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Higher Education

Western Governors University’s Opens Center for Applied Learning Sciences

By Cait Etherington
July 25, 2018

Western Governors University (WGU) is now one of the most well-established fully online universities in the United States and as its reputation for excellence in teaching and mentorship continues to grow. To find solid evidence of WGU’s commitment to teaching and learning, one need only turn to a Gallup study released earlier this year. The study found that 72% of WGU graduates strongly agree that their education was worth the cost, and 74% of graduates say they are extremely likely to recommend the university to their family, friends and colleagues. Given WGU’s demonstrated commitment to teaching and learning, it is no surprise that the university has now launched the Center for Applied Learning Science (CALS). Among other things, CALS will mine WGU’s extensive data sets on student outcomes to discover how and when students learn most effectively.

WGU’s Center for Applied Learning Sciences

CALS will be a nonprofit innovation lab focused on improving student outcomes with technology, design thinking, and rigorous research methods. CALS will collaborate with several other institutions and organizations and most importantly, leverage data acquired from WGU’s 100,000 enrolled students and 115,000 graduates. As stated on the CALS website, the center’s interdisciplinary team aims to bring experience, knowledge, and innovation to the broader project of improving learning outcomes creating happy, engaged, and effective learners, and employing the gold standard of clinical research when possible to ensure research efficacy.

As stated in a press release issued last week, WGU President Scott D. Pulsipher is excited about the center’s development and what it means for WGU and more generally, teaching and learning in a digital era: “WGU’s proven learning model, innovative spirit, and scale positions CALS well to become the epicenter of applied learning science research. The creation of CALS supports WGU’s objective to expand our impact on student success by developing and implementing new technologies and learning models that will improve student outcomes, not just for our students, but for all students.”

CALS will be led by Jason Levin, WGU’s current Vice President of Institutional Research. As Levin emphasizes, “It is well known that education leads to employment, higher wages, and even longer, healthier lives. We believe all students investing time, money, energy, and effort in their education deserve to succeed and attain these benefits. We’re focused on tough problems and know our success depends on like-minded partners willing to try new things.” Levin also acknowledges that the scale of WGU, which serves over 100,000 students nationwide, uniquely situations the university to carry out educational research: “CALS and WGU are uniquely positioned to rapidly design, test, and refine effective learning solutions. Approximately 6,000 students start WGU each month—not only in spring or fall like most other schools. We can conduct rigorous research at a fast pace, letting students try our designs, measure results, improve, and test again.”

Current CALS Research Projects

Although just recently launched, CALS already has several research studies underway. In one current project, “Improving Math Outcomes,” the CALS research team is designing “a comprehensive set of activities that focus on strengthening math concepts while targeting emotional barriers to learning math.” Specifically, the team hopes to develop content for at-risk adult students. Another project, “Psychological Factors Leading to Student Success,” hopes to identify student behaviors that support learning engagement and study patterns.  Other current projects underway at CALS include a project on utilizing personal support systems, another focused on professional leadership and communication, one exploring factors that support a successful transition to college, and finally, a research project on time management. In addition to the above projects, CALS is currently accepting research proposals from investigators. For more information, visit the CALS website.