• Rethinking Higher Education

    Peter Smith's take on opportunity and access in higher education, the unmet challenges that remain, and the future that lies ahead for those willing to tackle it.

Maturing Practice: Yellowdig

One way to make sure online learning meets the learner's need for community.

May 13, 2020

There are those who worry that online and blended learning are incompatible with the learner’s basic need for community, including social interaction with the teacher and other students. And while I question whether those needs are well met in many traditional classroom settings, the underlying point is absolutely correct. Learning is a social as well as an intellectual and experiential activity. And learning environments that are short on community engagement and personal support will be, generally, less successful that those that are not.

With those quality aspects in mind, Yellowdig is a strong response to that concern. It is also a great example of how the forces that are disruptive to existing models and practices can also be harnessed to create quality and accountability that heretofore would have been impossible to achieve.

The most notable overall characteristic of Yellowdig Engage, their newest product, is that it is utterly adaptable across courses, career services and nonacademic activities, including alumni affairs. It can serve a campus, online or blended educational model. And it generates a level of engagement that would be unattainable in a traditional classroom or online setting.

The notion that learners can talk with each other and their teacher before, during and/or after the course or the activity that they are engaged in is as humanizing as it is powerful. And for educators trying to get information to potential students without calling a meeting, the value is significant.

Consider this admittedly fictional scenario: a rural state is struggling to increase the college-going rate of its high school graduates. But a plethora of obstacles makes progress difficult. One problem is that rural schools are not sufficiently resourced to teach Algebra 2, thus impeding students who want to pursue a technical certificate or degree after graduation. College A in that state puts together a strong Algebra 2 course and offers it online to all the schools in the state. Now we have strong content and a strong central instructor.

Embedded in a Yellowdig Engage community, all the students taking the course can be in conversation with each other and their teacher. They can ask for help, get their work critiqued or problem solve in other ways. They are engaged instead of being isolated, energized instead of being frustrated.

Or, the same state has trouble because high school students are scared away from higher education because of perceived excessive expenses and a FAFSA form that is truly daunting. But College A, or the state financial aid authority, offers a Financing Higher Education and Filling out FAFSA class embedded in a Yellowdig Engage community that includes parents and students. Now questions can be asked, concerns allayed and real answers given either in large group or individual conversations.

Neither of these examples is based on actual postsecondary experience. But they suggest how building community can help across the whole spectrum of educational problems and opportunities.

Online and blended activity no longer have to be lonely and isolated thanks to Yellowdig, a maturing practice.



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