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How to Increase Student Success and Unlock the Door to Purposeful Lifelong Learning

Updated: Feb 2

How to Increase Student Success and Unlock the Door to Purposeful Lifelong Learning

The assessment of prior experiential learning began to go mainstream in the early

1970’s with the creation of CAEL, led by Dr. Morris Keeton. Today, after more than 50

years of collecting information and conducting research on the assessment of prior

learning, we know that experiential learning, as well as other learning done outside of

academic circles, has substantive and extensive academic and occupational value. In

other words, we have proved that learning is ongoing and lifelong, as well as multi-

dimensional, regardless of historic academic bias to the contrary.

In the process of learning how to assess experiential learning, we discovered the value

of reflection; that, yes, the process of reflecting on past learning identifies and validates

personal, academic, and occupational "knowledge". But it also identifies and values two

other dimensions of learning and its employment in real life: cross-cutting critical

thinking abilities as well as personal behavioral traits. Disciplined reflection strengthens

the ability of the learner to become an active lifelong learner with the ability to identify

learning in life events. As an early graduate of the Community College of Vermont

(CCV) told me, “I appreciate the degree. But really, thanks for the assessment program.

Now I know that I am a learner and that I’ll never stop learning!”

Over the years, I have come to understand and recognize that reflection is the process

of extracting meaning from your lived experience. Learning to reflect, and being actively

encouraged and rewarded for doing so in an organized and dynamic learning

community, sows the seeds for becoming a lifelong learner. It strengthens and deepens

all three dimensions of learning: content, critical skill development, and behavior. When

an institution encourages all three of these dimensions, it enhances its ultimate value to

the learner, the institution, and society at large.

Currently, critics of higher education are questioning its value as the main pathway to

good jobs and a productive social, civic, and economic life. The latest term for this

critique is “the paper ceiling”. College takes too much time and is too unproductive for

too much money, the argument goes. And for other learners, a lack of respect for their

life and cultural experiences as well as their natural talent, when combined with the

other negatives, is also a significant obstacle. Colleges expand the value proposition

when they deepen the learning and harness that natural talent to enhance performance.

The objective should be to turn classroom learning in the traditional format into a three-

dimensional experiential learning event. This can happen by creating a learning

community in a dynamic environment where participants can explore points of view,

perspectives, and proposed employment of knowledge in an ongoing discussion with

others. This approach encourages and integrates the classic, but informal student

discussions that previously may have occurred spontaneously in the student union or in

a Friday night dorm discussion in a special, data-driven, and more formal way.

More specifically, learning events supported and enhanced through Yellowdig Engage

are three-dimensional. The process reinforces and encourages content acquisition

(learning something that can be known and applied), cross-cutting critical thinking

abilities (applying knowledge in response to a life situation through critical thinking,

problem-solving, or analytical thinking), and behavior (doing so effectively given the

situation in which the experience is occurring). 

By understanding and encouraging these three domains of experiential learning, this

approach fosters reflection through engagement and dynamic exploration of topics

pertinent to specific course objectives, whatever they may be. It also improves

completion and success rates by eight per cent or more, while significantly improving

the quality and multi-dimensional aspects of learning as well, thus enhancing the

learner's life-long learning capacity.

There are two other characteristics which enrich the actual participation and climate in a

course. First, learners should be able to bring other, related information and articles to

the conversations; to share articles, blogs, and videos from courses and sources to

augment their understanding, make a point, or simply to share for the benefit of the

class. This helps to integrate what they are learning into their current life and the world

around them. For example, during the Covid pandemic, healthcare-oriented courses

might also discuss the COVID virus, vaccines, and public policy. As the pace of

innovation grows, this would become an excellent way for folks to remain relevant and

current, as course refresh often takes years. 

Second, a lot of instructors tell us that Yellowdig not only saves them “course-

management time”, but that the gameful learning environment motivates learners to

participate and also makes their experience more positive and joyful.

Finally, the use of technology in creating this learning environment is both unique and

multi-faceted as well. First, it relies on a consistent platform/AI construction and process

in which faculty are trained. This creates a level of consistency across multiple sections

and different subject matter fields that would have been impossible to attain previously.

Second, it must generate data that allows the faculty member to evaluate participation

and performance without directing or dominating the discussion. In doing so, it

establishes the basis for including the discussions in the overall course evaluation, thus

encouraging and rewarding active and sustained learner participation and engagement.

Yellowdig brings a model for achieving this learning environment.

Let’s call it the Yellowdig trifecta: increased retention, deeper learning, and developing

lifelong learning skills through reflection. And, on top of all that, it is more fun!


About the Author, Dr. Peter Smith:

Just two years after earning his Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University in

1968, Peter Smith led the effort to design and establish The Community

College of Vermont, now entering its 53 rd year of operations.

He also served as founding president of California State University Monterey

Bay from 1995 to 2005. Smith was responsible for building the university

and guiding it through all stages of accreditation while raising nearly $100

million externally to academic buildings and programs.

After leaving Cal State Monterey Bay in 2005, Smith served as Assistant

Director General for Education for the United Nations Educational,

Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris, France where he was

responsible for more than 700 staff located in 30 countries.

Smith also served as Dean of the George Washington University Graduate

School of Education and Human Development from 1991 to 1994 after

serving his home state of Vermont as a state senator (1980-82), Lt. Governor

(1982-86) and Congressman-at-Large. (1989-1990)

Smith currently serves on the following Boards

  • National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

  • National Council - State Authorization and Regulatory Authority

  • DEAC National Board

  • Association of Governing Boards – Senior Fellow

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