“See the World, Serve the World” – Transformative Learning and Short-Term Study Abroad

Written by Jarrett Jobe, PhD, Executive Director, Leadership Central — 

One of the positive impacts of globalization over the past 25 years has been the tremendous growth of international study abroad programs and experiences in higher education. During this time, colleges and universities have expanded their international study opportunities to students, which include multi-disciplinary academic programs at new global destinations not previously offered to students.  These programs have also expanded their learning outcomes from focusing solely on global/cultural competencies to service learning, leadership, and business/entrepreneurship. Students return from these experiences with new perspectives and an understanding of a diverse world, a deeper appreciation of varied cultural practices and beliefs, and expanded knowledge of their place in their own communities. NAFSA finds that study abroad and its impacts on students are significant in the following learning outcomes: improved grades, retention, graduation rates, language learning, intercultural understanding, enlightened nationalism, and employability.[1] NAFSA recommends more research on the topic, but emerging evidence is clear on the benefits of these experiences for students’ growth and development. Yet these results have focused primarily on long term (6 months or more) international experiences and there is a growing number of higher education experiences that fit into the short-term (less than a month) description. The small amount of research that has been conducted has been positive, reporting results consistent with longer programs, but also continues to call for additional research.[2]

Students on a study tour with UCO

Short-term programs have been developed to solve two primary challenges related to international education. The first is the cost of semester or yearlong programs. Many students have neither the ability to save the amount of money necessary nor the option to take on additional student loans for these longer programs. The second challenge is separation anxiety from peers and family. Students are cautious about missing key events at home and their ability to navigate a foreign country/community for extended periods of time.[3] Short term programs can help to mitigate these two concerns for students wishing to participate. .

UCO’s Leadership Central, in partnership with the Leadership Minor and Academic Affairs, developed short-term programs that combined global/cultural emphasis with leadership and service learning in 2013. Leadership Central recently completed the 8th Global Service and Leadership Study Tour totaling 80 student participants in these programs.  Destinations for these programs included Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Uganda; they focused primarily on affordable housing, literacy, and sustainability. As these programs were developed, attention to the unique assessment challenges of short-term study abroad was needed to determine evidence of transformative learning and student growth.

UCO’s Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) and assessment rubrics provide solutions to these challenges and have supported the creation of consistent, intentional, and thoughtful learning outcomes for short-term international experiences at UCO. The STLR framework, based on AAC&U value rubrics and developed by 20 faculty across campus, provide the foundation to effectively develop course specific learning outcomes that can be integrated into these short-term international courses. These rubrics help to provide three key components to our assessment process:

  1. Consistent set of values to guide assessment. Terminology and language that is shared across multiple disciplines and higher education.
  2. Tiered system to measure a student’s progress after the experience. The exposure, integration, and transformation levels fit well into assessing a student’s growth through an international experience. This is particularly effective across the three topics we include: service learning, leadership and global/cultural competencies.
  3. Learning outcomes that guide course development and material.

Through the implementation of the STLR rubrics and assessment model in our short-term study tours, we have started to develop “best practices” to support quality assessment and course development across any discipline or destination. The practices include the following:

  • Pre- and Post-Test – Capturing students self-reported progress through a pre- and post-test survey is vital to measuring their perception of growth and development. Education research has encouraged this type of assessment for many experiences and should be required for international experiences as well. The development of such an instrument can also help to support intentional learning outcomes that support course development and progress.
  • Multiple methods of reflection – Developing diverse methods of reflection allows for students to process and communicate their experiences in a more dynamic approach. Written, group and individual discussions support multiple opportunities for students to effectively process their interactions and learning.
  • Observations – Distinguishing student actions is critical to recognizing change in attitude and behavior. International experiences typically have fewer students so direct observation is easier to engage and can provide strong validation to a student’s reflections post course. Recorded notes of a student’s attitude and behavior during these short-term programs can prove invaluable in determining their transformation and growth.

