5 Tactics for Supporting Non-Traditional Learners

A one size fits all approach no longer works for today’s learners pursuing higher education. Students are coming from a breadth of backgrounds and experience. They’re juggling demands involving finances, jobs, family members, and other personal issues. Each person has different needs, goals, and prior knowledge to be accounted for. Often, these individuals care less about degree titles and more about learning specific, in-demand skills that will get them where they want to go.

As experienced edtech designers and developers, the team at Robots & Pencils has helped to design and build a variety of accessible, inclusive, and customizable learning experiences that support learners of all types. Here are a few of the tactics we believe are most effective in preparing non-traditional learners for academic and professional success.

1. Build platforms that offer flexibility in how and where students learn.

Institutions need to offer students the flexibility and options to find what works for them, while recognizing that these needs may change not just month to month, but week to week and day to day. Educators must meet students where they are in the moment with integrated digital, in-person, and hybrid learning experiences. And digital means more than logging into a classroom via a browser. It requires best-of-breed, consumer-grade web and mobile tools and an understanding that students need access to educational resources across devices and support across multiple communication channels.

2. Create pathways that accommodate unique and evolving needs.

Learning pathways must accommodate each individual’s needs and acquired knowledge. This requires designing programs so that students can enter learning pathways at different points, progress at their own pace, and even easily switch to an alternate path with a different outcome. For each learning outcome, institutions should provide multiple learning methods and materials, as what works for one learner won’t necessarily work for another, and an individual’s needs may change based on how or where they’re accessing the material. Students should also have options to pursue not just degrees but things like stackable microcredentials, certificates and industry trainings that align with their immediate and future goals. For many organizations, achieving these goals requires not just developing new platforms but also reimagining the way you design and structure your academic content and offerings.

3. Focus on outcomes and key skills learned.

Learners are focusing on specific skills and outcomes. You should too. Competency-based education remains a powerful way to tie educational content and progress directly to desired skills. In a competency-based program or course, you can continuously assess skill development and empower students to control the speed at which they move toward desired competencies. However you design your educational pathways, your learning platform should clearly show learners where they are on their journey at all times, including the knowledge and skills they’ve mastered so far, what’s left to learn, and the final outcome of their work.

4. Show how educational outcomes align to industry needs.

Clearly tying educational outcomes to industry demands (including specific roles and job skills) can convince learners that the time and effort put into their education will be worth it. It also motivates learners to keep moving toward their end goal. Equally as important is that your outcomes, including your degrees, badges, certifications, are easy to understand and meaningful to hiring managers, helping your graduates get jobs. With the ever increasing skills gap faced by industry, it is past time for educational institutions to build closer relationships with businesses, including seeking input and feedback on educational offerings. Doing so will benefit everyone involved–from the employers, to your students, to your entire institution.

5. Ensure learners own their learning progress and skills data.

Say a learner has an upcoming job interview or a meeting with their boss about a promotion, and wants to share what they’ve accomplished so far. Is that possible right now? Are you making it harder than it needs to be? Students should have easy, instant access to academic progress and transcript data, so that they can share the information of their choosing whenever the need arises. That means letting learners authorize other institutions, career coaches, or employers to access all or part of their data.

Likewise, today’s learners can earn credentials from many places, including professional organizations and employer courses, that could apply toward your educational requirements. The ability to easily share accomplishments and progress should flow both ways.

Want to talk more about edtech and educational strategy? You’ve found your people!
The Robots & Pencils team combines robust professional backgrounds in higher ed with a proven track record of delivering results to top-tier school systems and education service providers. We’ve helped over 200 clients–including 2U, The University of Texas, Columbia University, and Arizona State University — to develop innovative digital products and experiences utilizing mobile, web, Salesforce, Slack, and more.

Learn more about our work in education or get in touch with us today.