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Acceleration: A Degree-Completion Strategy for Online Adult Students

Headshot of Dr. Robin Colson

July 14, 2017 | Dr. Robin Colson, Director, Research & Evaluation

Our colleagues at the UWF Innovation Institute often contribute to academic journals to share the work of the Institute and our partners. Dr. Robin Colson, Director, Research and Evaluation, recently contributed an article on accelerated learning to the EDUCAUSE Review. This article discusses the importance of acceleration for adult students and highlights the acceleration options offered by Complete Florida partner institutions.

“Complete Florida is a network of 14 regionally accredited partner institutions that have committed to provide online courses and programs and other technology-supported strategies that have been shown to meet the needs of adult learners,” according to Dr. Colson.

Complete Florida recognizes adult learners have busy lives juggling college with home and family obligations so our partner institutions strive to develop alternative strategies, like acceleration, to help meet the needs of adult learners.

Accelerated courses offer students the opportunity to earn the required credit hours to complete a degree but move at a faster rate which is important because the longer adults are in college the less likely they are to complete their degree program.

In her article, Dr. Colson explains the different types of accelerated online learning options offered to adult learners through Complete Florida partner institutions, including:

  • Multiple Start Terms: Through this option adult learners take courses offered in 6-, 8-, 12-, and 14- week terms. Students have the opportunity to start a course once a month, or on demand, of course it depends on the institution. Since students do not have to wait for the traditional semester to begin, this option gives adult learners increased flexibility in when they can start a course.
  • Competency-Based Education (CBE): CBE permits students to progress through coursework based on a demonstrated mastery of competencies through tests, projects and portfolios. This option allows students to put previous coursework and life experience toward their online learning.
  • Alternative Credit Project (ACP): Through the ACP adult learners are provided a pool of online courses that institution will accept as credit towards a degree. The courses are offered at reduced, to no cost, across more than 20 subject areas from multiple providers.
  • Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): PLA programs recognize students have previous on-the-job experience and allows students to demonstrate what they know to earn course credit. Students demonstrate mastery through either examinations or development of a portfolio of work. Through this demonstration students can bypass coursework and progress quickly through a course.

More often than not acceleration implies a fully online degree program. In turn, Dr. Colson explains, the learning management system needed for delivery of these programs must be robust learning management system (LMS). The system must be able to release content and course materials to each student in small, flexible chunks so as not to overwhelm the students. The system must also accommodate “rolling enrollments,” so students can complete and exit a course at random, interim points in a semester.

Dr. Colson points out a variety of LMS providers who have prototype platforms that are the most conducive in providing accelerated course options for online adult learners. She is key to point out, while no single platform has yet to develop a solution that would cover all acceleration options, many companies are working toward that very goal.

To learn more about accelerated degree options and to read Dr. Colson’s full article, visit http://bit.ly/2tqgqWG.

EDUCAUSE Review, “Acceleration: A Degree-Completion Strategy for Online Adult Students.” July 2017