The STLR rubrics combined with these best practices  supports a robust and effective assessment process of the Global Service and Leadership Study Tours. STLR was formally introduced on our campus in Fall of 2015 so there are limited results, but early research  supports the value of short-term experiences. Quantitative data is currently limited, but as more students participate in future experiences, research can include more statistical analysis. Qualitative data, to include written reflections, group and individual interviews  presents valuable results. Three examples are included here:

  1. “The first day we struggled to connect with the students as there was a clear language barrier. It was difficult to work with the curriculum and goals of the program. After the first night I challenged our group to learn 50 words of the local language and the change was night and day. Students responded well, listened, and completed the worksheets and activities with no problem. The day before, it was a struggle just to get them to sit down. Building this connection, no matter how small, made our efforts more successful.”
  2. “We learned about the health effects of affordable, quality housing in class but seeing the family, particularly the two children as they prepared to move into a new home, brought everything full circle. Access to housing has economic benefits, I knew that, but recognizing the other impacts it can have on health and positive family outcomes made me realize how important this access is.”
  3. “This experience has changed my life. I now understand privilege, not just economic privilege, but how the location of where I was born has determined a significant amount of my success and opportunity. I need to help to create this opportunity for others.”



[2] See Carley, Susan and Tudor, R. Keith “Assessing the Impact of Short-Term Study Abroad” (2006). Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective: Vol. 1: No. 2, Article 5. Available at: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/jgi/vol1/iss2/5 and Kurt, Mark et al. “Assessing Global Awareness Over a Short-Term Study Abroad Sequence: A Factor Analysis” (2013). Frontier: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad: Vol. XXIII, p. 22-41.

[3] See Walker, Jessica, “Student Perception of Barriers to Study Abroad” (2015). HIM 1990-2015. 1890. http://stars.library.ucf.edu/honorstheses1990-2015/1890.

Providing Transformative Experiences through Student Engagement

Written by Vicki Jackson, PhD, Associate Professor, Biology — 

One of my favorite things about being a professor is working with students to find opportunities for them to gain not only content knowledge and skills but also “soft skills”.  Soft skills are those like communication skills, work ethic, and positive attitudes that will allow them to be successful no matter what career they pursue upon graduation.  Scientists tend to focus on hard skill and knowledge acquisition in class and research; it is within our student organizations that we can provide opportunities to go beyond class room and laboratory experiences.

I have been the adviser of a university student chapter of The Wildlife Society since I began teaching in 2002.  I helped initiate a chapter at the University of Central Missouri and watched it grow to one of the most active chapters in the state.  I moved to the University of Central Oklahoma in 2015 and helped the Wildlife Club apply for recognition as an official Wildlife Society Chapter.  I continue work with my colleagues and our students to provide seminar, workshop, and outreach opportunities to anyone who is interested in wildlife and natural resources.

Wildlife Society members working with rodents

When you can establish a community of active, engaged students who are working towards their professional goals or just exploring something that interests them, you can make life-long changes to the way they perceive themselves as a part of, rather than outside, nature. Not only do you get to help them explore but you also can allow them to lead the journey.  All of our outreach and activities are student-led and driven by what they are interested in knowing more about.  Faculty serve as mentors and motivators, helping when needed but not dictating the agenda.

When you can establish a community of active, engaged students who are working towards their professional goals or just exploring something that interests them, you can make life-long changes to the way they perceive themselves as a part of, rather than outside, nature.

There are many opportunities to grow as a member of an organization.  Growth can be as simple as learning what sorts of jobs and research opportunities exist to something more complex as networking and time management skills necessary to run an organization.  What the member gets out of their participation is directly related to what they put into it; officers often get transformed by the experience as they learn how much time and energy it takes to organize meetings, seminars, and outreach events; as well as the business aspects of running an organization (meticulous paper work and active communication).  Members will at the very least be exposed to a variety of opportunities that exist to further engage their interests. All the members get access to a community of like-minded people who can be great resources of help and support.


