Innovative Personalized Learning pushes boundaries to better serve students

Laura Huenneke and Fred Hurst

Laura Huenneke and Fred Hurst

By Laura Huenneke, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Fred Hurst, Senior Vice President for Extended Campuses

As the spring semester approaches, we look forward to the launch of a truly innovative higher education initiative at NAU: Personalized Learning. The program is being designed to stand out from many other recent efforts from other colleges and universities who are trying to determine how to use new technologies effectively in curriculum delivery. Our progress on this project has brought NAU national attention as a leader in competency-based online education.

Students in Personalized Learning will study at their own pace in faculty-designed courses on a software platform that uses predictive learning analytics to adjust to individual needs. Since the primary audience is motivated adult students with previous higher education experience and skills learned at work, the focus is on clearly established outcomes, some of which students may reach by testing out, thus speeding their time to course completion. Through pre-testing and a post-assessment, a student proves mastery while the university thoroughly assesses student learning. Students will work one-on-one with faculty discipline experts and mentors. Even the approach to tuition is innovative, as students will pay a set fee for a six-month semester, with no limits on the credit hours they may earn.

The Personalized Learning program is clearly built on NAU’s core commitment to a highly personal educational experience for students. With such a radically innovative approach, though, there are naturally questions about how to maximize the chances for success. We have been asked by President Haeger to serve as facilitators of further discussion as work continues to ensure that Personalized Learning has the academic quality and rigor appropriate to a NAU program. The foundation of this approach was built through collaboration and communication. In that spirit, we invite campus input as a way to ensure academic excellence while we implement, assess and improve this initiative.

As the implementation of this novel approach nears, we emphasize that we are endeavoring to push the boundaries of traditional higher education to better serve students. Our university has a mandate from the Arizona Board of Regents to become even more accessible and affordable to the citizens of Arizona in the quest to ensure a better future for all of us. This program is one way that will help us achieve that important goal by serving students who would not otherwise seek out Northern Arizona University.

Challenges remain as work is done to complete the accreditation process and begin enrolling students in this groundbreaking program. By fully appreciating the implications for success, and by committing to achieve it, we invite you to contribute to the fulfillment of NAU’s mission. We welcome your support.