T.J. Arant: Friends University wants students of all ages to thrive

03/01/2014 9:46 AM

05/27/2014 9:28 AM

If you know your students are different, why teach them the same old way?

That’s a question we asked at Friends University about the growing numbers of adult students who are looking for a way to complete what they started, sometimes years before.

The answer to that question is important because, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, nearly 38 percent of all college students are older than 25. They have experience. They have knowledge. And they don’t want to be taught the same old way.

Their current and future employers don’t want them taught the same old way, either. Employers want people who are able to solve problems, deal with complex issues, and work in a global society rather than focusing on getting them to spit out the right answers on a test.

If you want that result, it requires an education that focuses on “big questions,” requiring students to work with others, to work with multiple perspectives and to work with different knowledge sets to come up with real-world applications.

If we do that, we produce people with the knowledge, skills and applications to succeed not just in the workplace, but also in their neighborhoods and in their lives.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, 74 percent of employers would recommend this educational approach to college-bound students.

So what did Friends University do? We studied our delivery model and changed it to bring more value to adult students, their employers and the community.

Our new curriculum follows best practice adult learning research about how adults learn, take ownership of their learning and interact fully in the liberal arts academic environment. We call our new approach “Communities of Practice.”

For instance, we now pair each student with a “success coach,” someone who will serve as academic guide, mentor and motivator for the student.

At their very first meeting, the student and coach design the student’s plan to graduation. Here, the coach assists the student in describing the goals and outcomes the student wants.

This initial practice sets the student up for success, by validating previous learning, engaging the student in the learning process and giving the student a road map to graduation.

But that’s not all.

Adult students bring knowledge and experience that plays into their current goals and desired outcomes. So we foreground the Prior Learning Assessment.

At Friends University, we have nationally certified personnel following best practices who can review previous training and real-life learning that is linked to the student’s academic program. This review not only rewards prior learning with real college credit, but it also allows the student to see where she has been a successful learner in the past.

We have also changed the adult learner curriculum to identify courses in each major that would feature high-impact active learning opportunities, ones that highlight service learning, critical thinking, communication abilities and technology skills.

This approach to learning mimics what we know happens in the workplace, where communities of workers engage in continuous learning, polish techniques and learn new ones, and solve an ever-changing landscape of problems.

If the workplace, indeed, if life itself is a “Community of Practice,” then why wouldn’t we design our educational experience for adult learners to make them conscious of the skills they need to thrive?

That’s what we’ve done at Friends University.

We think it’s on the cutting edge of best practice in higher education. And we know that it will make a difference in the lives of adult learners.

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