How has UCO TWS transformed you?   Quotes from members:

Theron: By providing us with information about upcoming work and possible research opportunities that we probably wouldn’t otherwise hear about.

Linda: Have loved hearing about research done both locally and internationally. Where else can I hear seminars on whale research at one meeting then at another bird research in the South American tropics without leaving my office building!

Jane: As an officer I have had a chance to practice my people and marketing skills and have come to realize I am sorely lacking. I now know that I have a lot to work on in that area and that improvement will help me with my leadership skills and help me as a future teacher.

No More Millennials Entering College: How Can We Facilitate Gen Z Transformation?

These students don’t view the world in 50-minute, three-credit classes. If our mission is to prepare kids to be successful, the thing you have to prepare them for more than anything is adaptability. No one knows what the world is going to look like in the next 10 years. — Craig Chanoff, VP Education Services, Blackboard (as quoted in Kaplan, 2017, June, p. 32)

“We’re willing to try things and fail,” Jonah says of his generation. “We’re more scared not to try.” — Jonah Stillman (as quoted in Kaplan, 2017, April)

The millennial wave has passed in terms of typical college-aged incoming first-year students. Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2012, are in college these days, and research reveals some key differences relevant for faculty seeking to help Gen Z transform and expand their perspectives.

Fortunately, several Gen Z traits, according to research done by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (Davis, 2016), lend themselves to the potential for transformation in students from this age bracket. The desire to contribute to society is certainly one, though there is a difference between Millennials and Gen Z on this point (Zimmer, 2015), with more Millennials broadly committed to making an impact for the social good as an overriding objective compared to those from Gen Z, whose experiences growing up included the Great Recession and the uncertainty of what their parents may have gone through in the Recession; more Gen Zers, then, seek financial security and ways to contribute to society, trying to ensure both are in their futures.

That said, it’s still the case that Gen Z wants to make a positive difference in the world: 93% say a company’s impact on society is important in deciding whether to work there or not (Davis, 2016).

Another Gen Z attribute that can be leveraged toward transformative experience is collaboration and networking. Many Gen Zers prefer a learning environment that is built as a kind of “networked discovery area” in which students work together to learn together, realizing the value of cooperative sharing toward a learning goal. As demonstrated in Jonah Stillman’s quote (above), Gen Z learning spaces must include the freedom to fail as a way to learn. Teaching approaches that somehow put students inside a giant “maker space” would thus be attractive.

But what of the internal processes driving this generation’s embrace of transformative teaching approaches? A very big clue lies in the fact that one of the top three factors considered by Gen Z students in choosing a college is “professors that care about student success” (Zimmer, 2015). In this regard, Gen Z is not that different from most human learners.

Here’s a specific example of a student describing why and how, from a Service Learning & Civic Engagement (SLCE) perspective (as expressed in UCO’s STLR terminology), the student sensed that the faculty member cared:

Thanks so much for being a great professor to me. You have opened my eyes to what is going on in poverty and what is going on in the environment. Your courses [have] helped me to educate others about the problems that are in the environment as well as in poverty. You have truly made an impact on my life. You have educated me so that I will be able to help others. I hope that in the future I can take more of your courses because you an excellent teacher. (Grantham, Robinson, & Chapman; 2015, p. 130)

The research that yielded the student quote immediately above had Grantham, Robinson, & Chapman examining students’ writing submitted as part of a thank-a-teacher program as well as examining findings based on National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data. Qualitative analysis of students’ thank-a-teacher submissions showed that

students thanked instructors for broadening their horizons by either introducing them to new content, causing them to see material or a discipline in a new light, or helping students gain a new perspective on the world, a construct that we labeled as “worldview” in our coding.  (Grantham, Robinson, & Chapman; 2015, p. 130)

This is exactly what UCO attempts to achieve via its operationalization of Transformative Learning, which the university defines as developing students’ beyond-disciplinary skills and expanding students’ perspectives of their relationships with self, others, community, and environment. At least for the student quoted above, the teacher he or she had in the course successfully communicated caring about the student’s learning via an ability to positively impact what the researchers term the student’s “worldview.”

