How technology investments can better engage adult learners

At Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York, culinary instructor Patrick Rae lectures on the science of a cooking technique.

He uses a teaching method called HyFlex. Some students are in the classroom, and others, watching remotely, have their faces projected onto a screen on the back wall. Rae can interact with all students to answer questions and hold discussions. Students who cannot attend the live class can watch a recording at any time.

Like many community colleges across the country, many students at Rae are adult learners – also known as “non-traditional” students – who are generally defined as older than typical full-time students aged 18 to 22 and can Work full-time. or part-time. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that about 40% of students in two-year post-secondary institutions are 22 years of age or older.

Teaching modalities like HyFlex can help retain older learners, whose numbers have plummeted during the pandemic. According to Realize the dreama nonprofit organization that champions evidence-based institutional improvement, between 2019 and 2021, community college enrollment fell 17.5% for students ages 25-29 and 12.1% for students over 29.

Technology can help. However, Ruanda Garth-McCullough, director of curriculum development at ATD, advises colleges to be intentional about how they use and implement new learning tools. “For adult learners, time is precious. It’s important to design courses well and provide staff with time and resources for professional development,” she says. “It’s a lot more work, but it’s worth it when the students don’t feel like they’re wasting their time.

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A HyFlex teaching model makes learning accessible to adult students

Ryan McCabe, associate vice president of academic technology and high-impact practice at Finger Lakes Community College, describes the college’s population as “pretty small,” at about 5,500 full-time and part-time students. About 40% are 22 or older. HyFlex course were beneficial.

“Adults seem most interested in HyFlex,” McCabe says. “They have children, work, transport problems. HyFlex gives them the opportunity to fully participate and not miss a step.

The FLCC had already started experimenting with HyFlex classes when the pandemic hit. The institution quickly added more, using mostly Cisco and WebEx products and setting up rooms with screens, motion tracking cameras and microphones.

DISCOVER: How universities are reimagining teaching labs for a virtual future.

“The integration of HyFlex cost us nothing, other than the initial hardware and software expense. Now the rooms are ready to go,” McCabe says.

Prior to the pandemic, approximately 25% of FLCC courses were available online. Currently, around 50% of courses are online, with around 5-10% delivered as HyFlex courses. McCabe and Rae, the culinary instructor, don’t see HyFlex leaving any time soon.

McCabe also wants to make sure her school is focused on the needs of adult learners.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want our adult learners to have to choose between living their lives and getting an education,” he says. “We want to make sure they have the support they need to handle all of life’s responsibilities, find a job, graduate, and significantly increase their lifetime income.”

Adult learning is at the heart of the retention strategy

With more than 90,000 students, Alamo Colleges District is South Texas’ largest provider of higher education. About 40% of learners are over the age of 22, and mature students make up 60% of fully online learners.

When he was recruited by ACD four years ago as director of learning, Luke Dowden was tasked with creating a strategy to integrate online learning into the district.

“We needed to create an impact strategy that would elevate what already existed while improving our competitiveness and closing retention gaps,” says Dowden.

As part of his strategy, Dowden and his team created AlamoONLINEan integrated support services unit whose mission is to market a fully online program with a wide offer of courses and multiple degree paths.

RELATED: Use data to improve student and faculty retention in higher education.

The moment was propitious. Just as Dowden was beginning, the pandemic wiped out activities on campus. However, the number of credit hours for online students has steadily increased. The team was able to scale up quickly thanks to a robust IT infrastructure.

“We use Canvas as an LMS and enterprise tools like Microsoft 365. Together with Cidi Laboratories, we are able to create courses with a similar look and feel,” says Dowden. “We also have a faculty development group that provides support for instructors. Overall, we were able to convert 600 course sections to distance learning in two weeks. »

A new initiative, Improve skillsprovides students with digital micro-certificates.

“It’s a minimal investment that gives students confidence,” he says. “This is one of the strategies that helps us achieve our goals, which are to generate enrollment, improve the quality of learning, serve a diverse community and fight poverty.

Technology helps adult learners transition to degree programs

Austin Community College District serves more than 70,000 people in Central Texas and renews its focus on adult learners.

The ACC recently received a Prioritize adult community college enrollment ATD grant. Already, this urban community college, which is designated as a Hispanic-serving institution, is currently implementing Selling power like its customer relationship management solution, as well as a chatbot to answer common questions.

School administrators are targeting these efforts at adult students who are currently enrolled in non-degree programs, such as studying English as a second language or participating in high school equivalency programs.

LEARN MORE: Microsoft’s “Metaverse” to transform online learning.

“There are many barriers for adult learners who want to transition into degree programs,” says Melissa Curtis, Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management. “We want them to know that getting a degree or diploma is the next best step in their education, and that we’re here to support them and help them find funding. »

Curtis says the grant will provide administrators and instructors with as much student-focused guidance as possible and make ACC’s communications technology available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“Technology opens up new possibilities,” says Curtis. “It helps us collect data so we know better who we need to help and how well we are doing. Each number represents an individual trying to achieve a dream. It is very meaningful for us to have this opportunity.

1 nces.ed.gov, “Trend Generator,” April 4, 2022

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