Moving from Outputs to Outcomes: The Hidden Factor in Student Success

The Educate Group
Nov 13, 2019 · 5 min read

In the quest to better serve the rising diverse base of students now entering institutions across the UK, academic managers are looking for the best ways to ensure student’s individual needs can be met predictively.

Just like a scene of Black Mirror, avatar like icons are being created to categorize students into groups that will have predictable behaviours and even predictable outcomes.

The crystal ball of learner analytics has proved to be somewhat effective, ensuring institutions can identify who will need help the most before they do. However, the problem that is beginning to emerge is that we still only end up with a two-dimensional view of the student. Those two dimensions are currently a students’ protected characteristics and learning analytics. Protected characteristics (self-identifying) include age, gender, and disability.

Learning analytics (observed behaviour) include engagement with a virtual learning environment, library, and submissions. Whilst useful, there are still limitations in understanding what the needs of the student are and what best intervention is needed. Seeing that a group of students are not engaging in the way we would expect them to, this still does not help us uncover the ‘Why?’ in their behaviour. To move from outputs to outcomes the quantitative will need to meet with qualitative; we can begin to understand the ‘Why?’ only when we can understand the best ‘fit’ intervention for the student.

Impact = identifying the ‘Why’ of Learner behaviour + best-suited support or curriculum initiative.

Identifying the best fit intervention is the key to moving from outputs to outcomes.

This can be done by measuring the impact of interventions on particular student groups. By monitoring how each group responds to the intervention, we can begin to see what intervention is the most beneficial. This can be achieved through statistical matching methods such as coarsened exact matching and propensity score matching.

The second most important ingredient is engagement. Getting the students to engage with what we know to work. This allows us to start to identify whether a student will engage with an intervention or not. It requires a move from solely looking at protected characteristics and learner analytics, adding another layer of personality types and personality traits.

Personality psychology is a vast field with extensive strands of research and finding the right mechanism to help identify a cohort’s personality won’t be as easy as just handing out a survey. Identifying a student’s personality or personal traits should not be about putting the student into a box and assigning interventions based on their level of introversion or extraversion. Rather, it should be about ‘how’ the student would most want to be engaged for success.

A person might look like a mix of lots of different things; a student can be conscientiousness, however, also has a 1-hour commute and thus, might require a distance learning intervention. A student that may live on campus, but loves speaking and interacting with people may prefer Peer-Assisted Learning as an intervention.

These engagement factors, that is, how likely will a student engage with this, will start to shape which initiatives we fund and which we do not. Whilst the initiative in and of itself may be a great initiative. If the students we are serving are highly unlikely to engage, then it will be a wasted effort for all involved.

At The Educate Group, we have seen that not all students need the same support. Even with something such as writing an essay, we have seen differing needs. When students say they need help with an essay this can mean very different things. From needing help with time management to understanding the fundamentals of the question to overcoming the fear of speaking with the relevant people. Each barrier is often uniquely linked to each student’s persona, with it there also being a key to unlock the challenge they are facing.

There are a wide array of testing methods to understand more about a person’s personality which include;

Whilst they can give us an indication of a students personality we still need to create a space that this information could be used practically in progressing on Degree Courses.

Coaching-Style Conversations

Coaching-style conversations create a space for a person to become Self Aware — identifying how they can use their strengths to move forward. Coaching-style conversations do not have to be intense, many models allow students to focus on their strengths and positives in solving problems and overcoming the barriers that they are faced with.

The GROW Model

The GROW model is a coaching framework used to unlock a persons potential and possibilities. The model can be used for problem-solving, goal setting and performance improvement through conversation, meetings and everyday leadership. The GROW model encompasses four key steps in coaching:

  • Goals (aspirations)
  • Reality (current situation, internal and external obstacles)
  • Options (possibilities, strengths, and resources)
  • Will (actions and accountability)

This approach, with the use of the four key steps, can promote a students confidence and self-motivation. This leads to increased productivity and personal satisfaction in their work and Degree Programme. It would be beneficial to use this approach with students as through exploring these steps, it allows students to set themselves a goal and work out a plausible way for them to achieve it. When done so, the student and staff will see an improvement in performance as the student will feel less burdened and hopeful in their endeavours.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is described as a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s motivation and commitment to change. The approach helps people to resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation to change their behaviours. There are five principles of motivational interviewing:

  • Express empathy through reflective listening
  • Develop discrepancy between students goals or values and their current behaviour
  • Avoid argument and direct confrontation
  • Adjust to client resistance rather than opposing it directly
  • Adjust to client resistance rather than opposing it directly
  • Support self-efficacy and optimism

Gerald Gild Strait determines that student-focused MI has been proven to improve academic grades and reduce risky behaviour within adolescents and works well in conjunction with other evidence-based academic interventions.

Whilst many of the problems may be generic, we must remember they are felt on a personal level. Often students feel they are the only ones who have faced the challenges they are going through. Once we can equip the students with tools from their own arsenal of skills, strengths and values we can the student can move forward with confidence, not only to address the problem faced but address any new problems that may arise.

Regardless of a student’s background or current learning behaviours, faculties will need to create interventions that take into consideration personality traits and how these may feed into communications and engagement.

The Educate Group

Striving for student success.

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