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Oregon State Ecampus releases new tool to help students improve their learning strategies and skills

Joann Malumalemu

Every year, Oregon State Ecampus supports thousands of students who are pursuing degrees, certificates and microcredentials online. Joann Malumaleumu, pictured above, earned her B.S. in Human Development and Family Sciences online from Oregon State.

The Learning Skills Journey Tool is the result of an in-depth research study, conducted by OSU Ecampus and Brigham Young University, and is now freely available under a Creative Commons License.

By Elena Moffet

As a longtime student advocate, Oregon State University’s Kyle Whitehouse knows the skills and strategies that most contribute to online learning success.

Back in 2019, Whitehouse reached out to Oregon State’s Ecampus Research Unit asking for help. She wanted to find a research-backed assessment tool that could help students develop the skills most needed to succeed in an online learning environment. For example, measuring things like a student’s motivation to complete their coursework, their ability to communicate with classmates and instructors, and their comfort level with common technologies used in online courses.

“Adult learners have so much going on,” says Whitehouse, the OSU Ecampus associate director of student services. “So, when it comes to online learning, they really want to understand from the beginning what skills and strategies it takes to be successful.”

Whitehouse wanted a self-evaluation tool to empower students with these insights and then link them to support resources — and she wasn’t alone.

Around that same time, Carolyn Andrews, associate dean of continuing education at Brigham Young University, was on the hunt for a similar tool. She also mentioned her interest to the OSU Ecampus Research Unit.

“A lot of our very bright students don’t want to chance failure,” Andrews explains. “If there’s a perception that they won’t do as well in an online environment, they’ll avoid it.”

From these conversations, and after a further survey of the existing tools at the time, the Ecampus Research Unit recognized there was a clear opportunity to create a better assessment tool in support of students.

To address these challenges, Oregon State Ecampus and BYU embarked on a highly collaborative and research-backed development process. All of their hard work recently came to fruition with the launch of the Learning Skills Journey Tool, which helps students identify their key areas of strength as well as areas for growth and improvement.

How the tool works

Now freely available for anyone to download, the Learning Skills Journey tool can be used in three ways:

  1. By administrators, advisors and coaches to more quickly and accurately assess where a student might be struggling, so they can offer targeted interventions and recommendations.
  2. By students to self-assess their skill sets and pinpoint growth areas.
  3. By researchers to better measure student readiness.

The team stresses that while their study is rooted in the online learning readiness literature, the tool was never intended to define and divide people as “ready” or “not ready” to learn. Rather, it’s all about personal empowerment, increasing confidence, and having a growth mindset. The overall goal is to better equip 21st-century learners with the attitudes, skills and strategies they’ll need not just for college, but for a lifetime of learning.

“To me, a learner readiness tool is not about weeding people out,” explains Andrews. “The process is about identifying where you can improve, and then having the resources and mentoring available to be able to do that.”

How are OSU Ecampus and BYU using the tool?

The Ecampus and BYU teams both built digital iterations of the Learning Skills Journey tool that they are currently using with students.

In each case, the tool offers students an evaluation of their strengths and where they can improve, based on their responses. The digital versions offer students customized links to support resources that can help them learn more on their own. Students can also connect with success coaches for advising and support. These teams are already deploying the tool in some of their one-on-one sessions.

“Some students will say ‘I’m having a hard time managing my time,” says Whitehouse. “This tool helps pull apart the why. Is it about balancing priorities? Is it about their motivation to do things? Can they reach out to an instructor with questions when they have them?”

Our methodology

Building the Learning Skills Journey Tool was a labor of love, but it was also a technically sophisticated accomplishment, led by Oregon State’s Ecampus Research Unit — a division that’s dedicated to actionable online education research.

The process began with an extensive literature review that included online learner readiness tools and studies from as far back as the year 2000. Simultaneously, the Ecampus Research Unit worked with the Ecampus student success team to get their perspective and insights.

“We led focus groups with the success team to discuss what would be most useful,” says Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, director of the Ecampus Research Unit. “Through that process, we updated, added and dropped questions. They really informed the language of the tool.”

After undergoing validity testing, the team arrived at 41 questions for the initial instrument. They then tested that instrument with over 10,000 students  — a truly significant effort.

“Often scale validation studies involve a few hundred participants at most,” says Dello Stritto. “So, the fact that this study was validated with over 10,000 students is very rare.”

Furthering the uniqueness and credibility of the study, the findings were cross-validated in two different student populations — OSU and BYU.

“In research, we often build a scale and try it out,” explains Dello Stritto. “But it’s important to know if we take it to another population, will we get similar results? In this case, we did.  So that gives us confidence that we have a good measurement scale.”

If you want to read more about the statistical analysis involved, the Ecampus Research Team and Andrews recently published their findings in the December 2023 issue of the Online Learning Consortium’s Online Learning Journal, where you can read their full journal article.

All of the teams are excited about the latest implementation and possible future developments.

“The work of our success team is so individualized and relational, so it can be hard to put metrics that matter behind our work,” says Whitehouse. “How do we measure whether what we’re doing is effective or not? For the research team to help us out with even a sliver of that — it feels amazing.”

Want to use the tool with students at your university?

The OSU Ecampus and BYU teams made the Learning Skills Journey Tool available under a Creative Commons License. You can download a PDF version that’s designed for advisors, coaches and administrators to use with students.

Download the tool

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