Customized Learning Approaches

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Customized Learning Approaches

Key Takeaways


This report provides examples of universities that have implemented or experimented with customized learning programs, case studies of universities using curriculum designers to achieve objectives like quality assurance, post-pandemic higher education trends, best practices regarding implementing customized learning opportunities, higher education partnerships, Instructure company profile, and profiles of thought leaders in the area of customized learning. The required screenshots of Canvas marketing efforts have been provided in the attached Google document.

Customized Learning Programs

Walden University

  • Walden University is an online university that offers bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and certificate programs
  • Walden implements a customized learning program/plan (CLP) for Tempo Learning students. Tempo Learning students are students who opt for a learning path tailored to their needs and experiences.
  • The plan is developed with guidance from academic coaches at the beginning of a program. At the start of each term, the plan is updated. According to the university, "students are required to have a synchronous phone call with their academic coach to discuss their CLP for the term and agree to credits within the first 2 weeks of the term."
  • The CLP outlines the students' learning objectives for each term, and the competencies they want to fulfill. In addition, the CLP keeps track of their progress in terms of credit equivalencies. The application also gives the academic coach a glimpse of students' progress as it relates to their objectives, giving them an additional tool for coaching and support.
  • The customized learning plan "allows students to map out their educational journey and change that map to account for any unexpected academic or life challenges."
  • According to reviews on Grad Reports and Consumer Affairs, student outcomes have been positively impacted by the use of personalized learning. Most of the negative reviews on both sites are about tuition.
  • To be able to provide this type of personalization, Walden's CIO Karthik Venkatesh indicates that the university had to move its infrastructure to the cloud. This enables the university to meet students' needs in real-time. It has also partnered with technology companies such as Google.
  • Walden University does not mention if it relies on curriculum designers to achieve quality assurance. However, in 2019, it earned an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) effective practice award for " integrating Walden's Social Change Skills Leadership Framework with a more systems-oriented approach to the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework."

Southern New Hampshire University

  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers both undergraduate and graduate programs on a variety of platforms.
  • In 2018, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and LRNG merged and build a learning solution for employers and cities across the United States. According to the press release, the learning model was " designed to address workforce needs and increase access to learning pathways for middle school-aged students through working adults at little-to-no cost using an urban eco-system approach that focuses on low-income populations."
  • SNHU and LRNG communicated a plan to collaborate with cities, corporations, and community-based organizations to assess educational and workforce needs and create learning playlists, digital badges, and/or degree programs based on each city's needs.
  • Students are able to access learning paths that meet their needs by leveraging municipal resources such as libraries and community centers. Each student is assigned a personal academic coach.
  • Students could "access LRNG's learning playlists to develop skills and earn credentials, such as coding or career readiness courses, or they could access SNHU's full competency-based degree programs to earn an associate or bachelor's degree to fit a specific employer and workforce need in their area."
  • The university also awards credits for "shorter-term and job-focused microcredentials." According to SNHU, the courses are developed by subject experts.
  • According to the 2018 press release, the pilot and innovations that were added each year prove that student outcomes were positively impacted by the use of personalized learning. However, recent data to back up this claim was not publicly available.
  • In January, SNHU partnered with edX (EdTech company) to offer personalized MicroBachelors programs in Business Analytics and Data Management.

Rosalind Franklin University

  • Rosalind Franklin University is a private university in North Chicago, Illinois.
  • The university has employed a team of curriculum designers/instruction designers in the department of online learning and instructional design (OLID). The team supports "teaching and learning by developing an innovative and engaging student-centered learning experience."
  • Curriculum designers work with other educators to "design the best possible delivery of content, learning activities, meaningful engagement, and assessment strategies."
  • The course design process focuses on the importance of "quality assurance to meet both student and accreditation needs." The courses are designed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The team focuses on quality assurance and provides a structured monitoring and assessment process for online courses. For instance, they use the quality matters rubric to evaluate the courses.
  • In 2017, the university had 9 certified quality matters reviewers. Each reviewer reviews 2 courses per year using the quality matters rubric. After reviewing courses, they meet with instructors to go over the results.
  • Reviewers give recommendations for improvement for courses that meet the required standards by at least 85%, although nothing has to change. For those that do not meet the required standards by at least 85%, instructors have to make the recommended changes to the course.
  • The team has received positive feedback from students and faculty. Students have praised the "look and feel of the courses."