Yes, sensing that faculty care about them and their learning is very important to Gen Z learners. When they feel a teacher has helped them gain a new perspective on the world, they connect with the teacher and benefit from the positive affect surrounding that discovery.

The ultimate good news, though, is that “feeling cared about as a learner” is highly valued by all generations of learners, not just Generation Z. This means that faculty have a sort of “one size fits all” teaching tool at their disposal to help them succeed with learners of all ages: caring about their students as demonstrated in multiple ways. Many of those ways are particularly well matched to the “Transformative Learning” part of UCO’s mission, as Grantham, Robinson, & Chapman’s (2015) research has shown.



Davis, E. (2016, March 3). Infographic: Seven personality traits that define Gen Z. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.i4cp.com/productivity-blog/2016/03/03/infographic-7-personality-traits-that-define-gen-z

Grantham, A., Robinson, E. E., & Chapman, D. (2015). “That truly meant a lot to me”: A qualitative examination of faculty-student interactions. College Teaching, 63(3), 125-132.

Kaplan, A. (2017, June). The next generation gap: How will millennial managers — as well as the rest of the workplace — react to the first wave of Gen Z entering the workforce this summer? Twin Cities Business, 24(10), 28-33. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://s3.amazonaws.com/pageturnpro2.com/Publications/201705/1688/78891/PDF/131402141030833811_TCB0617.pdf

Kaplan, A. (2017, April). The next generation gap: The members of Gen Z are coming of age, and they’re independent, focused and fiercely competitive. Delta Sky. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.deltaskymag.com/Sky-Extras/Favorites/The-Next-Generation-Gap.aspx

Zimmer, C. (2015). Getting to know Gen Z: Exploring middle and high schoolers’ expectations for higher education. Retrieved 2017-12-11 from https://www.bncollege.com/Gen-Z-Research-Report-Final.pdf

7 Personality Traits that Define Gen Z

Graphic from Generation Z: What Employers Need to Know, based on a peer survey of over 600 Gen Z high school students. The study was conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity in collaboration with Dr. David Stillman, co-author of When Generations Collide and The M Factor.

Source: Graphic from Generation Z: What Employers Need to Know, based on a peer survey of over 600 Gen Z high school students. The study was conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity in collaboration with Dr. David Stillman, co-author of When Generations Collide and The M Factor. Infographic available at https://www.i4cp.com/productivity-blog/2016/03/03/infographic-7-personality-traits-that-define-gen-z

Source: Generation Z: What Employers Need to Know, Infographic available at https://www.i4cp.com/productivity-blog/2016/03/03/infographic-7-personality-traits-that-define-gen-z

The Design of Transformation


Having the opportunity to work with many education and business organizations, I’ve noticed a common challenge many are working to overcome. This challenge is not necessary the use of technology, the achievement or organizational priorities, or even the talent development of people.

The core challenge is innovation.

The issues of technology, talent, and priorities are secondary to the capacity to innovate and realize new learning value.

This story plays out in many organizations today. In this article, I focus specifically on the topic of learning innovation – creating new ways of helping people learn. The implications of this topic span all levels of in educational environments as well as business and industry.


Innovation and Learning Environments

Innovation is not an activity of isolation. In fact, innovation is one of the most connected activities in which people participate.

Innovation and learning go hand in hand. Innovation is inherently a learning activity that is influenced by the environment around us.

For educators and learning professionals, we must think about the environment where this learning happens and understand the design features that influence these interactions.

For example, a learning environment lacking dialogue will lack the opportunities for ideas to be exchanged. In contrast, learning environment that supports feedback accelerates the critical friction needed for innovations to grow and improve.

As educators and leaders, we need to expand our thinking to consider our classrooms (online or physical) and organizations as learning environments that have the opportunity to grow innovation.

It is through innovation that transformation occurs.


The Power of Ideas

How can learning leaders help grow a culture of innovation and change that can lead to transformative learning experiences?

