Going online is only the first step in personalising education

Going online is only the first step in personalising education

by Tony Maguire

Personalised learning has been an educational byword for decades, but we’re only now beginning to fully appreciate its importance and broader implications as face-to-face and on-campus experiences have been stripped away.

As early as 1984, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom challenged academics to replicate the effectiveness of one-to-one or small-group tutoring at scale. Bloom’s study found students who received personalised instruction outperformed 98% of those who didn’t.

The proliferation of technology has fundamentally transformed what is possible for universities in terms of creating compelling experiences, strong signature brands, and sustainable business models. Future success will require broader, deeper, and more nuanced relationships with learners – whether it’s high school graduates engaging with the institution for the first time, traditional under-and-post-grads, or professionals eager to rapidly upskill as the demands of their career change.

Our conversations with academic leaders this year have reinforced our belief that truly personalising learning experiences means moving beyond the short-term solutions forced upon us. Rapidly moving tutorials, lectures, and assessment fully online was a necessary first step – long term success will be built on a more profound root and branch transformation.

In a recent D2L pulse survey one Deputy Vice Chancellor discussed the necessary step change – that the transition from the COVID-required short-term fixes in the months following campus closures to the robust, personalised experiences needed to attract and retain students for the long term will be strategic and people-centric.

“Content delivery was prioritised initially over engagement in a race to get systems up and going. There’s now a focus on adding more personalised and collaborative elements, as well as building learning and teaching communities.”

Competitively and pragmatically, remote learning is a key plank in a compelling and ultimately successful student experience. Universities must now seek to develop an authentic signature experience allowing a diverse range of learners to tailor their learning experience to what suits them best, while enjoying the social-connectedness and collaboration with peers and teachers that comes with university life.

These experiences must be simple, intuitive, and seamless and recognise that the learner is also a buyer and consumer. If they can explore, choose, buy, and engage with commoditised content and products through media service providers, or simplify their day-to-day transactions through app-based services, then why are relatively high-cost, high-stakes investments in education not the same?

When COVID-19 shut down its four physical campuses in March, Deakin University was better placed than most as it had been investing in remote learning platforms to allow students to actively learn anywhere, anytime, and from any device for more than a decade. Still, it almost instantly needed to transition an additional cohort of 45,000 students and staff to its digital campus, Cloud Campus, who had previously been learning primarily face-to-face. The digital campus’ online learning environment, CloudDeakin, is built with the Brightspace learning management system (LMS) at its core.

Associate Professor Chie Adachi, Deakin’s Director, Digital Learning, said CloudDeakin offers a signature digital learning experience which has helped contribute to the institution’s decade-long leading position in Victoria for overall student satisfaction, as confirmed by the Graduate Outcomes Survey.

“Prior to COVID-19, about 25% of our learners were already in our Cloud Campus but the pandemic forced the rest of our students and teachers to transition their blended learning experience to wholly online learning and teaching,” A/Prof. Adachi said.

When the pandemic hit, Deakin’s investments proved invaluable in making the transition seamless, even allowing it to complete a major technology modernisation project, migrating the on-premise version of its Brightspace platform to the cloud.

“With so much disruption to their study, work, and personal lives during the COVID-19 isolation and lockdown measures, we wanted students to take advantage of improved data analytics, continuous development, and seamless integrations and upgrades as they studied or worked from home.”

“As an institution we’ve all put a lot of work into supporting our students during the upheaval of the pandemic. We’ve seen student success rates increase by two per cent on average in Trimester 1, which is testament to the hard work our faculties and students have put in,” added A/Prof. Adachi.

Tony Maguire is Regional Director Australia and New Zealand at edtech and L&D company, D2L