Photo Jason Neiffer (Right), Assistant Director/Curriculum Director, Montana Digital Academy. Mike Agostinelli (Left), Instructional Program Director, Montana Digital Academy.

Personalized Learning Designer: A Permanent Partner

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Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Nov 18, 2016 – Click here for the Spanish version

Thanks to the Personalized Learning Designer from Blackboard Open LMS, students at Montana Digital Academy who are completing a credit recovery course from a failed face-to-face class can receive personalized feedback that allows them to successfully achieve the course objectives they previously failed.

Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) was established in 2009 as a public initiative that seeks to provide unique virtual education opportunities for students and schools in the state of Montana. As Jason Neiffer, assistant director/curriculum director, and Mike Agostinelli, instructional program director, say, the institution’s objective can be summarized as the “tearing down of barriers to make learning as accessible as possible.”

For this same reason, they aim to eliminate time barriers and school periods so that students can progress at their own pace without interruption, regardless of the size or location of the school.

Among the 29 state virtual schools that exist in the United States, MTDA is the only one that is part of a college of education or college/university campus, which helps drive the successful work that has continuously evolved over the last seven years to eliminate barriers in education.

Frequent Support

MTDA has developed a strategy to increase the successful completion of credit recovery courses thanks to the Blackboard Open LMS. Their experience working with students trying to recover a course credit showed that these students needed consistent and predictable feedback that would allow them to understand where they were doing well and where they needed additional support.

To facilitate communication, Blackboard Open LMS’ Personalized Learning Designer (PLD) allowed them to build a comprehensive system of notifications that informs students about their progress and also notifies teachers, school administration, and parents about student performance in course.

The Personalized Learning Designer is based on creating rules that automatically activate events in the course aimed at students and personalized for their particular needs. Each rule operates from an initial activity, and when particular conditions are met, an action is triggered. For example, if a student achieves a score of 55% on a quiz, they will automatically receive an email with specific suggestions on how to improve their performance. On the contrary, if a lesson is successfully completed, the next learning activity is automatically activated for that particular student. This saves time for teachers to follow each student’s progress in detail, providing special support to those who need it, and accelerating the learning process of those students with previous content knowledge.

Regarding the use of this tool in MTDA courses, Neiffer adds, “We believe that the amount of support must vary according to individual needs. By sending notifications to everyone involved in the learning process through Personalized Learning Designer, the student keeps that clear path towards the goal throughout the semester.”

For MTDA, having communication channels constantly open between all stakeholders is a key contributor to student success in a course. They have found that providing continuous digital contact with a support team is a very motivating element for students, especially when they are facing difficulties along the way.

A Successful Integration

MTDA experts relied on PLD’s versatility to obtain additional data and integrate it with Google Spreadsheets. For instance, when an event generates information, such as a student completing a learning activity, all the data can be automatically transferred onto a spreadsheet in real time. “With that information, we could build our own pacing algorithm to provide a new source of information to local institutions in order to help them follow the student’s progress,” Agostinelli says.

For him and his team, the use of PLD is an invaluable tool for teachers because it provides real-time support during the learning process. “Every teacher’s dream is to give personalized feedback to each one of their students on every assignment,” adds Neiffer.

Students have also responded well to MTDA’s work. In the past two years, more than 80% have said that they were between “satisfied” and “very satisfied” with their classes.

This satisfaction has also spread among others involved in the education process -parents, institutions, teachers – who appreciate the consistency and relevance of each communication in a special way. In Agostinelli’s words, PLD has been a “game changer. It’s one of the ways in which Montana Digital Academy is breaking down the barriers to make learning as simple as possible.”

Photos by: AFP Tommy Martino.