School of Nursing University of Rochester

  • The university offers a "wide range of degree, post-degree, and certificate options in online and hybrid formats to meet the needs of a diverse and broad spectrum of nursing and health care professionals." It is located in Rochester, New York.
  • The University of Rochester has an instructional design team that supports educators in their quest for educational excellence in order to ensure that all students succeed.
  • The team members have expertise in "curriculum design, course development, experiential learning, and the effective use of educational technology."
  • The instructional design team provides:
  • The team has received positive feedback from students. Students have indicated that learning has become fun and interactive. They also feel "confident and equipped" to begin their careers.
  • The university has also been ranked "26th among the nation’s best master’s nursing programs, according to the 2022 Best Graduate Schools guide produced by U.S. News & World Report."


Trend #1: Blended Learning

  • According to Ryan Lufkin, senior director of education product marketing at Instructure, "blended learning, supported by a technology framework that helps organize course content, communication, and common workflows, will become the new standard across all courses in higher education."
  • Blended learning/hybrid learning is a "method of teaching that integrates technology and digital media with traditional instructor-led classroom activities, giving students more flexibility to customize their learning experiences."
  • The 2021 Educause Horizon Report indicates that there has been widespread adoption of blended/hybrid learning models since the pandemic's beginning.
  • Higher learning institutions are responding to the trend by putting measures in place that support hybrid learning for both online and on-campus. For instance, "San Diego State University is equipping nearly 200 of its classrooms with microphones to better support hybrid approaches to learning."
  • A higher education institution offering hybrid/blended learning models measure competencies by regularly reviewing direct assessments and hybrid programs in "light of its mission in order to ensure that it identifies any areas of weakness in the programs and implements timely improvements."
  • To measure competency outcomes institutions have mechanisms for determining "how modules and competencies in the direct assessment program are equivalent to traditional courses and credit or clock hours in a conventional course-based program, and how the modules and competencies are related to accepted expectations of academic achievement and rigor."

Trend #2: Converting Traditional Curricula

  • The pandemic highlighted the necessity to digitize and tailor curricula with an eye on students' future jobs.
  • According to Goodwin University, "many institutions have partnered with local businesses, civic leaders, and state lawmakers to create curricula that provide programs that impart industry-specific skill sets. In these specialized subjects, sectors in need of nationwide revival like advanced manufacturing can produce educated, qualified employees ready to work."
  • According to Goodwin University, the pandemic has caused a change in the traditional curricula. Instructors' methods for imparting new knowledge are evolving along with students' ability to absorb information.
  • Institutions are implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to make education accessible regardless of the location of learners.
  • The UDL framework "takes the monotony out of memorization strategies applied in traditional settings. UDL allows learners to demonstrate their mastery of course material on their terms, giving students the option to relay what they’ve learned by way of writing, animation, song, podcast, dance, or other methods of their choosing."

Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Build Core Capabilities in Student Analytics

  • To successfully implement customized learning opportunities for college and university students, the institution is required to "build core capabilities in student analytics and change management. "
  • The use of student analytics to improve individual student achievement, however, is what drives personalized/customized learning.
  • According to Educause, "this requires moving from the static data traditionally used for accountability purposes to gathering and using real-time learning and advising data, which can inform decision-making for administrators, student supports, and students themselves. This type of data allows important stakeholders to make informed, action-oriented decisions and allocate resources for student success."
  • The Norris/Baer Framework shows the impact of using data for learners' success and how the institution needs to adjust. It can also be used to offer a diagnostics review that institutions can use to develop student analytics capabilities.

Best Practice #2: Course Design that Caters for Various Learning Styles

  • SDT (Self Determination Theory) presents a motivational concept that considers innate psychological requirements for "competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
  • The theory can be used to design activities that "support autonomy, competence, and relatedness." Learning opportunities that allow students to make their own decisions support self-regulating and self-initiating among students.
  • A 2002 study carried out by Assor, Roth, and Kaplan found that relevant curriculum is a factor that contributes to sentiments of autonomy. Other researchers have suggested that "fostering relevance in the learning environment might be a supportive practice that enhances autonomy, resulting in supporting learners’ goals, interests, and value."
  • Studies have also shown the importance of students’ motivation in online learning environments.
  • A study that was done by Chen and Jang in 2010 "identified how to mediate the effect of online learners’ need satisfaction between contextual support and motivation/self-determination and suggested providing online learners with a learner-centered environment, flexible learning options, and a choice in learning strategies, emphasizing that online instructors need to provide customized facilitation to individuals to reduce uncertainty to promote motivated and self-determined online learners.
  • To offer course designs that cater to various learning styles, colleges and universities need to "customize learning activities to tap into the unique attributes" of each type of learner.



