Hallmarks of the Breakthrough Models, #1: Modular Courses

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series of Monday posts which will each highlight a distinguishing design characteristic of NGLC’s recently funded Breakthrough Postsecondary Models, as described in their profiles.

NGLC's third wave of funding sought to foster the development of "Breakthrough Models for College Completion." Ten models were funded, each of which represents an institution’s new or substantially transformed degree program expressly engineered to the goal of making college more accessible, affordable, and effective. While these models share broad and ambitious goals, each represents a distinctive design. Each model bears the individual stamp of the institution or organization creating it, incorporates elements which utilize technology differently, and innovates in ways especially appropriate to the students and in some cases the region it has been designed to serve.

One such distinctive characteristic is instructional delivery via modular courses. That is, they’re composed of units that can be recombined in flexible ways. Modularity is a design component familiar in everyday life: Legos, parkas with zip-off hoods, charm bracelets. Modularity in course design makes it possible to meet different levels of student knowledge and different student needs, allowing students to make faster progress and use their time more profitably. In a modular course, those who need to review the fundamentals can do so by working through the modules which address those basic concepts, while those who have studied the subject more recently, more successfully, or in more depth can move to later modules. Guided by assessments before they begin and after they complete each module, learners can work on exactly those materials that they need to master rather than moving in lockstep through the entire range of what the course covers, whether they are already familiar with some of it or not.

Modular courses are important components of two of the breakthrough models: those of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and the University System of Georgia (USG).  KCTCS is transforming its online Learn on Demand program for greater flexibility and faster completion time, with the new online program to be known as Direct2Degree. In the transformation, the system will move from a model in which full-time students in online programs take three or four courses over each 15-week academic term to one in which students take one module at a time, with a goal of mastering the material it includes. Each general education course is broken into two to three modules with defined competencies; pre-module assessments confirm student readiness to learn the material they contain, and post-module assessments ensure that students understand the content of the module before they go forward.  Direct2Degree will work through the models sequentially, completing each in a dramatically shorter period of time and progressing at their own pace. Faculty will assess the progress of individual students using pre-designed instruments and rubrics. At the same time, dedicated success coaches based at the six KCTCS campuses offering this program will provide intensive support for students via videoconferencing and other online communication tools. See KCTCS’s profile to learn more.

The University System of Georgia’s breakthrough model, offered in partnership with Columbus State University, will lead to students’ completion of a certificate, an associate’s degree, and ultimately a bachelor’s degree in communication with a civic leadership focus. In the course of attaining these intermediary markers of achievement, students will be able to earn up to 30 hours of credit through competency-based formats including outcomes-based modules, in-house prior learning assessment, portfolio options tied to service learning, and nationally recognized assessments from external organizations. The online modules will be self-paced, allowing for individualized student learning, and they will serve as a complement to instructor-paced short-session online courses. The modules will be available for completion at any time during enrollment. Learn more about the University System of Georgia’s model and see a diagram of student progress to degree in their profile.