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Yellowdig: A Key to Greater Social and Economic Mobility for Learners

Carnegie recently released an article discussing the future changes to their classification to better account for the social and economic mobility of learners. 


This is a great step forward. But as we expand the definition of quality, we also have to focus on  how we educate more diverse learners successfully; how we reinforce and build on the diverse set of knowledge, skills, and abilities they bring to college. Why? Because improving social and economic mobility for learners after college requires respecting the goals, values, and the life experiences that they bring to college. And that, in turn, requires engaging them in a respectful, personalized and dynamic community as they learn. 


Yellowdig, recently recognized by Time as one of the world’s top fifteen edtech rising stars, focuses laser-like on supporting learners’ sense of agency, engagement, and belonging throughout the learning life cycle. And increased agency, engagement and belonging lead to deeper learning and higher completion rates which, in turn, create the opportunity for increased social and economic mobility.


What do learners truly need to enable social and economic mobility?


Let me take a step back. My most recent book, Stories From the Education Underground: The New Frontier for Learning and Work (Kendall-Hunt, 2021), featured 20 interviews with non-traditional learners who had accessed and succeeded in college later in life. It focused on their life stories and what factors triggered and sustained their delayed, but powerful success in education and life. And there was one common factor across all the stories. In every case, the learner found an educational environment that respected their lived lives, where they felt included and engaged, and which energized them as learners. 



quote about student experience from the article


One man told me, “I felt that I was meant to be here, doing this. They cared about my purpose, my reason for being here, and the learning and experience I brought with me was included as the foundation of my learning going forward.”


Another time, a woman approached me after graduation and said, “Thank you for the degree. But I really want to thank you for assessing my experiential learning for academic credit!” When I asked her why that was so important, she replied, “Because as I spoke with others about their lives and learning and reflected on my own, I realized that I have always been a learner, and I’ll never stop learning!” 


Facing the truth about the state of higher ed


Increasing social and economic mobility, especially in lives that have been denied that opportunity, requires calling out the following realities: 

  • Millions of intelligent people have been excluded from college or denied success after enrolment because,

  • An exclusive, academic model and institutional elitism defined what learning was legitimate and when, where, and how that learning should be delivered and validated, and 

  • In so doing, we have wasted their talent; and, as a result,

  • America is poorer – social, civically, and economically.

The next step is to change the way we “do” higher education by recognizing the critical importance of “how” we do it. And, if the practice of justice rides on the shoulders of respect, then our learning environments must engage each learner at a personal level, respecting the personal learning, experiences, and cultures that s/he brings. So, if colleges and employers aspire to rank high on the emerging Carnegie quality standard that measures improved social and economic mobility, we have to enrich the environment within which organized learning occurs.


How Yellowdig communities boost social and economic mobility


Yellowdig is a key to that change. We offer a learning platform that creates a John Dewey-like “community of inquiry” around any or all aspects of the learning cycle. Yellowdig does not alter the learning content in a course or any other purpose-driven activity that a college might sponsor. Rather, it infuses those activities with each learner’s personal learning, questions, and perspectives in a dynamic learning environment which fosters engagement and community-building while deepening learning and increasing successful completion.  


With Yellowdig, learners are not only learning the content of the course or activity involved, they are also reflecting on its meaning for them, engaging the other personal characteristics needed for success such as teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving, and sharing their views with other learners.  And the result is a trifecta of success for the college, the learner, and our larger American society: deeper learning, more engagement, higher completion rates, and increasing social and economic mobility as a result.


So, when you are ready to tackle improving the quality of your learners’ social and economic mobility, reach out to us and we’ll share just how Yellowdig delivers on these critical new values! 


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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