The answer to this question is not easy; however, there are a few key ingredients that need to be present.

  • Connected Vision – People need to be able to learn with and from other people. While transformation may have personal implications, the process of getting there is anything but isolated. For someone seeking to encourage learning innovation in their organization, one of the first tasks is to bring people together around a common vision.
  • The Visible Future – People are drawn to certainty and what they can easily understand. Visualizing ideas so they are more easily understood and concrete can have transformative effects on teaming, planning, and collaboration.
  • Creative Friction – Innovation (and transformation) requires disagreement. In order of ideas to grow, they have to be challenged. This means leading people through a constructive feedback and dialogue process that results in a new, stronger idea.
  • Action – Successful innovation moves ideas to action. Ideas only have value if they can be acted on and used to create new value for others. Using tools, like prototypes, that help people move ideas to action help innovations and ideas grow. This not only helps the innovation be used by others, but it is through this process that authentic feedback happens.


Building Capacity for Learning Innovation

The ideas expressed here have tremendous value for educators seeking to help learners realize new opportunities, for manager seeking to help their employees grow, and for leaders seeking to transform their organizations. While these principles can help lead to transformative experiences, this does not happen without building a fundamental capacity for learning innovation.

This requires change.

Learning innovation is creating new ways for helping people learn. This may be through redesigning a course, activity, program, or an entire organizational learning environment. Learning innovation is about creating new value for learning.

How can learning innovation leaders influence this type of transformation and build capacity for change?

The experience of increasing capacity for learning innovation begins with a commitment to learning first.

Committing first to the advancement and innovation of learning experiences provides a solid foundation upon which any other strategy can be built.

The UCO Labyrinth: A Site for Inner Reflection, Social Change, and Transformative Learning

Written by Kato Buss, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Theatre Arts –

On Monday, November 13th at 4:00pm, the UCO Department of Theatre Arts senior capstone students presented a performance of The Blue Puzzle by Clare Duffy, in conjunction with the Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA). CCTA is a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented to coincide with the United Nations COP23 meeting. CCTA collaborators were encouraged to design their event to reflect their own aesthetic and community. Considering this, The Blue Puzzle was performed on the UCO Labyrinth as a form of site-specific, environmental theatre. “Within contemplative pedagogy, labyrinths are one form of active meditative practice,” explains Kato Buss, Ph.D., “We believe the UCO labyrinth serves as a site of Transformative Learning and an ideal location to present a CCTA project, which asks us to deeply consider climate change; to imagine loss, survival, and resilience; and to expand our methods of telling stories and making work.” (Rudebock 2016)

The opening stage directions of The Blue Puzzle describes, “An actor working on a vast jigsaw puzzle of a blue sky. This can be represented in any way.” In our interpretation of the play, we chose the labyrinth as our representation of the puzzle located within a beautiful autumn setting on UCO campus, underneath the blue Oklahoma sky. For the performance, one student (Hannah Stevens) stood in the center of labyrinth and began reading the play, which addressed the impact of the oil industry on climate change. As Hannah read the play aloud, her classmates began to enter the labyrinth. The students were asked to listen to the words of the play and reflect on the ramifications of climate change, as well as the natural environment of our setting. “I’ve always been aware of the labyrinth as a place for inner reflection and have applied Dr. Rudebock’s labyrinth work in my theatre classes,” said Kato, “I’ve also envisioned the labyrinth as a site of performance, particularly theatre for social change. In this form of theatre, change is something that happens in addition to the theatrical experience that aims to connect or galvanize people within a cultural, social, or political cause.” Indeed, as the students walked the labyrinth and Hannah repeated the words of the play something very interesting occurred as the text, the movement, and the environment all seemed to coalesce into a serendipitous, transformative moment.

