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Project Title:Personalized Learning BA: Computer Information Technology, Small Business Administration, and Liberal ArtsInstitution Name:Northern Arizona University Innovation Category:Program Design and Delivery Project Director:Alison Brown, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Contact Information:(602) 776-4671, Alison.Brown@nau.eduWebsite:http://www.nau.edu/personalized
Project Description:Northern Arizona University’s Personalized Learning (PL) program enables motivated students to earn a high quality BA degree in the fields of Computer Information Technology, Small Business Administration and Liberal Arts quickly and affordably by customizing online coursework to satisfy each student’s learning preferences, goals, and prior experience. Northern Arizona University’s model ensures competency by including shared and open-source content; multiple delivery modules such as video, simulations and gaming; faculty-led mentorships and tutoring; customized instruction; pre- and post-competency testing, prior learning assessment and credit, internships and service learning. The prior learning (PL) model respects adult students’ prior learning by allowing students to earn credit for what they already know, as assessed through pre-tests. 
  • Enable motivated students to graduate with a high quality degree efficiently and at a lower cost by delivering customized coursework to fit individual learning styles and previously acquired knowledge.
  • Continue to fulfill Northern Arizona University’s mission and the Arizona Board of Regents’ mandate to serve rural and underserved populations in the state.
  • Focus on adults with a broad range of experience and competencies who otherwise would not have access to a degree due to family, work and community responsibilities.
  • Maximize the prior learning of adult students while maintaining the highest academic standards.


  • There is no baseline graduation rate for the new Division; we expect the initial rate to be 65% and, given the student-centric learning style and financial incentive, to reach 75% by the fifth year. We expect that students who come to us with no credits will be able to graduate in three years. Students who enroll with some prior earned academic credit, combined with their prior learning, are likely to graduate more quickly.
  • PL enrollment is anticipated to reach 100 students in the first year. As new degrees are added, enrollment is forecasted to reach 6,000 students by the end of the fourth year.
  • Because of modified faculty roles and the mindful use of online assets, the cost of educating each student is anticipated to be less than that for other online students and face-to-face students. All combined, the new faculty roles, rich online assets and innovative design and technology will ensure that the quality of the degrees is maintained. Pervasive assessment of each learning outcome will help PL faculty determined that quality levels are maintained, and technological capabilities will allow for quick adjustments in programmatic delivery as necessary.
  • Demographic data of graduates will be compiled and studied to ensure that PL is fulfilling the mission to fully serve Arizona’s populations. 
  • Academic standards of the PL programs will be continually refined and enhanced via program assessments and reports, faculty participation in peer-based discipline related activities, and pedagogical conferences and programs.


Challenges/Problems Encountered:One of the biggest challenges we encountered was tailoring our competency-based approach for delivery on a standard Learning Management System (LMS). Pearson Learning Studio (PLS) is designed for a linear, semester-based infrastructure, whereas the nature of PL is integrated, interdisciplinary and based in learning chunks, not temporal units. PL was forced to modify almost every aspect of PLS’s approach, including student course enrollments, grading features and term management. The second and on-going challenge is communicating and explaining our competency-based learning model to external agencies. 
Evaluation Approach:Utilizing existing reporting structures within PLS, a two-fold evaluation system unfolds. Before students begin the program, they are pre-evaluated on three critical skills: analysis, writing and quantitative reasoning. After matriculation, the students are assessed through Pre-tests, Post-tests and Mastery items that are tracked back to the Learning Outcomes Management system. This data allows the faculty to review and revise topic content and modality to ensure the best learning experience possible.
Potential for Replication:We believe that our model is highly scalable and can be replicated by other institutions within limits.  There is high potential for reusing lessons learned, modified systems, and independent utilities, apps and code for new majors and programs within PL. As we begin to research our next round of degree offerings we are refining our strategies and attempting to simplify them. 
Additional Resources:An additional contact person is Fred Hurst
Senior Vice President of Extended Campuses
Email: Fred.Hurst@nau.edu
Phone: (928) 523-6598
CEO-to-CEO Contact:John D. Haeger , PresidentJohn.Haeger@nau.edu
(928) 523-3232
Date Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013