  • Universities and other higher learning institutions should partner with educational technology companies to develop and implement customized learning programs. Partnerships with corporations can help universities offer new areas of study to students, offer certificates that supplement students' knowledge, and offer relevant skills to students.
  • Research done by Evolllution indicates that "70% of employers believe that employees need continuous learning simply to keep up with the demands of their current jobs and 96% of employers say ongoing education improves job performance."
  • University-corporation partnerships require universities to mold their programming and structure to meet the needs of the corporation.
  • Universities that implement customized learning programs "encourage more companies to look at innovative approaches to delivering learning to their employees." For instance, Western Governors University in Utah utilizes an asynchronous competency-based model where learners are in control of "when and where they study."

Successful Student Outcomes

  • According to Evolllution, "corporate training stands to help colleges and universities generate new revenue and increase ties with industry while also giving employees a way to stay abreast of change and expand their skills."
  • Universities that implement customized learning programs such as Western Governors University provide options to working adult students to complete their studies while doing well in their jobs.

Educational Technology (EdTech) companies

  • According to Investopedia, EdTech "refers to hardware and software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students' education outcomes."
  • EdTech is showing promise as a means of tailoring a curriculum to a student's level of ability by presenting and reinforcing new knowledge at a pace that the learner can handle.
  • Universities can partner with educational technology companies to develop and implement customized learning programs. Numerous universities such as Arizona State University, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University have partnered with EdTech companies to implement customized learning programs.
  • Partnerships with EdTech companies may entail these companies bridging the gap between institutions and learners. For instance, universities such as Yale and Northwestern University use U2 (EdTech company) to progress student application, provide support to students, and a self-service portal to offer tailored experience to each student.
  • EdTech Companies can be online program managers and also "enable universities to address new markets, including international students, students that are looking for flexible online study options, lifelong learners and corporate clients."
  • Partnerships with education technology companies will also enable universities to create a "more skilled workforce." According to Marcel Valenta, Head of Corporate Development of ASU Enterprise Partners, education technology has proved its capacity to provide new approaches to generate a more prepared workforce.

Successful Student Outcomes

  • For instance, EdTech companies like AstrumU enable institutions of higher learning to "drive enrollment and increase alumni and corporate engagement, while extending economic mobility opportunities inclusively to all learners." These companies are able to develop individualized/customized pathways for students.
  • EdTech companies such as InsideSherpa have created virtual micro-internships that "makes it possible for anyone to understand what various companies and careers could be like and provide them access to employers seeking their talent, even if they cannot traditionally access it. Learners can enroll in internships from afar and still participate in real-world experiences."

Thought Leaders

James Lang

  • James Lang is a "Professor of English and the Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University in Worcester, MA." He is also a monthly columnist for "The Chronicle of Higher Education."
  • He has written various books including "Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It," "Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning," "Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty," and "On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching."
  • According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, James Lang's argument in the Small Changes in Teaching series is that simple pedagogical modifications in small things such as course design and classroom practices can have a significant impact on learning.

Flower Darby

  • Flower Darby is an educator, author, and speaker. She speaks and consults with "faculty and business teams on effective teaching for learners' success. Specializing in online teaching and training best practices."
  • She is also the "Director of Teaching for Student Success at Northern Arizona University" where she taught English, Leadership, Educational Technology, among other subjects.
  • She argues that culturally responsive pedagogy and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help bring inclusivity in a virtual classroom. UDL "takes research on how people learn and applies it to course design and teaching."
  • Darby advises instructors to "treat online students with respect and compassion" to be able to achieve better and "more engaging online classes."
  • Here is a link to articles published by Flower Darby.

Eric Mazur

  • Eric Mazur is a Harvard physics professor. He developed the Peer Instruction method after realizing that his physics students were struggling to grasp fundamental topics.
  • Eric Mazur is the founder of SiOnyx Inc. and a co-founder of Perusall and Learning Catalytics.
  • According to Eric Mazur's LinkedIn posts, he argues that "improving pedagogy and learning" is the answer to better learning.
  • According to a recent Chronicle article, Eric Mazur argues that online learning is better than in-person classes. This is because online learning can allow students to learn at their own pace which enables them to "work through problems or get help as needed."

