New National Effort Aims to Dramatically Increase Number of Colleges and Universities Implementing Adaptive Courseware to Boost Retention and Graduation Levels

At the Achieving the Dream 2019 national convening, ATD and a network of 11 other higher education and digital learning groups announced a new national effort to address a root cause of college dropouts – high failure rates in foundational courses – through the provision of scalable, high-quality support to colleges and universities seeking to implement adaptive courseware for foundational courses on their campuses. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Every Learner Everywhere aims to increase the number of institutions taking advantage of adaptive learning in order to improve course outcomes and boost retention and graduation levels while eliminating the equity gap for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students.

Every Learner Everywhere is a diverse network focused on providing a comprehensive, collaborative,  and coordinated approach to help colleges and universities take advantage of the rapidly evolving digital learning landscape in ways that maximize the benefits for students. Every Learner Everywhere (previously named the Digital Learning Solution Network) was established in 2017 through a previous grant from the Gates Foundation. This new investment will allow the network to continue its work through the development, production, and delivery of resources and technical assistance to ensure that colleges and universities have the knowledge and capacity to apply the most effective practices in the implementation of adaptive courseware.

“Every Learner Everywhere is an opportunity to amplify and expand the groundbreaking work that is being done by many postsecondary institutions in this area so that all students can succeed,” said Mike Abbiatti, executive director of WCET and WICHE Vice President for Educational Technologies, the national educational technology organization overseeing and coordinating the Every Learner Everywhere network.

Adaptive courseware is instructional content delivered through software technology leveraging data- driven algorithms that allow for a personalized approach to instruction driven by student interaction. The network will provide colleges and universities with an array of support options ranging from webinars and implementation guidebooks to technical assistance and extended site visits. The network will begin its work in three states – Texas, Ohio, and Florida – and then expand nationwide with plans to reach approximately 200 institutions. As the four-year initiative proceeds, the network will also seek to raise awareness about the efficacy of adaptive courseware and personalized learning.

“Adaptive learning is an important tool in a toolbox that will help us help us close higher education equity and attainment gaps,” said Demarée Michelau, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, parent organization for Every Learner Everywhere and WCET. “We are grateful for the Gates Foundation’s support for this important effort.”

Foundational courses (college credit-bearing and/or developmental education courses that enroll large numbers of students and have high rates of Ds, Fs, withdrawals, and incompletes) continue to be a barrier to entry for undergraduates. Across all foundational courses, completion rates stand at 63 percent for community colleges and 75 percent for public four-year colleges. For foundational English and math courses, in particular, completion rates currently stand at 21 percent for two-year institutions and 51 percent for four-year institutions. Rates are 6 percent lower for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students. These failed courses put students further at risk by setting them on a path to leave school without a degree while having accrued debt.

The new grant will enable Every Learner Everywhere to directly address student success in these foundational courses by supporting the effective integration of adaptive learning systems, which offer a student-centric design. Students increasingly require an educational experience that is personalized to their individualized needs and goals. Innovative technological tools, such as adaptive courseware, can tailor the learning experience to the individual and, when implemented effectively, contribute toward increases in student success. This is particularly helpful for students who may otherwise struggle in a traditional learning format.

Two of the network partners – the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and Achieving the Dream – will be leveraging this investment in their direct work with institutions.

“While most colleges and universities are aware of the benefits that adaptive learning can offer students and instructors, many institutions are unsure of the process for effectively implementing adaptive courseware on their campus,” said Karen Vignare, executive director of the Association of Public & Land- Grant Universities Personalized Learning Consortium (PLC), which is currently overseeing work among eight public universities that have scaled adaptive courseware to nearly 75,000 course enrollments across 16 disciplines. “The resources and support of this network will allow this work to scale across a broader range of institutions and promote success to an even greater number of students."

Dr. Karen Stout, president & CEO of Achieving the Dream, said, “As a member of this network, Achieving the Dream is committed to supporting community colleges who have identified the need to foster a culture of teaching excellence as part of their transformation efforts to increase degree completion. The purposeful use of adaptive courseware can be a key lever for closing equity gaps in foundational courses and ensuring students are learning."

As a result of this investment, Every Learner Everywhere will gain and disseminate valuable learnings that will allow digital learning to scale with the goals of eliminating equity gaps and increasing student success.

“Experience tells us that closing equity gaps in course outcomes requires thoughtful use of data on student learning processes and outcomes,” said Barbara Means, executive director of Learning Sciences Research at Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization devoted to closing the Digital Learning Gap and part of Every Learner Everywhere. “Digital Promise is committed to helping educational institutions design and implement data collection and analysis processes that indicate whether their use of digital learning is helping a broader group of students succeed. We’ll also synthesize findings across institutions to identify how to best use adaptive learning with different kinds of students and for different learning goals.”

"Success in foundational courses is essential to low-income, first generation and underserved minority students, said Adrianna Kezar, professor at the University of Southern California/Co-director Pullias Center/Director Delphi Project. “This project will help provide needed support missing on many campuses and scale an important innovation."

Every Learner Everywhere was established in 2017 as a diverse network focused on providing a comprehensive, collaborative, and coordinated approach to help colleges and universities take advantage of the rapidly evolving digital learning landscape in ways that maximize the benefits for students. The 12 groups that comprise the Every Learner Everywhere network are:

  • Achieving the Dream (ATD)
  • Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO)
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)
  • Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN)
  • Digital Promise
  • EdSurge
  • Intentional Futures (iF)
  • Online Learning Consortium (OLC)
  • Tyton Partners
  • WCET

Every Learner Everywhere has connected experts in the field of digital learning, aligned around a shared vision, and has begun providing resources to increase student success and completion and eliminate the equity gap that exists in higher education. The network currently comprises 12 partners that are actively engaged in the research and development of practices that leverage digital technology to enhance the teaching and learning experiences.

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