Learning without grades
Education in America is focused on how many days you spend in the classroom, and the grades you are assessed. Education in America rarely focuses on mastering new skills and quantified evidence of learning. If you show up for every class and you get a passing grade, you have passed the course, even if you haven't mastered everything covered in the course.
Students who wish to complete a course or a degree don't have to really strive -- they just have to figure out how to pass a few tests, and how to impress the teacher enough to get a passing grade; students have been known to beg, cry or even cheat their way to a better grade. Students learn that the emphasis of their studies should be focused on jumping through the right hoops, at the right time, and cramming for tests. Sure there are some students who really try for deep learning and put all their effort into their studies, but the vast majority are there to do just the most minimum effort.
Master The Skills
College for America CFA) has designed a new approach to higher education, and theirs is the first program accredited by the US Dept. of Education based authorizing funding/payment based on skills learned vs. time spent in the class (contact hours). Students do not get letter grades, and they are not subjected to the vagueness of Pass/Fail; there is no teacher to beg for a better grade. Students are assessed with either Not Yet or Mastery. They need to fully master 120 skills to graduate, and can move through the course at their own pace. They negotiate the length of time they will spend on assignments (projects); they even get to pick their own graduation date. Miss a date? No problem, they are learning through their own "failure".
Blue Vs. Purple
Students at CFA have to complete about 40 unique projects. Smaller projects that are easier "to eat" are called Blue Projects. Purple projects are more complex, and involve more skills. Every student needs to complete at least 3 Purple projects, in addition to a few group projects in order to graduate. It is easy to reject any educational scheme that doesn't involve the letters A, B, C, D & F --- because we have been conditioned to see those letters as the gold standard of education.
No Grades - Self Paced & NO Teachers??
Typically only a few students get As and that means everyone else has failed to grasp all of the material. How can that be the gold standard? Everyone learns differently and the online, self paced courses offered by CFA compel students to master each of the skills not 60% or 70% but 100%. The educational coaches at CFA, and the structure of the Blue & Purple projects, and even the negotiation over the time limits for the assignments "force" students to not only learn, but to think about how they learn, and to learn enough about themselves to master their own educational journey.
Today CFA is open to students whose employers are partnered with College for America. This includes many famous companies like McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, The Gap, GULF Oil, and ConAgra. They have also been cited by the White House and President Obama as one of the examples of how American education needs to transform. One of the benefits that will appeal to both students and employers is the Associate degree costs $2,500 per year. Finish in a year and $2,500 is the total bill -- often paid by the employer through their tuition assistance program. CFA also offers a BA in in communications and healthcare management (with more on the way); students need to complete the Associate degree first. The BA is also very affordable.
CLA Yvonne Simon
In this episode of Talking About Everything, I discuss education theory and the practical implications for this new style of education with CFA's Chief Learning Architect Yvonne Simon. Yvonne is the former CEO of the SNHU Online education program and was the co-founder and VP at Six Red Marbles.
Lead Learning Coach
In this episode I also speak with Deo Mwano who is the lead learning coach at CFA. His personal journey is remarkable but no more so than the 100s or even 1000s of educational journeys that he and his team help CFA students accomplish.
"Deo Mwano joined College for America at Southern New Hampshire University in January of 2013 as a Learning Coach and was part of the original pilot program launch. The coaching team and he developed the coaching model with a focus on the student experience. His focus was on helping students adapt and succeed in a personalized online competency program. He learned how to work with a diverse group of students and had some of the first graduates.
Today, Deo is a Team Lead Learning Coach. He develops student success skills through coaching and training other coaches and partners. He oversees coaching development strategies by researching and conducting studies on other effective coaching methods. Deo works closely with employer partners to customize the coaching support to the students’ environment. His experience with College for America has strengthened his ability to help a wide range of people achieve their personal goals."