As the students completed their journey and exited the labyrinth, Hannah stood alone in the center – as if in the center of the world – to repeat the final words of the play:

“This oily world. Oil is the medium. It is the matter. I keep on thinking about how oily I am. The molecules of dinosaurs, insects, plants, crustaceans and sunshine a billion years ago runs through every moment of me. Oil defines my information. I can’t think outside of it. I can’t even imagine what or how ‘I’ would be, if it could be iterated in… light… for example. And I. I hope. I hope so much that ‘I’ could be more ‘us’. Aren’t we all so very bored of ‘me’? I think… there’s a new age of light coming. I think my grandchildren could be sunny ways of being human. And what if they are sunny, windy, wavy humans? Wouldn’t that make them brilliantly, openly, fundamentally less ‘me-ish’ and much more… and much less…and just a bit better? I have started to believe that change is inevitable. There will be solutions and they won’t only save our planet but save our lonely, oily-selves as well.” (Duffy, C., The Blue Puzzle)

Faculty at the UCO Labyrinth

Rudebock, C. Diane, Ed.D., R.N., Professor Emerita of the University of Central Oklahoma, Veriditas-Certified Labyrinth Facilitator, and The Labyrinth Society Resource VP and Research Chair, “Labyrinths in Higher Education Instructional Practice.” Available:


Engagement & Transformative Learning: Equity where it Matters

Written by Sunshine Cowan, Ph.D., MPH, MCHES®, Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies –

I had the good fortune this past summer to join a team from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) attending the Institute of High Impact Practices and Student Success, sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). The Institute focused on equity in higher education, and our team concentrated on ways that UCO could develop an equity mindset on campus. In the words of Dr. Sharra Hynes, we wanted to lay the groundwork to be a “student-ready” campus. This phrase became a goal: What needed to be accomplished so that we were ready when students arrived? What could we do better to meet the needs of the students who choose UCO (rather than banking on outdated expectations of who our students “should” be)? How could we provide opportunities to engage first-generation, low income, and minority students in order to retain them and serve our state and respective fields with career-ready graduates?picture of colorful raised hands

We spent our daysat the Institute planning ways to address inequities in our classrooms, programs, colleges, and across the university. Rather than being prescriptive for our campus colleagues who were not in attendance, we instead focused on finding ways to communicate our existing campus data where inequities lie (such as D-F-W rates in our courses and the racial and gender gaps associated with them). Our plan centered on Dr. Cia Verschelden’s belief that once everyone knew the existing inequities, we as a campus would find ways to address them that make sense in our respective classrooms, programs, or areas. We embraced a “knowing is half the battle” framework. The team is still working on disseminating these data, and we hold high hopes that the message will be heard and that our campus will become a community with an equity mindset in all that we do.

Additionally, our team recognized that UCO’s Student Transformative Learning Record program (STLR) offers an opportunity for faculty and staff to put equity into practice by connecting with students who may otherwise feel disconnected from UCO. In fact, the federal grant currently funding STLR places its focus on students who are first-generation, low socioeconomic status, or racial or ethnic minorities.

By ensuring we provide High-Impact Practices with an equity mindset, we can provide engagement and transformative learning opportunities to students that need it most. We can live into our espoused values of diversity and inclusion – and our students, professional fields, and communities will be all the better for it.

Developing an equity mindset requires us to take a moment to think about our outreach to students in regards to out-of-class projects. Rather than encouraging students who are already excelling in the classroom (or otherwise securely connected to campus) to work with us on research, service learning projects, or community events, an equity mindset inspires us to look for potential in students who may otherwise be overlooked. It reminds us to stop and consider the socioeconomic status, race, or familial educational status of our students and then engage those who may need added connection to campus. It is worth our time and energy to adopt this mindset – and when students who may otherwise slip away are instead retained until graduation, it pays off big dividends for them, our communities, and our professional fields.

Designing Personalized Learning Experiences


The research and literature that explores how adults learn consistently emphasizes the importance of personalization in the learning process (Russell, 2009). While it’s generally accepted that personalization is a positive goal when designing learning environments, the practical challenges associated with accomplishing this can often be overwhelming.

Personalization requires motivation and relevancy on the part of the learner and educator. Many conventional approaches to supporting learning through courses fail to reach high levels of personalization due to the practical challenges associated with managing large number of learners.

