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CAEL Pathways Blog

What Surveying Our Customers Taught Us About Our Adult Learner Survey Tool

Last updated July 19, 2023

Most people would agree that hearing straight from your stakeholders is the best way to excel at meeting their needs. That's why Adult Learner 360 is dedicated to translating feedback into meaningful improvement. Its parallel surveys capture institutional and adult learner perspectives. The survey data reveal institutional strengths, opportunities for improvement, and, often, disconnects between the two perspectives. 

Given Adult Learner 360's feedback-oriented philosophy, we thought it was only fair to focus that same customer-driven scrutiny on its own processes. So we did. The result is a reinvented Adult Learner 360 that can help postsecondary institutions derive even more impact from survey results through a guided, streamlined process.

Adult Learner 360's methodology dates to 1998, when we launched the original 'ALFI' as a benchmarking study of exemplary colleges. The formalized surveys are oriented around CAEL's foundational 10 Principles for Effectively Serving Adults. More than 200 institutions have used the Adult Learner 360 process to improve policy and practices in addressing adult learner needs.

Note, in 2022, CAEL released the Framework for Creating Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness. CAEL's Principles for Effectively Serving Adults have been restructured within the Framework, which has assumed the Principles' role of guiding postsecondary institutions and state systems committed to an inclusive model of education that meets the diverse needs of post-traditional learners amid ever-shifting education and employment landscapes. Although CAEL had periodically adjusted the Principles, they were primarily designed to help institutions support adult learners through diverse but traditional postsecondary education pathways. The new Framework applies a change management process to guiding institutions in developing strategies and building capacity for serving adult learners. 

And just as Adult Learner 360 can help postsecondary institutions improve, we knew postsecondary institutions could help improve Adult Learner 360. Over the past year, we completed substantial market research, listening tours with our clients, and, yes, lots of surveys. To ensure objectivity, we used a third party to help design questions and conduct interviews. 

We learned that our clients love Adult Learner 360 and that its bedrock 10 principles really resonate. Our clients also have great rapport with our delivery team, who walk institutions through sometimes complex results and offer recommendations. 

But we also found that, too often, our clients don't capture all of the opportunities presented in the findings. They were struggling with putting results into action. Often, they admitted, they were 'data rich and information poor.' 

That key takeaway has led to our re-imagined Adult Learner 360 resource. Although still informed by robust data analysis, CAEL's extensive initiative support and technical assistance are better integrated into the Adult Learner 360 process. 

Our experts help clients focus on priority areas where their attention can deliver the greatest returns. Covering these upfront items helps define the lay of the land with baseline data. That creates the best conditions for moving past diagnosis to solution. Next steps can include training, process mapping, and other transformational engagement that lifts theoretical solutions from the pages of a report and deploys them as real-world enhancements.

We've also made the overall process much more user-friendly and streamlined for both institutional staff and survey students. Following CAEL's implementation best practices, onboarding can now be done in just a few hours. Survey completion time has been cut in half, without any sacrifice to statistical relevancy or quality, boosting response rates. The full results and completed report are usually available in just a few weeks. 

Some things, of course, haven't changed. Adult Learner 360 is still grounded in the 10 principles, which continue to be the gold standard for adult-learner focused ranking systems in higher education institutions. And, although reports are streamlined, our clients can always request additional data, charts, or benchmarking analysis against aggregate data from selected peer institutions. 

So while Adult Learner 360 remains a powerful tool for quantifying readiness for serving adult learners, our focus is ensuring the data paint a clear picture. After all, deciding where you need to go starts with visualizing where you are.

For more information about CAEL's Adult Learner 360 diagnostic tool, click here.

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