Sarah Kavanagh

  • Sarah Kavanaugh is the Education Director — Information Technology Programs and Academic Data Systems Administration at Wisconsin Technical College System. She is also an educational consultant.
  • Prior to joining the Wisconsin Technical College System, she was a paralegal at Sipsma, Hahn & Brophy, L.L.C.
  • Sarah Kavanagh's recent thoughts on customized learning approaches and/or motivational / engagement tactics are not publicly available.

Jing Qi

  • Jing Qi is a Learning Analytic Lead and LMS Specialist at Dartmouth College. Prior to joining Dartmouth College, she was the Director of Information Management and Institutional Research at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
  • She has worked in the field of "educational research and instructional technologies for many years. Using her solid background in computer science, extensive experience in statistics using R, and strong interest in data visualization, she integrates the core elements of learning analytics and educational technology in the exploration of Analytics in Instructions and Learning."
  • She has not published any thoughts on customized learning approaches and/or motivational / engagement tactics in the past year. Her most recent article was published in May 2020 where she highlights the importance of learners and educators being part of the data processing process for "educators to provide proper interventions, and for the learners to follow guidance and achieve desirable actions/behaviors."

John Leh

  • John Leh is the "CEO and Lead Analyst of Talented Learning and a trusted learning tech industry veteran with over 25 years and $75 million-worth of front-line experience in buying and selling complex learning solutions." He is also a learning technology consultant, podcaster, and blogger.
  • Prior to joining Talented Learning, he was the Vice President, Strategic Accounts at Meridian Knowledge Solutions.
  • Most articles published by John Leh are about extended enterprise learning. However, in a March 2021 article, John Leh advises decision-makers to have future plans and ensure that their plans are flexible. He also argues that digital transformation is the most common and consistent theme among learning professionals.
  • Here is a link to articles published by John Leh.


  • Instructure was founded in 2008 and has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • It an education technology company offering products that assist in "grading assignments, integrating calendars, and editing content, as well as communication notifications, a variety of teaching tools, group studies, online testing, assignment submission, chat, and student reporting tools."

Products and Services

  • Canvas LMS is a learning management system for all aspects of higher education learning.
  • Canvas Studio is a video education platform for higher education learning. It offers video learning anywhere/anytime, easy video collaboration, and streaming capabilities across multiple platforms and devices.
  • Canvas Catalog is a branded marketplace for the institution's course offerings.
  • Pathways engages "students through custom, stackable pathways, helps them navigate their academic and co-curricular journeys, and provides a roadmap for acquiring new skills."
  • Program Assessment is a platform that provides program and institution assessments in a centralized place, "as well as a scalable strategy framework that both faculty and administrators can easily act on. "
  • MasteryConnect offers standards-based insights for K-12 learners and teachers while "MasteryView Assessments are short, expertly-created formatives that clearly and efficiently reveal students’ mastery of key learning standards."
  • Navigate Item Bank helps teachers/instructors get feedback about students' knowledge.
  • CASE Assessment offerings include "benchmarks to gauge students’ progress at key points during the school year, a tightly-aligned item bank that reflects state assessment rigor, and an ACT practice test to ensure students are prepared for the next step in their academic career."
  • Videri is an application "that combines data from key district data sources and provides access to highly interactive visualizations of integrated data so educators can measure, manage, and improve student outcomes."
  • Certify ensures that data from districts is accurate, up to date, and complete.

Competitive Advantage

  • Instructure has more than 6,000 global customers. It has 99.9% system uptime and over "90% best-in-class customer satisfaction score."
  • Canvas was designed from the "ground up to be cloud-native" making it reliable from customers' perspective.
  • Canvas LMS can be used by everyone from K-12 learners to business leaders.
  • Canvas is user-friendly and supports SIS and open LTI integrations.
  • Canvas is powered "by one of the largest, most active, most connected educator communities."
  • Canvas users describe it as the most usable, customizable, adaptable, and reliable learning platform. It can also be adopted faster than any other LMS.

Canvas Marketing/Positioning Efforts

  • Here is a link to a Google document with screenshots of examples of Canvas marketing efforts.
  • LTI is the most common Canvas plugin. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of Canvas Enhancements.

Research Strategy

To provide the required information, we leveraged information from credible technology news publications, industry reports, scholarly articles and publications, company/university websites, press releases, and media reports.

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