In this article, I explore a very old model of facilitating learning – the apprenticeship. While this approach has been used for centuries, the basic principles hold important opportunities for innovation in modern learning environments.

Apprenticeship Models in Education

For the purposes of this article, I’ll define apprenticeship as an experience that provides guided opportunities for learners to engage in developing knowledge and skills under the direction of a coach or mentor. We have recently seen aspirations to expand these approaches in healthcare, manufacturing, and other high-demand occupational fields (The White House, 2017). The underlying assumption is that this approach can provide an effective means to prepare a competent workforce.

In many cases, the purpose of this approach is to provide learners opportunities to apply their formal educational experiences in the context of “real-world” situations. Traditionally, apprenticeships were oriented around trades where a master craftsperson guided the learner through a co-directed learning experience that could last for many years (Technical Education Matters, 2011).

The primary advantage of apprenticeship models is the opportunities for personalization and customization of learning experiences. This personalization also takes considerable time and resources to deliver, which can limit the ability to scale this approach.

The remainder of this article focuses on how educators can leverage elements of apprenticeship models to personalize and scale high quality learning experiences.

Planning Personalized Learning Experiences

The following diagram is a Strategy Board of an apprenticeship-based learning exercise. The purpose of this Strategy Board is to outline an approach for designing and planning personalized learning experiences using the apprenticeship approach.

Notice the desired result, or evidence of learning, is guided by a project and portfolio of the learning experience. This is decided upon by both the learner and educator and should involve opportunities for public sharing of the result.

This result is supported by intentional practice and progress check-ins using tools like learning contracts and planning meetings with the educator. Feedback should also be provided through other means such as public sharing.

The learning experience is supported through informational resources and specific guides or tutorials for learning skills. This might be delivered online or in-person. The use of online materials can help scale personalized learning experiences. Ongoing communication takes place between the learner and educator which could also be available in groups, if similar interests and topics are present.

The learning experience is largely informal in nature and supported through both virtual and physical learning interactions. The learner takes on high levels of ownership in the learning process. Some formal opportunities like workshops or seminars may also be used to help accomplish specific learning goals. These methods enhance the apprenticeship by aligning it with transformative learning theory frameworks: learner-centered experiences that elicit critical reflection then promote dialogue about the learner’s growth and subsequent change in behavior or perspective.

Image of an LEM Strategy Board for Apprenticeships

Making Apprenticeship Models Practical

Before implementing apprenticeship-based learning opportunities in practice, it’s important to note several key design considerations.

  • Effective apprentice models require considerable time, planning, advanced facilitation skills, and flexibility. You should expect (and be comfortable with) lower levels of structure and allow leaners to play a larger role in defining the goals for the experience.
  • Learners should come with a good idea of their learning goals. This means they should have the ability to reflect on their own learning process and have a level of awareness of their own learning process. The learner and educator should also spend a good deal of time on defining the desired learning outcomes together. Consider using learning contracts as a supportive tool.
  • To scale apprenticeship models effectively, you will need to create a plan and supporting materials for learners. This provides a framework for learners and a method for supporting the holistic learning process while still providing opportunities for personalization.


Apprenticeships provide a valuable framework for innovation and personalization of learning experiences. The benefits of this model offer learners and educators opportunities to increase motivation and relevancy of learning experiences. Scaling personalization beyond a few learners can be one of the more challenging aspects of this approach; however, these challenges can be overcome through careful planning, intentional resources, and supportive tools.

Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t, My Pedagogy

Written by Sam Ladwig, M.F.A, Assistant Professor, Design – 

I teach a creative thinking class that is intentionally unorthodox. It falls into the “healthy life skills” category of core coursework at the University of Central Oklahoma, but it is ultimately a critical thinking course. Although I use several readings from Shane Show’s book Smart Cuts as a guide, there is no “content” in the traditional sense. Further, all of the assignments are pass/fail, and there is no limit on extra credit. Students either participate in what is prepared, or they customize the assignments for their own purposes. The primary learning objective is to explore wonder, curiosity, and play as creative inputs that help generate new questions as well as innovative approaches to solving them, but another objective is for each student to actively construct a positive learning environment that enhances their professional and personal development, especially with regard to metacognitive skills. Many students have written reflection essays that indicate changes in perspective that seem to meet the standard of “transformation,” while others have found it to be somewhat ambiguous and disjointed.

At the most recent UCO Collegium, I was intrigued by the keynote presentation/workshop given by Dr. Claire Major on “7 Evidence-Based Principles for High-Impact Instructional Practice” based on her book, Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. In particular, I found the handouts extremely valuable in identifying specific ways to introduce high impact practices into my existing lectures. These practices seemed like they may help me make a bit more sense out of the complex and tangled creative process and the inherently nonlinear path of generating ideas and developing solutions. So, I ran back to my desk and developed a series of guided questions for two of my courses, Design Foundations II and the course mentioned above, Innovation and Inquiry. In Design Foundations II the use of pre-session quizzes and guided skeletal notes worked like a charm. I was able to highlight prior knowledge (right or wrong) and then go through the lectures with the students already primed to focus on the material.

Here’s the rub. (I know you’re so schooled in the ways of TL you already know the problem.) This very same practice seems to have ruined the environment I have worked so hard to create with the design of Innovation and Inquiry. Guided questions are extremely efficient at helping students condense a chapter into manageable chunks as well as to focus their attention on its explicit message, but that was precisely the problem. I had helped students summarize the author’s point of view instead of using the author’s observations as a starting point for a discussion. The goal of these readings is to explore each student’s perspective on the topic in order to find innovative ways that it could apply to their situation or find opportunities to apply it in new contexts. Instead, I had distilled the topic into clear concise bullet points that could be identified, verified, and set aside. Material that had previously extended a discussion beyond the class period was being covered in half the time, making me look unprepared and boring them to tears. The worst effect of this misapplied practice is that our discussions no longer wander off on tangents, which I believe is the true domain of innovation.

And yet… I recognize that I still need more structure in this course, so rather than regressing to my previous approach, I intend to use the high-impact practices in more specific contexts. By realigning some of the learning goals for this course, I was able to identify the part of the course that I could clarify while simultaneously increasing the learning potential of our discussions. In chapter 6 of How Learning Works by Ambrose et al., the authors explain a framework for understanding stages of intellectual development: dualism, multiplicity, relativism and commitment. Explicitly using this chapter (along with guided questions) as part of the foundation for both divergent and convergent thinking seems to be an appropriate way to clarify the potential of the activities and ensuing discussions without limiting the discussions themselves.

With Innovation and Inquiry, I am trying to help them learn how to learn while reflecting on how each of us is affected by and can have an effect on the world around us. It’s right there in the course title. It’s about new questions. I am not trying to lead them to water. I am trying to help them learn how to lead themselves to water.

I’ll let you know how it goes…



Ambrose, S. A. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2016). Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty.

Snow, S. (2014). Smartcuts: How hackers, innovators and icons accelerate business.

Is Your College a Good Place for Minority Students to Study?

Graphic showing that 65% of white students thought college was a good place to study for minorities, 78% of black students thought so, 82% of Hispanic students thought so, and 79% of Asian students thought so. The question asked was of graduates 1990-2016.

The graphic shows that 65% of white students thought college was a good place to study for minorities, 78% of black students thought so, 82% of Hispanic students thought so, and 79% of Asian students thought so. The question asked was of graduates 1990-2016.

Source: “Is your college a good place for minority students to study? Most students say yes” By Olivia Dimmer 2:00 pm EDT December 14, 2016. Available: http://college.usatoday.com/2016/12/14/is-your-college-a-good-place-for-minority-students-to-study-most-students-say-yes/.

Graphic from the 2016 Gallup-Purdue Index: http://news.gallup.com/reports/199172/6.aspx.