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Five Ways to Drive Success for Adult Learners

The EvoLLLution | Five Ways to Drive Success for Adult Learners
Focusing on students’ success is the best way for an institution to remain viable and successful over the long term.

As the global economy increasingly shapes the domestic economy’s employment trends, lifelong learning has become critical for both employee and employer success. As a result, more adults are participating in higher education to develop new competencies that align with the changing labor market needs. Working adults have multiple commitments competing for their time while pursuing a degree program. Higher education institutions seeking to effectively serve adult learners must be intentional in supporting the unique needs of the adult learner.

Capella University’s mission is to extend access to high-quality education programs for working adults. The average student here is a 39-year-old midcareer professional.[1] To support our learners, we provide programs with professionally relevant competencies, flexible learning models and recognition for competency development that takes place outside of the classroom. We provide support resources that meet their needs and leverages data to support their success.

Providing programs with professionally relevant competencies serves as a foundation to a learner-centric model. By partnering with employers and industry thought leaders, higher education institutions are positioned to deliver programs that bridge the gap between learners’ current competencies and those with high labor market demand. Doing so helps learners advance towards their professional goals and better prepares them to meet the needs of employers.

In addition to professionally relevant competencies and programs, adult learners need flexible learning models that fit with their busy lives. Midcareer working professionals are balancing professional, family, community, and individual responsibilities. As such, flexible learning models are critical in supporting adult learners’ pursuit of higher education. Competency-based education programs are ideal for these learners as they combine professionally relevant competencies with the flexibility to move through courses and programs at a pace that aligns with the learners’ capacity to do so.

Beyond the flexibility of pace and schedule, these learning models also support adult learner success by recognizing competency development gained outside of the courseroom. Capella University’s FlexPath program utilizes professionally aligned authentic assessments to evaluate learners’ competency. By evaluating learners’ competency, rather than their time spent in a course, adult learners are able to apply what they have learned from their professional experience. As a result, learners may be able to demonstrate competency more efficiently in those areas where they have substantive professional experience allowing them to spend more time engaging with learning resources and support in areas that are newer or more challenging. This reflects another type of flexibility in that it allows learners to apportion their resources of time and effort to match their experience and learning needs in relation to course and program outcomes.

The outcome of an effective learner success program relies upon providing adult learners with support resources critical for successful progress through their academic program while balancing their other life commitments. At Capella University, this begins with an orientation experience that exposes learners to the full range of skills that they will need for a successful learning experience. Building on this, learners partner with an academic coach to co-create a learning plan that provides a clear path towards achieving their personal learning goals. Learners are supported in their academic courses via embedded support and resources. Perhaps most importantly, faculty members provide learners with on-going formative feedback designed to support competency development.

To effectively and efficiently support adult learners through the aforementioned approaches, Capella University leverages data-enabled processes and systems. During orientation, new learners receive feedback and resources regarding their areas of strength and opportunity in relation to successful online learning based on a personalized skills inventory. As learners progress through their courses, faculty and academic coaches leverage learner engagement data to provide support specific to individual learner needs. Learners are able to track their progress towards competency achievement in their course and program competencies through a visual competency map. Throughout their program, learners’ feedback is also systematically collected and reviewed to make continuous improvements to academic programs and the learning experience.

The success of adult learners is an imperative for individual learners, higher education institutions, and employers. Institutions whose mission is to serve adult learners have a significant opportunity to focus their resources and efforts to support student success. Providing professionally relevant competency-based programs with flexible learning models, recognizing the competencies that adult learners bring to their academic programs, meeting learners’ support resource needs, and leveraging data to increase learner success are ways in which Capella University is supporting success for the adult learner.

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Capella University. (n.d.) Mission and Leadership. Retrieved from

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