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As you navigate the necessary work of supporting adult learners during the pandemic, we're here to help.

Pivoting to Remote Learning

Many institutions that serve adult students are well-prepared for the shift to remote learning, but others may still be struggling with making the shift with so little time to prepare. Fewer than half of all higher education faculty members have ever taught an online course. Similarly, many adult learners neither planned nor preferred to learn in this format. 

Those who have been at the forefront of online learning know that best practice is not just taking your regular face-to-face course and delivering it through a video platform. Institutions planning for the long term will want to do things differently going forward. 

Below are some resources that could be of help

Our partner, iDesign, offers resources for optimizing the online learning experience: 

You can register for iDesign courses here. CAEL members receive a 10% discount on LX Pathways courses.

Other Resources to Explore

  • Quality Matters. Provides standards and rubrics for online learning. 
  • Online Learning Consortium. Resources to support efforts to move courses to an online format when emergency situations arise.
  • InsideTrack (Strada Education Network affiliate). Whether teaching or counseling, interactions are occurring in a context of heightened anxiety for adult learners. InsideTrack has compiled resources for supporting students in crisis
  • American Association Of Collegiate Registrars And Admissions Officers (AACRAO). Some helpful resources offering guidance on handling transcripts, alternative grading policies, financial aid, and other pressing topics during the pandemic.
  • Southern New Hampshire University. Compiled resources for the field on effective online teaching strategies and engaging online learners. 

Strategies to Leverage PLA During COVID-19 

When traditional learning processes are disrupted, there may be an even greater need to employ tools like prior learning assessment (PLA) to support student success. Institutions wanting to help students stay on track with their goals or accelerate toward completion should consider how recognition of prior learning can help students during this time:

  • PLA can help students fulfill missing credits for graduation. If a student is a few credits shy of graduation, see if any of the missing degree requirements can be met through PLA so that they do not need to enroll for another full semester. With testing centers not available, other strategies could include challenge exams or portfolio assessment.
  • PLA strategies can help students make up lost time if they were unable to continue their studies -- or otherwise accelerate their progress. The pandemic has made it more difficult for students to continue their Spring 2020 courses. Faculty could provide options to complete work independently, using challenge exams or portfolios to demonstrate a course’s required learning. Such strategies could also be used by students if they have additional time on their hands because their work hours have been reduced and/or other activities cancelled institutions can guide them to open educational resources or low-cost online courses to prepare for standardized exams once testing centers open.
  • Testing centers are on pause, but learning can persist. For students who had been planning on credits from standardized exams like CLEP, remind them that there is no expiration date on learning! Encourage them to remain prepared for when testing resumes, in whatever form. (And if these students need credit for an earlier graduation, consider offering your own internally developed challenge exams or portfolio assessment instead.) 

These and other concepts are discussed in a forthcoming brief from CAEL and the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE).

For more information about how education providers can integrate prior learning into traditional programming, click here.

No Better Time for Investing in Accelerated Programs

With many institutions searching for ways to attract and retain adult learners, offering flexibility is essential. Effective accelerated programming:

  • Increases agility during job market disruptions by shortening time to completion.
  • Does not sacrifice quality for efficiency. In fact, studies have shown that accelerated learning outcomes are indistinguishable or greater than those delivered by conventional courses.

Positioning Your Students for the Future Labor Market by Strengthening Strategic Partnerships with Employers

Understand Employers’ Approach to Workforce Development

Don't let the urgent distract you from the important. It is essential that you carve out time to engage with employers to understand how their approach to workforce development is evolving in this unknown territory. According to Gallup Workplace – CHRO Conversations, companies seem to have one of two approaches: either more employee development, or much less -- and some have increased their learning and development initiatives.

Understand When to Approach Strategic Partners

Employers are dealing with the effects of COVID-19 and may not lean on their higher education partnerships today. But they will appreciate knowing new work-related degree, certificate, and micro-credential programs are developing to support the skills and competencies needed in emerging and prioritized workplaces. 

Understand Your Regional Talent Needs

Learn how the talent needs of employers are changing in the wake of economic fallout caused by COVID-19. This data, provided by our fellow Strada affiliate Emsi, charts new opportunities to connect viable career paths with the education and training needs of workers displaced by the pandemic. 

Thinking about Your Long-Term Strategy: Resources to Help Your Institution Adapt to New Realities while Serving Working Adult Learners

Adult Learner 360

With nearly a third of high school students reporting in a recent survey that they are considering deferring college enrollment and forecasts of overall enrollment in the next academic year dropping by 15 percent, many institutions are focusing increasingly on adult learners. With careers threatened by layoffs and accelerating industry change, many of these “nontraditional” students will be looking to postsecondary institutions as potential upskilling and re-skilling solutions. Adult Learner 360 (AL 360) can assess your institution’s readiness and effectiveness in serving this critical student population. 

The AL 360 uses parallel surveys to quantify adult learner and institutional staff perceptions of performance with regards to the Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults

Always key to cultivating success for adult learners, AL 360’s focal areas have taken on a new urgency as institutions scramble to engage effectively with students amid the epidemic’s myriad challenges. In particular, Outreach, Student Support Systems, Life and Career Planning, and Technology are principles that will be critical to maintaining a productive level of adult learning. 

Support Systems, Access to Information, and Communication 

Adult learners:

  • Highly rank the importance of regular, consistent communications and updates from their institution.
  • Emphasize a preference for having one primary contact for school- and services-related questions.
  • Especially value up-to-date information about registration and enrollment, program requirements, and program completion.

Academic Planning and Support: Retention Is a Universal Concern

  • Online curricula can encourage a continuation of studies but must be accompanied by accessible and effective assistance on how to connect with these learning resources.
  • Professors need to be available online, even if engaging on this platform means stepping out of a comfort zone. 
  • As workplace disruptions accelerate, adult learners need assurances that their course of study is well aligned to current and future job demands. 
  • Variety in course selection, schedule, and pacing will add enormous value as shelter-in-place orders create new challenges to distance learning for home-bound adult learners. 

1 (Wlodkowski & Westover, 1999; Wlodkowski, Iturralde-Albert, & Mauldin, 2000).




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If your institution or organization is seeking guidance, solutions, or support from CAEL, or if you have an idea for a future collaboration initiative with us, please reach out. We'd love to connect.

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