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First Congressional E-Learning Caucus Briefing

Yesterday, the Congressional E-Learning Caucus, chaired by Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Jared Polis (D-CO), held its first briefing for U.S. House of Representatives members and staff. Rep. Polis opened the meeting by reviewing the Caucus’s two primary goals—raising awareness in Congress about the nature and value of e-learning across the educational spectrum, and encouraging public policy that supports the development of e-learning to provide increased access to high-quality learning opportunities. He then introduced the panel convened to illustrate the range of e-learning across educational and economic sectors:

  • Michael Kowalski, Administrator, Online Campus, Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools
  • Scott Jenkins, Director of External Relations, Western Governors University
  • Becky Takeda-Tinker, President, Colorado State University Global Campus
  • Judy Komar, Vice President of Educational Technology, Career Education Corporation

As the panelists discussed the unique history, context, and achievements of their institution or organization, some common themes emerged from the comments of the postsecondary participants. Each noted high rates of retention, completion, and satisfaction among their student populations, which generally center around adult learners. (Panelists reported rates in the 80-90% range by category.) The panelists cited having a student advisor that serves as a single-point-of-contact for the student throughout his or her enrollment at the institution as a key strategy in achieving such rates of success. The CSU Global Campus and WGU representatives also noted their relatively low, consistent tuition rates as another factor supporting student persistence to the degree. Round-the-clock access to learning resources and support services, as well as efforts to help students connect with the institution and their peers despite the online nature of the learning process, were mentioned as important factors. And the panelists highlighted the importance of initial faculty training programs (generally of 2-3 months duration) as well as continuing faculty development in e-learning development and delivery as central to the academic quality and effectiveness of their programs.

The postsecondary panelists all stressed the importance of learning analytics to their student support services and strategies as well as to the ongoing development and delivery of their courses and programs. Their comments highlighted the value their institutions derive from constantly evaluating the data generated by student interactions with learning systems and resources, which they indicated allowed their faculty and staff to engage with students more effectively and continuously improve their programs and services. Of particular note, the CEC representative discussed the company’s “My Unique Student Experience (MUSE)” system. Instituted in 2010, MUSE allows students to select the ways in which they access course content online, for example, enabling auditory learners to choose content delivery methods that emphasize their preferred learning mode. The representative noted that CEC uses analytic methods to evaluate the student experience with MUSE and the various ways in which it makes content available for a given course so that the company can make improvements based on findings about learning effectiveness and student satisfaction.

In response to a question, the postsecondary panelists all indicated that the process of acquiring state authorization to deliver e-learning on a national basis poses significant institutional burdens. The president of CSU Global Campus stated that meeting the state authorization requirements of all the states for all of its academic offerings is “very expensive,” and that she is hopeful that a legislative solution can be found to the problem to help public institutions maintain the affordability of their online programs. The WGU representative reported that the institution spends approximately $1 million per year on meeting state authorization requirements across the country, and that is exclusive of additional costs associated with state oversight of its nursing and teacher education programs. He expressed support for a national framework to standardize state authorization requirements and processes to the extent possible.

In concluding the briefing, the Caucus staff announced that the Caucus would hold two more briefings over the remainder of the year, but the schedule for those meetings has yet to be determined.

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