling those of us in higher education to move into a next stage. Learning science tells us now that we do have limits on our mental architecture. Those limits seem to be around maybe two to four ideas that we can hold in our mind simultaneously before we start getting confused. If we try to hold more information than that, we basically shut down, so students in that large lecture hall are going to start doing their or playing games or looking at Facebook to find their friends, and this is the real meaning of TMI, Too Much Information. We also know that the faculty who are teaching and designing the learning experiences for our students are experts in their subject area. That is why they are professors. It worked for them. They love it. They are engaged. They are absolute experts in the field of study that they are trying to teach. We are finding that our professors and faculty are trying to teach students the way they were taught because it worked for them. They are very good at this, but not all students necessarily are. For an example, I used to teach statistics in a very traditional setting. This was a long time ago. If I am lecturing and talking about a central tendency, that may mean a number of different things, but I can generalize it to be a central tendency. I see that as one idea, but a student who had that

2 concept in secondary school may think of that, Oh, let us see. It is the number of cases divided by the full amount. That would give me the mean. Oh, wait, no. There was a medium. What was that? I cannot remember. Therefore, for my students in a large class, one of them may get that immediately and it is only one idea so they are processing and they are moving along, but for the student sitting next to that individual, he or she may be trying to figure out what I really mean by that. By the time maybe they have figured it out, I have moved on. The lecture has continued. Basically, I have done nothing but teach to those students that already know my perspective. I have lost the students that cannot follow me and I do not even know it. I do not know how many of you are following what I am doing because I have bright lights in my eyes and you guys are in the dark and I cannot tell, but the issue is I know what I am talking about but I am trying to share what I am talking about in a meaningful way. One of my favorite ways of thinking about this came from Herb Simon who was a Nobel laureate and spent most of his professional life actually at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the United States. In the last 20 years of his life he focused not on economics (for which he had won a Nobel Prize) but rather on the teaching and learning environment. I think Herb Simon puts it very well that he says basically, we are not going to get better in post-secondary education until we change teaching from a solo sport that one person, that professor does by him or herself; designing the lecture, giving the lecture, designing the assessments, and evaluating those assessments, until we turn this into a researched group activity, and I think he is absolutely right. At Carnegie Mellon University close to 20 years ago now, they developed a project called the Open Learning Initiative. The Open Learning Initiative had no relationship to the Open University either of Japan or the UK, but rather it was a notion of we can create individualized learning experiences for students and we can do so in ways that allow those students to progress at a rate that is right for them, and to query them with regard to when they have made an error in a question that is asked (going back to my statistics example) was that error because they could not do the mathematics? Was it because they did not understand the concept, or was it because they could not apply the concept in the setting in which the problem was set? If I am teaching in a lecture hall, I cannot query every individual at every step of what I am trying to teach them, but we do have some really very patient machines that can do that and are able to do that. That is the basis of the open learning initiative. The artificial intelligence engines that sit behind what the student is working with are constantly learning from each individual student how to help that student progress and master the material that the faculty has said, This constitutes the material to be mastered. It is called adaptive learning or personalized learning and the materials really do adapt to each individual learner. This project is now incorporated into some new work at Stanford University in California in the US, but they are adding in students motivational factors; not just the cognitive

