More on personalization and e-learning

I recently posted about the University of Phoenix’s efforts in their Learning Genome Project and how educators could use the web to better understand student needs (link here). U.S. News & World Report highlighted efforts being made to personalize web based courses to increase student retention (link here).

To give instructors firsthand knowledge of the frustrating roadblocks online students can face as they learn, UWG required them to take online classes on how to teach online. “Faculty training is too often focused just on the technology of teaching online,” says Melanie Clay, the school’s associate dean of extended degree programs. “They really need training in knowing what it’s like to be an online student and what their role in helping them succeed. In an online classroom their role is more than serving as a content guide.”

UWG administrators also ramped up their handholding of online students. Before students are allowed to register for their online classes, UWG staffers check to make sure they understand the workload, by testing students on key facts from their online orientation. Once classes start, faculty members who can’t reach a student, or have other concerns, report the student to academic advisers, who also get weekly reports of students who have missed assignments or are performing poorly. The advisers act as coaches and cheerleaders for online students, calling and E-mailing with updates on academic deadlines, advice on how to connect with tutors or counselors, and simple encouragement.

I don’t think there is any question that having increased hand holding will retain students in a class, especially those that hit the roadblocks mentioned.  I have two concerns though.  First, the increased advising and cheerleading comes at a cost at a time when the focus should on streamlining budgets and finding cost effective solutions.  Second, The web is made for personalization, like the Learning Genome Project, by learning more about individual tendencies and catering future e-learning efforts to specific profiles of students.

One item in the article that I can agree with.

Though online enrollment is rising at an exponential pace nationwide, Leeds believes retention is still rooted on the individual level and that a blanket approach will ultimately fail. “You have to have different approaches for different students,” she says. “It takes more individual motivation.”

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