Iowa State University Page Banner
Our Work

Equitable Digital Learning

Within APLU, the Office of Digital Transformation for Digital Success works with institutions to leverage educational technology tools and data as critical tools for improving teaching and learning. We use collaborative projects as an opportunity to connect with key teaching and learning stakeholders (including administrators, instructional designers, centers for teaching and learning, department chairs, deans, and instructors) to center the student experience and use evidence-based practices to improve success outcomes for marginalized students including racially minoritized students, poverty-impacted students, first-generation students, transfer students, and adult learners.

Every Learner Everywhere

Every Learner Everywhere is a network of partner organizations with expertise in evaluating, implementing, scaling, and measuring the efficacy of education technologies, curriculum and course design strategies, teaching practices, and support services that personalize instruction for students in blended and online learning environments. The network’s mission is to help institutions use new technology to innovate teaching and learning, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes and opportunities for Black, Latino/Latina, and Indigenous students, poverty-affected students, and first-generation students.

APLU is a lead partner and technical service provider within the Every Learner Everywhere network, and many of APLU’s Equitable Digital Learning projects have been supported by the generous funding and partnership of the Every Learner Everywhere network. The partnership started in 2016, when APLU was selected to be a founding partner of the network based on our expertise in adaptive courseware, blended learning, and knowledge of four-year institutions. Every Learner Everywhere began fiscally supporting APLU through grants in 2017 and continuing through the present to work on a variety of initiatives centered on equitable digital learning. In our current partnership, APLU collaborates with the backbone team on network strategy and on planning the trajectory of the network’s activities to best serve the higher education community in the area of equitable digital learning.

In undertaking the complex challenges of improving pedagogy and leveraging new technology to equitably improve student success outcomes, APLU recognizes the importance of learning with a network of peers. Many of our grant-funded projects of the past decade brought together faculty, administrators, and staff across institutions to share expertise within and across disciplines, experiences, course delivery, and other topics.

In 2021 and 2022, APLU, with support from Achieving the Dream and the Online Learning Consortium, led four distinct disciplinary communities of practice in Biology, Chemistry, Writing, and Mathematics & Statistics. The disciplines were selected to represent the top 20 gateway courses that have the highest rates of course drops, failures, withdrawals, and incompletes (DFWI), and we coordinated with disciplinary faculty from 8 institutions. The communities of practice were intentionally designed to create peer-to-peer networking, as well as facilitation and coaching from expert mentors and exemplar institutions. Each semester of these communities of practice centered on a theme and featured 3 facilitated synchronous virtual sessions that were paired with weekly, facilitated asynchronous activities and engagement. The 2021-2022 themes and topics were:

Fall 2021: Getting to know our students: increasing engagement in digital learning environments
October: Equitizing Your Syllabus
November: Assessing Students with Care
December: Self Awareness, Self-Reflection, and Transparency in Teaching
Spring 2022: Developing Critical Engagement in and across our Disciplines
February: Sharing Discipline-Specific Resources for Building Critical Engagement
March: Implementing Open Pedagogy and Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices
April: Supporting Instructors and Students as Agents of Change

Following the Personalized Learning Consortium’s Accelerating Adoption of Adaptive Courseware grant, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided APLU with additional funding to support the participating institutions with further analysis to examine student-level outcomes. This project reached more than 383,425 students between six institutions in three years of implementation, and we found that year over year, courses that leveraged adaptive courseware and other pedagogical improvements improved student success outcomes faster than courses that did not use courseware.

The Accelerating Adoption of Adaptive Courseware grant program began in 2016 and ended in 2020, which gave instructors years to review, iterate, and improve their use of adaptive courseware and instructional strategies. With this amount of time, APLU was also able to compare student outcome data year over year through the measure of student course grades. We found that while most courses saw improvements in student outcomes, the courses that leveraged adaptive courseware saw improvements faster than the same courses that did not use adaptive courseware.
A full report on this student will be available in late 2023.

  • Equity gaps for Black, Native American and Asian were reduced when compared to White students
  • Latinx/Hispanic students also had year over year gains, but equity gaps were not reduced as much as the subpopulations above
  • Fifty percent of all (225) courses participating were able to integrate and scale adaptive courseware to all sections in three years
  • Student records from six institutions numbered 383,425
  • A deeper look into this project and its results will be available in our forthcoming report later this year. Please questions on this work, please reach out to Julia Chadwick at jchadwick@aplu.org

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 global pandemic, digital learning became a ubiquitous, catch-all phrase for any kind, amount, or quality of education that used a computer, mobile device, or internet. At APLU, it is paramount for us to distinguish between a vague concept of digital learning and high-quality digital learning. High quality digital learning “comprises the technology and teaching practices that use technology to enhance learning. It includes a broad range of content and communication tools, curricular models, design strategies, and services that personalize instruction for students in face-to-face, blended, or online learning.” High-quality digital learning leverages evidence-based teaching practices, such as high-impact practices, active learning, adaptive learning, among others, to support students and instructors with creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment to improve academic outcomes, particularly for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, poverty-impacted, and first-generation students.

There are thousands of different digital tools available to use for digital learning, from adaptive courseware platforms to AI chatbots. While the tools you select may impact your work, we believe that institutional infrastructure and intentional implementation are the foundation for high-quality digital learning to improve equitable student outcomes. Institutional infrastructure as it relates to digital learning include leadership, budget, and policy; course design and delivery; student success for digital learning; evaluation and analytics; professional learning; and technology infrastructure. Student success does not rest with one individual instructor or unit, and therefore requires collaboration across parts of the organization that may have been siloed historically.