3 elements that have to do with have you mastered an idea, but also how we help the student become more motivated and understand that he or she is capable of learning. It is also that a piece of this has spun off into a private company. Now, this concept is getting so powerful, and when we talk about the analytics which you have heard about at the OU, this stuff is incredible. It really help students to master material that when they try in a more traditional setting they may not be able to. This is just a chart that some colleagues of mine put together actually two years ago now that points out some sectors of what is going on in both public and private activities in the US right now around this adaptive learning. We have traditional publishers in the quadrant over on the top and your right that have been producing textbooks and other things for a long time. They are now getting into this area of smart learning materials. Then we have new kinds of publishers coming into this. These are mostly commercial entities that are recognizing the power of adaptive learning and creating learning materials that can be available to anyone. If we move in a clockwise direction around the circle there, you will see that there is, again, a number of newly emerging publishers of material. The Khan Academy is one of those, and if you have not looked at that, I really encourage you to. All of the college students I know go immediately to the Khan Academy when they get stuck on something that they cannot find out from their professor. Acrobatic in the middle of that is actually a company that is a spinoff of the Carnegie Mellon adaptive learning project. Moving around, we have the MOOCs, those entities that are open resources online and they are basically online courses that are just available to anyone, and there are a number of those. Then moving back up, we have new platforms, technological platforms that are developing that can enable any college or university to basically create their own personalized learning resources that are unique to certain courses or areas of study that they would have. It is a big business that is developing here, and it is a big business because it helps students learn. It helps them master materials that otherwise are just not working too well. However, in our current models for higher education it is very difficult to incorporate individualized or personalized learning. Our standard systems, they do not work too well in this regard. Our professors are used to lecturing. It is the way that they learned. It is the way that they are used to doing things, and everyone should be able to learn that way, right? But they do not. Can we afford to keep bringing students into colleges and universities only to have them fail? It is a big waste of everyone s time and money and has an incredible toll on the student that is unable to succeed.

4 In this personalized learning space, students should be able to progress at their own rate, but we cannot do that because we have a term that starts at one date and ends at another date, and we have technological systems, our student information systems, or the learning management systems that are all geared to time. They are all geared to students working at the same pace to master materials regardless of their ability. That is not the way human beings are. We are different. We are all different, and if we try to assume that everybody is the same, sure enough we will replicate the systems we now have in place. Some students will earn high grades and some students will fail, and they will fail not because they are not smart. They will fail because maybe they needed more time or they needed a different way to master that material. We do not offer that in most circumstances. We have grades because we have fixed time. We say to a student, You must master this as I have defined it in this timeframe, and if you get all of it, great. You get a big grade, a high grade. If you get some of it, well, a lower grade, but if you only master half of it, you are going to fail that course, and your only option is to take that course again, pay the money, put in the time, and spend half your time in that course again reviewing material that you had already learned. You had mastered that. You knew all of that, but if you can hang in there and get to the part you did not know then maybe you can pass the course. Generally speaking, we also administer tests and assessments that are different depending on who is teaching that course. At the end of the day, can a university or a college say that every student who graduates has mastered this body of knowledge? No. There is too much variability, way too much variability to be able to say all students have mastered this at a level that we stand behind them. My suggestion is that we have to rethink the paradigm that we now use because it was established several hundred years ago and we have much more knowledge now. We can be better. We can serve students better. This brings me to competency-based education. This is why I think this is worth really trying to think about and deal with. Students move at their own paces. You have basically flipped the relationship between time, a term, and whether or not a student masters what the professor has said needed to be mastered in the course. They have personalized support, one-on-one, either machine and/or human based. They can accelerate if they already know something or they are just a very fast learner. Or, in another part of a course of study, they can slow down because that is more difficult for them. We can incorporate very well-designed learning resources. We do not have to rely on everybody making this up as they go along. We do not have to rely on faculty who learned one way assuming all their students learn the same way. We can put teams together, teams that include instructional designers, psychometricians, subject matter experts, people who have been teaching for a long time, and people who know how to support students. They can become a team to design a very well developed learning environment. Students progress not based on the length of the term, but based on their mastery of the material.

