Excelsior College Awarded Grant to Evaluate Adaptive Learning Software

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Two-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Excelsior College has been awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will support the creation of the next generation of courses that integrate adaptive learning technologies intended to enhance student success. The two-year, $168,000 project will assess the effectiveness of adaptive learning technology, developed by Cerego, in improving performance in both face-to-face and online environments, among students with diverse backgrounds including ethnicity, age and socioeconomic characteristics.

Excelsior will be collaborating with the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Metropolitan State University of Denver on the project. Both institutions are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and are recognized leaders in the use of technology for teaching and learning, problem solving and decision making. All three academic institutions will evaluate the performance outcomes of students using the adaptive learning software through various data including student interaction with software and key learning outcomes measurements. They will also gather user perceptions of the process.

“Learning is, in many ways, a highly individualized process.  There are several factors that affect a student’s ability to learn and to retain that knowledge,” said Dr. Scott Dalrymple, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Excelsior College and the principal investigator on the project. “This project will test the efficacy of Cerego’s software in supporting students in learning and retaining foundational knowledge so that faculty can spend their time on more advanced topics.” Success in the learning process is essential in motivating students to advance in their efforts to obtain a postsecondary credential.

Course and, ultimately, degree completion rates in the United States are of considerable concern. This project will test the software for its potential to bolster learning, and therefore student confidence and success. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that only 59 percent of full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2005 had graduated six years later. However, NCES data tracks only those who attend one institution exclusively. According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, one-third of first-time college students attend multiple institutions before earning a degree or certificate. This report found that for those who earned a credential from a college other than the one at which they started, six-year completion rates were significantly different between those who began college after age 24 versus students who started before they were 24: 56.8 percent vs. 42.1 percent, respectively.

 Cerego’s learning platform will be used as a supplement to aid students in developing a solid knowledge base in two entry-level subjects termed “gateway” courses which have an influence on the advancement of students beyond the earliest semesters of college: Introduction to Biology and Contemporary Mathematics. Students in online courses at Excelsior College and face-to-face courses at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Metropolitan State University of Denver will be tracked over the term of the grant to compare the performance of those who use the software versus those who do not.

Like Excelsior, the collaborating institutions are similarly interested in exploring technology to increase student learning. The University of Missouri – St. Louis is a participant in two Next Generation Learning Challenge projects and is working with the Missouri Learning Commons in the redesign of large enrollment, gateway courses. The Center for Advanced Visualization and Experiential Analysis (CAVEA) at Metropolitan State University of Denver is designed to apply state-of-the-art technology and methods to support complex problem solving and informed decision making.

 “We are pleased to be partners in this collaboration,” said AASCU President Muriel A. Howard.  “Our members are dedicated to improving student success; it is integral to their culture. That makes our institutions a very good fit for this project. AASCU also provides a national scope relative to the dissemination of information about the adaptive learning evaluations.”

Representing 420 public colleges and universities that serve almost 4 million students, AASCU will communicate results of the overall adaptive learning evaluation to its membership. In addition, content developed within Cerego for the two courses will be made widely available among AASCU members.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with these institutions in accordance with the Gates Foundation”, said Andrew Smith Lewis, executive chairman and founder of Cerego. “Our vision is to provide true meaning to significantly improving learning outcomes as well as a means of validating knowledge long-term.”

Adaptive learning technology is designed to enable students to focus on topical areas which they have yet to master, enabling them to concentrate time and effort on the topics that prove to be most challenging to the individual. Cerego combines brain research with web technologies in a patented platform measuring memory and predicting performance on a granular level unique to each learner. Proven by research to be effective in assisting students in language learning, the current project will explore whether the benefits of this program can be extended to other academic subjects.

 About Excelsior College

Excelsior College (http://www.excelsior.edu) is a regionally accredited, nonprofit distance learning institution that focuses on removing obstacles to the educational goals of adult learners.  Its UExcel exams have been evaluated for the award of college credit by the American Council on Education College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT).

 About AASCU

AASCU (http://aascu.org) is a Washington-based higher education association of approximately 420 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development.

 About Cerego

Cerego is a memory management tool for the world’s learners.  We are experts in adaptive learning and memory science. Through our core adaptive learning platform, web application and full suite of mobile applications, we have been helping students to enrich their lives, by learning and retaining knowledge more effectively for over a decade.  Cerego is located in the Bay Area and Tokyo, and is currently in private beta. For more information, visit: http://cerego.com/


  • eric

    Good to know! I am coming from the military digital learning environment (ALMS, ATRRS)
    and absolutely satisfy with Excelsior College Online Course! the interface is very much the same!

    • Excelsior College Newsroom

      Great to hear, Eric!