Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Personalized Learning: A Piece of the Puzzle to College Completion

June 30, 2014

The Postsecondary Success Strategy has been investing in courseware and other innovative online and blended learning approaches for over six years to help colleges and universities enable more students to acquire affordable, high-value credentials. Our rationale is simple. In this country, a college credential is a path to a healthy and productive life; and for a low-income student, it is often a path out of poverty. Growing the number of adults with a college credential is essential to our economic competitiveness as a nation. Today, while we have made strides in making college accessible to many more students, far too few students complete a college degree.

While technology is not THE whole answer, it is part of a portfolio of solutions which we believe will strengthen student learning as well as the U.S. higher education system, restoring it as the engine of social mobility and economic development that this nation needs.

We believe that with good courseware it is possible to realize a personalized approach to learning – at unprecedented scale – that has historically proved so successful in supporting student success. With personalized learning, the learning experience is customized for students and course content is tailored in a way that meets the needs of individual students.


 While technology is not THE whole answer, it is part of a portfolio of solutions which we believe will strengthen student learning as well as the U.S. higher education system.

Our investing has focused on the places in the higher education system where the greatest number of students hit barriers and drop out, disappointed. Those include developmental education and some required entry-level courses. The data we are gathering through our partners is promising: high-quality courseware, where it is integrated effectively into the curriculum, can maintain or improve student learning outcomes while reducing costs.

This is particularly true when it is used in blended or hybrid forms of instruction. Through the use of adaptive technologies, colleges can personalize the learning experience and deliver course content to meet the needs of individual students at an unprecedented scale.

Still, we face enormous barriers. Despite considerable and rapid advance in technology, courseware continues to be primitive and difficult for faculty to adapt and customize to student needs. Courseware must never replace faculty, but it can be an effective tool to enhance and expand their teaching and student learning. And good courseware has to more easily integrate with the existing platforms (learning management systems, student information systems, etc.) that universities and colleges rely upon. The higher ed community struggles – at least the mainstream – to move online learning beyond the pilot phase and into adoption at a scale that would enable us to serve so many students so much better.

To address this, we have invited over 100 leading courseware and multimedia innovators and institutions into a grand courseware challenge, which will take on the Herculean task of developing and advancing best-of-breed courseware in 100- and 200-level college courses. Our aim is to help students achieve greater success in these core, high-enrollment, gateway courses, as well to give faculty superior digital resources for use in improving their craft. Improving student outcomes and faculty adoption is part of our broader goal of focusing on courseware. While our focus on technology advances, our larger interest is in tackling the cultural, organizational, and other challenges inherent in getting colleges and universities to scale their use of courseware.

We are excited about the work, and look forward to a continuing dialogue with you about it. We welcome your comments below.

 
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