5 I am going to give you an example of one of the more established competency-based education activities or programs in the US, and that is the university for which I now work. Western Governors University really was founded by the governors of the western states in the US, and they did this because they were unhappy with the quality of the graduates from their public universities in their states. Their point was, We are giving you money. Why are you not creating graduates that are really excelling in the areas in each state that are required for the workforce? Therefore, the governors in 1997 decided, Okay, we are going to start a new university. It will be independent of time or place. It will be competency based. It would be accessible, that is, anybody can get to it, which means the costs need to be low, and it has to be credible to the rest of the academic community as well as to employers. That is WGU. It is now about 20 years old. It was founded as a private university, not-forprofit. It means we do not get money from states. We have actually almost 65,000 students now matriculating, and the cost to a student is under $6000 a year for their baccalaureate programs. It is a little bit more for Master s program, but that includes all of their learning resources, all of their assessments, all of their one-to-one work with tutors and faculty, and we can run the university at that price. The average age at our university is 37, so somewhere between what is happening at the OU in the UK and the Japanese Open University, but what is important here is we are also starting to see the same phenomenon that is happening in the OU in the UK. Younger students are coming to us because they do not want to put up with everything that they have to do in a more traditional university. They are really tired of walking into a class and not having their professors as able to work with technology as they are. 64% of our students work full-time and 13% part-time, and they are all considered full time students. That is just a decision we made. We do not offer part-time students. We do not offer just courses. It is full-time commitment to a degree. This is just the distribution of where our students are. It is all US-based; a few international, but those are people that started with us and moved to another country, but it is all based in the States. If you look at a distribution of where our faculty are, it looks very much like this map. They are scattered throughout the country. Our faculty have one role that is not true. Most of our faculty have one role, and that is to support student learning. We call our faculty mentors. One group we call student mentors. They are not students. They are faculty, but they talk weekly with students individually. They help those students in course material, but they also help them stay on track and continue to move and help them solve their problems. Another group we call our course mentors and they are experts in the specific course that they are in charge of. They offer tutorials. They work with groups of students or individual students, again, all electronically; webinars, phone, any other ways in which that can work because both the faculty and students are distributed.

6 Our faculty do not create learning resources. They may be part of a team to evaluate learning resources, but we buy or buy the license of learning resources from some of the providers that were in that round diagram I just showed you. We do the kinds of analytics that you heard about this morning at The Open University in the UK, and when we find that a particular set of learning resources are not working for students, we change them. We go out and we find a better set of learning resources. Those learning resources are mapped to the competency of the course and they have to cover everything in it, but none of them are perfect and all of our learners are different. That is why we have the faculty that we have to help support those students. The assessments in our model are created and graded separately from the faculty that work directly with students. Even if I thought a student meant something that was not obvious in the assessment, it would not matter. That means the faculty and the students work together, and they are part of a team. The faculty are not evaluating the students. They are not judging them. The faculty are working to help the students learn. We have a separate group of I think we have about 900 part-time faculty that do nothing but grade the assessments. Those assessments we think of as being authentic. They are different for different areas of study. They may take the form of simulations for students who are studying nursing, the example here. They may be paper and pencil. They may be online, but they are all proctored and managed so that they are authentic. They may even take the form for a student studying to be a teacher of going into a classroom and working with real students being supervised by a master teacher. That is the sort of the big picture of the model, but I would like to suggest to you that WGU is really a proof-of-concept, and it is a proof-of-concept because it works. We recently found out that WGU is the largest supplier of STEM teachers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the US. The National Council on teacher quality recognized WGU as the best school for preparing secondary teachers among 2400 other colleges and universities in the country. There is another exam that is separate from anything a university does that is called the Collegiate Learning Assessment. It was designed to help colleges and universities determine whether they were making a difference. It is given when students come into a university and it is given again when they leave the university, and the difference in score is supposed to somehow reflect whether or not the person would have learned this stuff anyway or the university really made a difference. These are administered outside of a single university. It is all independent, and WGU students score higher than 89% of the thousands of participating institutions in the US. I was very enamored of the notion of the plant hunters anxiety I think was the phrase that you (Prof. Iwai) used. WGU was created as a competency-based institution. Over 20 years we have learned a lot. We have learned by making mistakes. We have learned by constantly improving what we do, but the real question right now for a lot of institutions in the US is, can you take competency-based education and pull it into programs that already exist, traditional campuses?

