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July 9, 2020

Ensuring Educational Success for Adult Learners

As the world continues to evolve quickly and education becomes more accessible with anytime, anywhere online course offerings, more adults than ever are considering heading back to school. Whether earning a degree to move into management, or pursuing a graduate certificate for immediately applicable skills, the possibilities are endless.

However, going back to school can be challenging for adults. It means significant time, as well as stepping back into a classroom, even if it’s a virtual one, that they haven’t been in for quite a while. But, with the proper support and planning, adult learners can have a positive experience and achieve their education goals.

That’s the philosophy of University College, the continued education and professional school of the University of Denver. To ensure the success of its students it has implemented a unique, online Student Success Course, specifically designed to help them hit the ground running in their education.

“The goal of the course was to equip students with tools, knowledge and resources that they need to succeed at University College and after they leave,” said Dr. Allison Friederichs, associate dean for academic affairs and associate teaching professor at University College, who was instrumental in designing the course.

More than just a typical student orientation, the course is designed to address many of the challenges and fears new adults have about going back to school. According to Friederichs, It’s based on adult learning research and brain science with regard to encountering new learning environments.

“We know from research that when adults find themselves in a new learning context, it doesn’t matter how excited they are, there is a level of fear that can turn on the fight-or-flight response in the brain,” she says. “It silences the ability to engage in rational thought, critical thinking, and inquiry — all of the things that are critical for learning.”

That’s why the required Student Success Course begins by asking students to identify the apprehensions they have about returning to school. Bringing those fears forward helps to alleviate them, as well as gives a jumping off point to talk with a facilitator or fellow classmate and get the resources and support to work through the challenges.

This process is accomplished through a unique approach, which allows both students and facilitators to send videos to each other and connect on a personal level.

According to Friederichs, by far the biggest apprehension she hears from students is how to juggle coursework with career and life responsibilities. Following that, she mentions people fear social comparison or whether the program is worth it to their careers.

The course helps students work through all of those questions, as well as set out learning goals and submit them to an advisor.

Perhaps most importantly, the course asks students one of the most valuable questions out there: why are you here?

“It’s my absolute favorite question. The easiest piece of advice to give students is to remember why they are here. I tell them to ‘print it out and put it on your computer. Those days you have a hard day, go back and reread that statement,’” Friederichs said.

The Student Success Course has been met with overwhelming appreciation and approval from students who are coming into the one of University College’s programs.

“Just starting at this school and beginning my online journey to my Master’s degree, the Student Success Course was something I didn’t know I needed,” wrote a student in an end-of-course evaluation. “It gave me a thorough rundown of all the ins and outs for the University of Denver. It helped me ease back into college after taking a two-year hiatus. I was nervous and overwhelmed when the fall quarter began, but now I am more confident in myself and my ability to do well and successfully complete my degree,”

And while it has been well-received by students since first offered in the fall of 2019, Friederichs adds that the course is always evolving to meet incoming students’ needs. Many of the changes are taken directly from feedback of those students who have taken it. This ensures it will always serve as a strong foundation for adult learners who are just starting their educational journey.

 “It’s incumbent on us at University College to ensure our students can be successful,” said Friederichs. “We take that responsibility seriously.”

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