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Adult Learners, America Needs You Back! (Part 3)

The EvoLLLution | Adult Learners, America Needs You Back! (Part 3)
Our tendency to generalize student populations—and specifically veteran and active-duty military populations—can have a significantly negative impact on their persistence and success in the postsecondary environment.

Part III: Research into Practice: The Blueprint for Military Postsecondary Retention

They Are Unique Individuals: Serving Those Who Serve

One common—even paramount—belief structure must exist within all Americans if the United States is ever to shift away from its past sins of making sweeping statements about entire races, genders, populations, religions or sectors, and it is this: Generalizations are not accurate.

Generalizations cause irrevocable harm and loss to innocent people, groups or sectors who do not at all fit the judgments made, and who may be the exact people who are striving to make a positive difference in our world. Of course, there are bad players everywhere, but condemning the larger group they belong to is unfair and damaging.

One such dangerous generalization is treating the military as a single, homogenous group of people. There is a real danger in lumping them together as it ignores a range of factors, including:

  • The varying experiences (service during wartime or peace),
  • Occupation type (with the variety of Military Occupational Specialties across the different branches of the service),
  • Situations (active duty or veteran),
  • Gender,
  • Time period and length of service,
  • Branch of service, etc.

These assumptions are particularly dangerous because ignoring all the aspects that make service members unique erroneously positions them in the eye of the institution with a single set of needs, that institutions then strive to serve.

Throughout this article series, we have discussed the need for learner-specific and institution-specific research to best create programs. In honor of the service members’ dedication to this nation, it is particularly important that, as educators, we reciprocate in the only way we can: by creating an educational experience that is appropriate and ready to serve them both during and after their service to our country and communities.

Institutions with veteran services departments should be applauded, and should also examine if those services honor the varying unique needs of those veterans or if we treat them as one-size-fits-all. Further, it is critical that veteran and military culture training and awareness not be limited to the veteran services department employees. Every college employee who may come in contact with these students should receive mandatory training, especially faculty. Not only are the services offered important, but the learning modalities and curricular infrastructure are, as well.

Online Military-Friendly Programs Mitigate Situational Barriers

The mobile active-duty military population and those veterans who feel they don’t fit into the traditional college classroom often choose online programming as a better match for their postsecondary degrees. Accredited quality online programs with varying term lengths are one of the greatest flexibility options we have given our active-duty and veteran soldiers. Because they deploy or go on frequent temporary duty, this mobile population’s needs are often not met by 16-week traditional college terms and physical youth-filled campuses. Evidence of this are the more than 270,000 military distance learners.

Flexible online programs are found at a variety of colleges. The service member may specifically choose an online program at an institution that is able to offer a variety of term lengths, military scholarships, multiple term starts per year, prior-learning assessment (PLA) programs, flexible institutional military policies, and extensive dedication to support services. Students should always confirm that the school chosen is accredited by a body approved by the Department of Education, has relevant program outcomes for their chosen degree, rigorous assessment of those outcomes, and has the support services the student needs (no-cost tutoring, for example).

There are many accredited universities that are providing flexible solutions for the military and other adult learners that many two-semester, on-campus programs cannot do within their infrastructure, and that is completely okay. Each institution has something to offer and students need to choose which school suits them best. Our joint goal as a nation is to serve them and if the online model of an accredited institution serves them well so that they are more likely to graduate, then we all win.

Curriculum: Tapping Into Schema Theory to Help Service members

Though we do not want to generalize the individuals of the military, we do need to recognize the commonalities in the military culture they belong to and that make up part of their schema. Many service members go through some type of resiliency training such as Battlemind training as part of their military careers to assist them in how to stay the course of the mission in the face of battle, death and harsh conditions, away from home. These skills transition into the formal postsecondary landscape where they must balance their pursuit of a degree with working full time. With such a long road, they need resiliency to get through and persist. Yet, as institutions, we never train them to do this. Commonly, we let them fail in a world that is unfamiliar to them.. Swaddled Support Services (SSS)® posits that we must create an environment and lessons to build resilience. We must activate that schema. After all, they have been trained to be resilient in their mission in spite of the other life issues around them. We need to tap into this to help them succeed in the college environment as well.

Using effective advising practices and critical instructional design theories, SSS model is applicable to any institution, any population and any delivery medium as long as the institution itself knows its population and alters the model accordingly.

The Blueprint for Military Learner Success, therefore, is that we can start with a base plan of tapping into their schema as a strong foundation. From there, we build the infrastructure right into the curriculum to help them through. We can serve those who serve, but we need to treat them as individuals – no more generalizations.

The ideas that help institutions construct a supportive environment for their military learners—especially insofar as overcoming generalizations and serving each student as a unique individual—can and should be applied to the rest of the non-traditional and traditional-age student populations. Tune in for Part IV of the series, which will share some innovative ideas to make postsecondary access more affordable. The four-part series runs follows:

Part I: The 2020 College Completion Goal: Adult Learners, We Want You Back!

Part II: Eliminating the Degree Attainment Barriers: Institutional, Dispositional and Situational

Part III: Research into Practice: The Blueprint for Military Postsecondary Retention

Part IV: Innovative Ideas to Support Students: Removing the Cost-prohibitive Barriers

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