Bellevue University's “Flexxive” Mobile Learning Platform is a Model Worth Examining
In February, Bellevue University launched an adaptive learning mobile platform which set out to change the way students learn online. Two years after they began planning the Flexxive mobile learning system and 10 months after launch, Dr. Rod Hewlett, dean of the Bellevue University College of Business, is ready to talk about what he learned in the process of creating a mobile campus and the advice he has for teachers and administrators looking to open or update a mobile learning platform of their own.
A complete rethinking leads to adaptive learning
Before they began the work to create Flexxive, teachers and administrators at Bellevue took a look at the online learning models around them and saw there was a long way to go. “One of the problems in higher education is that most systems are tied to the lecture model,” Dr. Hewlett says. “Most plop it over to the mobile version. Making readings mobile is not helpful; it takes a complete rethinking of your pedagogical model.”
They found the depth and customization possibilities of the online model could be used in the students' favor. While online learning has the stigma of isolation, Dr. Hewlett and his peers attempted to actually bring more contact than its traditional counterpoint. “There needs to be much more of an understanding where the student is stalling,” he says. “We need to provide high-touch where it's needed and low-touch or no-touch where it's not.” The challenge was to determine student performance as coursework progressed.
“It comes down to diagnostics.”
Bellevue began with existing platforms, including Canvas, Blackboard, Google+ and Skype. Next, they brought in designers and developers, learning experts, and psychology experts, all with a faculty level-knowledge in their fields, to consider how students would actually use a mobile system. “The whole idea is to manage this complexity into a way that's intuitive and manageable for the students,” Dr. Hewlett says.
In the end, the secret was in rethinking how student performance was monitored. Diagnostics built into Blackboard and other learning management systems (LMS) didn't provide the precise feedback they wanted, so they built their own proprietary systems to lay on top of the existing models. “We've repackaged Blackboard in many ways. We push it to the edge of its limit,” Dr. Hewlett says. “In many ways, we're like a software development house.”
Today, Bellevue's Flexxive system is available for the school's Bachelor of Business Administration degree. The system is in version 2 now, and the testing phase sent about 70 students at a time through coursework updating every month, with students working at their own pace with faculty members, student coaches and qualified readers to complete about six months of coursework.
Bellevue's Flexxive system stats:
- Retention rate: 95 percent
- Average student age: 29
- Average faculty response time: four hours (24 hours mandatory)
- Cost per credit hour: $250
- Total student program completion: 500
What's next for mobile learning
From Dr. Hewlett's perspective, Bellevue University's mobile learning platform was an unparalleled success. They're finding former students want to return for more training — work that doesn't necessarily culminate in a degree. For their non-degree training program, the school has begun work on agnostic content, intellectual property which can move from LMS to LMS, allowing multiple formats and different uses.
They're considering aNewSpring, a company offering an adaptive learning solution which lets educators create and deliver courses that adjust to student behavior. No matter what learning system they choose, the heart of the system must be increasing standards for students. “Cognitive growth is important and it's a facet of the whole,” Dr. Hewlett says. “Practice with increasing levels of standards until you get to mastery.”
Advice for educators and administration considering mobile learning
In making the jump to mobile, many schools make the mistake in thinking they can retain the same learning models with an extra layer of tech support. Not so, says Dr. Hewlett. In fact, it's quite the opposite; starting with the student is the best way to drive teaching, which in turn drives technology and then creates a demand for the high-tech tools that students and faculty eventually use.
Dr. Hewlett advises mobile learning developers to think of the system in terms of concentric circles. At the center is the transformation of the learner. Beyond the learner are circles of pedagogy and andragogy, and beyond that are tech platforms, and the final rings out are the tools themselves, how students want to learn. “Don't start with the mobility at the center,” he says. “Mobility with the same old pedagogy is slop. You can say you're a mobile campus, but so what?”