Distance Learning Model
The Adult Education Program at Delgado Community College opened in 2006 and has grown to become the largest provider in the state with over 7,000 students served in our College/Career Readiness and English Language Learner pathways. Our eLearn Program was launched in 2014 as a pilot to explore how we could serve students at a distance. As many students are unable to consistently attend our campus-based classes, we were excited to add opportunities for students to access meaningful learning opportunities from anywhere with an internet connection.
From that initial cohort of 30 students with 1 teacher, we’ve grown to a statewide initiative with over 1,000 students, a staff of 40 teachers and coaches, and 7 partner community colleges around Louisiana that enroll students locally to join our online learning community.
Retention is a challenge in all online learning environments. According to the Online Learning Consortium, accredited online classes at the university level retain approximately 55% of students. For MOOCs delivered on popular learning platforms like edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc., retention can be as low as 10%. In eLearn, we are proud to retain, on average, approximately 60% of students across all online courses.
While there are likely many variables that contribute to our retention rates, we believe the most important driving feature is our program culture and commitment to a continuous improvement cycle. Our staff and students regularly give feedback, review program data, and participate in ongoing reviews of our courses, intake systems, and coaching resources. These reflections and evaluations drive ongoing efforts to try new things, learn from mistakes, and explore ways to improve the quality of services we provide for our students.
After presenting our model at various conferences, including the annual LAPCAE and LCTCS conferences, we received queries from adult education providers around the state that wanted to join our online community. In 2017, we partnered with the stage agency that manages adult education to scale our online learning model to students throughout Louisiana. We’ve since partnered with 7 schools around the state that enroll students locally to take our classes online and become part of our growing community of students, coaches, teachers, and administrators!
While our model is often in flux as we test, rethink, and improve the quality of courses and programming, we’ve established a general model that we think is designed to meet the needs of our adult students:
- Coaching: All students are paired with a success coach that checks in weekly to provide support, help motivate and build soft skills like time management, and most importantly, build a trusting relationship that adds a human experience to the digital environment.
- Foundations: All new online students start with a core sequence of classes in reading and math that are designed to help students slowly re-enter a school environment. Students are grouped in cohorts so they can build connections with fellow learners. And the courses are structured as mostly review so students can feel success early on in their time online while the rigor is scaffolded in subsequent sessions.
- Getting Started Online: All applicants are enrolled in a pre-Orientation course that helps students self-assess if online learning is right for them. While it’s easy to click a few links to signup for an online class, it’s a bit harder to persist through challenging moments and stay motivated in a sometimes isolated environment. So this introductory course helps students get familiar with the online environment, explore the LMS and digital tools used in our courses, and get some online learning experience prior to fully enrolling.
- Digital Tools: While popular learning management systems like Canvas and Blackboard are very powerful, the learning curve can be steep and many include features that we just don’t need in adult learning. Because of that, we have chosen to build our classes using the G Suite for Education and deliver them through Google Classroom. We believe this is best for an adult population since it is lightweight, easy to learn, and built with tools that many students already use (like Gmail, Calendar, Drive, etc.).
- Feedback: Most importantly, we strive to listen to our students and reflect their needs and identities in our programming. Our coaches talk to students weekly to gauge engagement and identify problem areas. Surveys are included at the end of each course so students can share their experiences. And we are building a custom database that will help us measure engagement, retention, and learning outcomes in a more meaningful way so we can place data at the center of our revision process.
In New Orleans, 1 out of 4 students doesn’t have a high school diploma. In Louisiana, it’s 1 out of 5, and nationwide, there are 36 million adults that lack basic literacy (only 5% of those students were actively enrolled in adult education programs in 2016-17).
Adult Education is unique since our students are all studying towards similar goals and ultimately preparing for a test that they will take beyond our classrooms (GED, HiSET, etc.). So whereas many educational settings are built in isolation to protect intellectual property or due to accreditation rules, we can rethink that model and build a platform that brings our learning community together. We know that students learn from each other, so we are working to create a digital environment that makes this possible. We envision students online and on-campus learning alongside each other. We see teachers from around the nation building courses together, reflecting about what’s working and what could be better, and sharing feedback to help grow our practice. Ultimately, we want to make connections between all stakeholders that will enable this powerful learning community to work together towards achieving our academic, professional, and personal goals!