7 Therefore, three years ago I began a project that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the US Department of Labor to learn how colleges could do this. These are just the 12 colleges we had working with us. The notion was, how would they adapt this WGU model to fit their own culture to make it work for them? They cannot do what we do because they have a whole set of policies and traditions and ways in which they are funded and technologies that are already in place. What we do know now is there are over 600 colleges and universities in the US that are starting or have started competency-based programs within their institutions. Again, this stuff is really powerful and it is no different from what we have done for a long time except that we are rearranging the focus to assure that students learn and taking advantage of what we know. In working with these colleges and universities, we extracted a few design principles. This is not rocket science. When you look at these, you go, Oh yeah, but this is really what is behind developing a good competency-based program. The degree needs to reflect robust and valid competencies. That works at a degree level, but it also begins to work at a course level, so it is all very explicit. Students need to be able to learn at their own pace and they need to be supported in their learning. If you take a group of students and say, Here is the material. Go learn it, and then come back and we will assess whether or not you have learned it, maybe 1% of them will actually come back. They need help. They need to understand what it means to work at their own pace, how they get access to the kinds of assistance and resources they need. The students have to have effective learning resources available to them anytime they are ready because they are not working in lockstep in time. Therefore, these have to be available when the students need them and they are ready for them, but they also need to be reusable, because if they are not, we are kind of going down a black hole in terms of financial sustainability. There is another piece of this that is pretty important this is one of the WGU lessons that we did not do initially because we were so busy making everything happen but the process for mapping competencies to courses, to learning outcomes, and to assessments needs to be very clear. Because, if you find that after you have changed an assessment, and suddenly a very high proportion, an unexpected proportion of students are passing that at a very high level, you know you have got a problem, but you do not know if the problem is, because you have not mapped very closely how much of the learning outcomes you are actually assessing. Or it may be you have changed the learning outcomes or the learning resources, you need to change all the aspects that go into the full student experience. Finally, the degree of the institution, the integrity of that degree is based on the assessments. They have to be secure and they have to be reliable, because if they are not, there is no value in the degree. The degree is not based on who is teaching or how often a student comes to a class. The

8 degree is based on these external validations of whether or not a student has mastered the material that the faculty have said are required by that course of study. There is a website that I offer here if anybody is interested. This is an open website and we have collected the lessons from the colleges with which we have been working. They all made mistakes, they all figured out their ways around them, and they are still learning. Some are better at some things and others are better than others, but one of the things that the programs have learned as they have gone into place, students are persisting. They are staying in the courses at a higher rate than they do in even their face-to-face classes. Students are able to get what they need and learn at their own rate. We are not asking them to be just like the person in the seat next to them. We are asking and demanding that they should be motivated and they should continue working, but we give them the support to enable them to do that. In June of this past year, we held a little conference to let the colleges share what they had learned. We had I think about 400 people come from around the country to work with these colleges with which we had been working. We covered all the lessons for engaging faculty, and how the college non-academic staff has to work, technology systems, working with employers, and etcetera. However, no college needed to be alone in doing this. They could learn from one another. We have found that we now have consortia forming in five or six of the US states to let the colleges figure out how to work together around this. The other thing that reminds me of the plant hunters is this notion that the question is not What is CBE?, but the question is How do we as a campus adapt and adopt CBE? There is some emerging information. I mentioned the website. It is out there. Anybody can contribute, look at it, and do what you would like. We also run a free webinar series in English, first Tuesday of every month throughout the year featuring these colleges and the lessons they learned. We have just been supported to begin to create a financial modeling tool for sustainability of these programs based on decisions that each college is making. Finally, we have just launched (or we are launching) a new journal of competency-based education. There is information in your packet about that. Those of you that get engaged with this or those of you that are involved with adaptive learning or assessments, I would encourage you to think about writing an article for the journal. Again, I think competency-based education is the next stage in how we as professionals in higher education can evolve. We still have faculty in control of the curriculum, but the curriculum is now, What do students need to know and how do we know if they are going to know it? The students are able to progress at their own rates, get individualized instruction and assistance. That is a real winning formula for helping students to be successful. Finally, we all have to evolve and the enterprise of higher education is in the same kind of situation. Thank you very much and I look forward to questions and comments disguised as questions.

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