How to Bring Student Support into the Classroom

When I was earning my doctorate, I admit that I struggled to keep up with the material. I’m not what you would call a “traditional student.” Additionally, because I held a demanding teaching job and had a family to care for, I could only take one class at a time and my attention was not focused on my doctorate alone. This caused many challenges while I slowly earned my degree. After spending my days as a dean of instruction, I drove over an hour to campus to attend class, scarfing a sandwich on the way. During long lectures that sometimes went well into the night, I couldn’t help but doze off a few times due to my rigorous schedule. 

Studies have shown that breaking up lecture with varying activities can increase student grades and outcomes significantly. Click To Tweet

I’m far from an outlier in these experiences, even though I earned my doctorate some time ago. That is exactly why I founded my own university. I wanted to help learners work through the tough balancing act of life while earning a degree. There are lots of ways we work to bring educational access to learners all over the world, but one of the main methods is through our mentor-learner structure.

A mentor and a mentee (or student and teacher) sit opposite each other at a small table holding cups of coffee
Photo by Joshua Ness

This format is unique and not common in the higher education industry (in fact, I’m not aware of any other institution that offers it), but it’s our little secret that I’m letting you in on. It’s based on a common concept that every student is unique. You may have heard of different learning styles such as visual learners, audio learners, and kinesthetic learners. There are plenty of teachers at every level, from K-12 to professors in PhD programs, who integrate interactive strategies to their course structure. This helps to diversify the material and addresses many different learning styles. Studies have shown that breaking up lecture with varying activities can increase student grades and outcomes significantly. 

With most traditional higher education institutions focusing on the work of the professor rather than student outcomes, many students with different learning styles are left behind, even when integrative teaching styles are applied. Click To Tweet

However, with most traditional higher education institutions focusing on the work of the professor rather than student outcomes, many students with different learning styles are left behind, even when integrative teaching styles are applied. This is not due to professors’ lack of effort, but due to a structure that does not support the student goals. From a business perspective, this translates to companies not working to satisfy their customers. It’s antithetical to core business goals and can ultimately lead to many severe outcomes such as, graduates who are not prepared for the workforce

Individuality in education

One of the main ways in which higher education institutions can support their students is through outcome-based education. You can click here to read more about how outcome-based education can revolutionize the way we view higher education, as well as the way students are treated in this environment. 

In order to achieve ambitious learning outcomes, I built my university on the principles of individualized learning and focused on applied degrees. Our unique mentor-learner structure reinforces these concepts and allows students with all learning styles to achieve both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Many educational systems continue at their own pace with little regard for those who struggle to keep up with the material (much like I did). My team and I have worked tirelessly to break those molds in order to support learners throughout their educational journeys. 

Building relationships 

Typical relationships between a professor and a student involve scheduled lectures, a few emails back and forth regarding assignments or readings, and possibly one or two short office visits. Many times, professors have so many responsibilities they find it difficult to meet the needs of every student and some even have aides who conduct lectures and answer students’ questions. This leads to students who often feel devalued by the institution. My goal in creating the mentor-learner structure was to establish ongoing relationships between a professional in the field and the mentee looking to learn from them. 

We are always improving our systems to ensure no learner is left behind. Click To Tweet

Mentors work one on one with each of their learners in order to ensure curriculum mastery. It allows each learner to communicate freely with their mentor. Without the burden of logging in at a specific time, learners can reach out as often or as rarely as they wish, fitting each course into their busy lives. Mentors have the opportunity to tailor their communication styles to the individual rather than delivering one blanket message to an oversized lecture hall. 

Without the burden of creating and delivering lectures, mentors are free to focusing on developing a deep understanding of the course curriculum and take time with learners who want more support. We hire mentors who not only hold the highest degrees, but also those who work directly in their field allows them to have explicit practical knowledge of how the curriculum fits into the professional world. They have access to the newest industry trends and integrate them into their approach so the learners can see the clear path between the learning material and its applications in the modern workplace. 

Four people examine a computer screen
Photo by Mimi Thian

Education can be tailored to the individual, but only if the university is willing to think outside the box of a lecture hall. A mentor-learner structure removes many relational barriers as well as barriers professors face in delivering lectures that leave many students behind. It allows the educational experience to be delivered on an individual basis and gives learners the opportunity to determine how much or how little support they need from their mentor. 

Working together with a student advising team that is dialed into what each learner needs, this educational experience supports each learner at every step of the process. From application to graduation, relationships are what matter and they are what carry us through to reach our goals. The goal we set out to reach was to transform higher education into an individualized experience that works with students’ schedules. The mentor-learner structure is a huge piece of how we accomplish that every day and we are always improving our systems to ensure no learner is left behind. Learn more about the mentor-learner structure here


About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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