Guest post by National University human anatomy and physiology adjunct faculty member Nima Salimi, a biologist who also works in the Division of Vaccine Discovery at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. He writes about how he is “unbundling” a course as part of the Precision Education initiative at National University.

I think of the traditional approach to higher education, like I had, as academic Darwinism. The student is expected to adapt to professors’ demands. Those who don’t make it, according to this model, either didn’t try hard enough or didn’t have the aptitude to succeed. Only the strong survive.

I was drawn to teaching at National University because of its sensitivity to the needs of alternative learners. I thought that here I might be able to right the wrongs of my own education. That’s why I was so excited to be asked to “unbundle” my human anatomy and physiology class as part of the Precision Education initiative, which is led by the Precision Institute at National University.

Precision Education, much like the precision medicine revolution, seeks to improve outcomes by taking into account variability amongst individuals, rather than by offering a one-size-fits-all approach. While a student is still expected to attain a mastery of overarching course concepts, the path the student is offered to arrive at that goal is dynamic and customized for each student, as National University President Dr. David Andrews recently wrote about, in this blog post on Unbundling the College Experience.

I started with the course learning outcomes, which are established, well-defined, and standardized. I took each of those and broke them down into four to six micro-competencies. I knew different students would learn those competencies differently so I looked for a variety of learning objects, or modes of learning, for each micro-competency.

For example, one of the more challenging concepts for students is how bones grow and repair themselves. It’s a dynamic process that occurs at the microscopic level even though we’ve typically used still images to illustrate it. But I was able to find some animated videos and interactive games that would make learning more engaging and draw students in. This material will complement traditional textbook reading or lecture notes, adding an alternative learning modality that may better suit some students’ particular learning style.

I developed a pre-assessment for each micro-competency so the students and I can establish a baseline assessment of their knowledge level before a unit. I also needed a couple post-assessments to measure their progress and overall mastery of the micro-competency. My goal was to make sure the assessments covered the important material thoroughly and to the right depth. This is an important class for students who want to become nurses. So, I had to ask myself, if students passed the exams, would they be competent? Would they be ready to go on to the next micro-competency or the next course and succeed?

I can’t wait to try the new course out. Many of our students are career changers and we don’t want them to be discouraged and drop out because we haven’t done enough to help them succeed. Our students are just as capable as those anywhere else. Some of them just need a different pathway. I’m a scientist so I will withhold judgment until I see the evidence. But I’m also hoping this is one of the pieces of the puzzle.

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 about the initiative and the Precision Institute at National University: