Studies of college student success have found that students who live on campus, attend college full-time, participate in campus activities, interact with faculty outside of class and have close relationships with peers are more likely to graduate. But that does not characterize the experience of most adult students who, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, by 2020 will account for 43 percent of all post-secondary students.

Adult students, who are typically classified as 25 years or older, are likely to be juggling the responsibilities of children and work in addition to their studies. Most don’t have the time or the money to attend college full-time on a traditional campus. So, rather than living on campus and participating in activities outside of class, what seems to matter most for these students is strong relationships with faculty, with other students in class, and with subject matter that is relevant to their lives.

These students bring a rich range of diversity and life experiences to their college education, and yet have not always been served best by traditional college models that were designed to serve a very different student demographic. Advances in technology, and the ability to collect and analyze data to better serve the individual needs and learning patterns of students, are changing that, offering more tools for faculty to create a personalized learning experience and to engage peer groups in ways that support student success.

Precision Education: Meeting the Needs of Today’s Adult Learners
I believe our research into Precision Education will help us not only better address the needs of adult learners, but all learners, by redefining the kind of personalized learning experience that is the foundation of student success. That’s because we are building on National University’s strong foundation serving adult learners to explore new educational models that align with our commitment to   putting students, their goals, and multiple pathways to achieving those goals at the center of how we operate.

We’ll measure students’ proficiency levels and give them the support they need to conquer college-level material. We’ll gather and analyze data on their aspirations, interests, learning patterns, and past performance. Then, we’ll use advanced technologies and interactive learning methodologies to personalize their learning experiences and provide appropriate advising and other supports.

National University, which is a private, nonprofit university, is a particularly appropriate place to advance these models, and I was drawn here for the opportunity to further its mission of serving adult learners. The university was created in 1971 to meet an unmet need in this space, offering a “one class per month” format, which is particularly convenient for active military members who are frequently deployed with little notice, as well as class schedules that emphasize evening courses. It has grown to offer education to its primarily adult learner population at multiple campus locations, entering the online learning space in the 1990’s.

Precision Education: Leveraging Technological Advances to Better Support Adult Learners
Since then, online learning has become a cornerstone of many higher education models serving adult learners, even becoming part of the offerings of even the most traditional universities. While some have been quick to assume that online classes offer less interaction than in-person courses, my own experience as an online instructor and student as well as  through my conversations with students as President tells me otherwise. I witnessed this first-hand when I joined graduates to celebrate the two National University Commencements we hold in Sacramento and San Diego this year. Many students I met asked me whether a faculty member who had been particularly helpful to them was at the event since they wanted to meet and thank them in person.

Recent advances in technology allow us to redesign the student experience even further, allowing us to create learning experiences that are customized, relevant and supported by faculty and peer engagement. This is particularly important when students are moving at different paces, as is the case of many adult learners who come with such a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences.  We also know adult students benefit from peer relationships, so we can use the data we gather to create learning communities of students with similar interests and goals.

There is much we need to learn. But I am confident that, using these new tools and this new approach, we can increase adult students’ engagement and help more of them succeed, even if they never see the inside of a dorm room or become members of a student club.

Blog post written by Dr. David Andrews, President of National University. Precision Education at National University is a research-based initiative that is exploring new ways to leverage technology, open education resources, and predictive data analytics to adapt to student needs and guide them to successful completion of their academic and career goals. Learn more at: https://www.nu.edu/precision/index.html