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The 4 Essential Ingredients for Comprehensive Learner Record Success

July 26, 2018 Alexa Wesley NASPA

How can institutions leverage current systems and new technologies to document and showcase the accumulation of learning that occurs throughout a student’s educational journey? The development of comprehensive learner records (CLRs) are a potential answer to that question. Learning happens in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside the classroom during activities such as internships, study abroad, research opportunities, and community-engagement and leadership programs. For adult students as well as active duty military and veteran students, there’s also a need for a record that can represent competency-based education programs and learning acquired during other prior professional and training experiences.

The traditional academic transcript provides a verified record of a student’s credits, grades, and completion and its value to other institutions will endure. However, the evolving needs of students and prospective employers now call for a supplemental record that can capture the holistic student experience and accurately reflect a student’s range of knowledge, skills, and abilities. A CLR can serve as a formative tool that enables students to express qualifications and articulate their stories in a more detailed and complete way than they could with a resume and traditional transcript alone. 

With Lumina Foundation support, NASPA and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) are working together to support the development and scaling of CLRs. The pilot phase of the project involved close consultation with 12 institutions that developed CLRs which included e-portfolios, co-curricular transcripts, and badges. The second phase of the project is currently underway and focuses on facilitating CLR development and adoption at colleges and universities across the country.

While there is no single best recipe for a CLR model that works for all campuses, there are still a few key ingredients that NASPA and AACRAO see as guidelines to sustained implementation success.

Project Team: The development and institution-wide adoption of a CLR requires strong leadership and cross-functional collaboration. CLR operational and policy considerations should be discussed among a diverse group of stakeholders, with members from the registrar, academic affairs, student affairs, information research, and information technology. Registrars can focus on verifying learning and determining how learner record information will be recognized by the institution. Faculty and other members from academic affairs can lead the conversation around the assessment of learning outcomes. Student affairs professionals can promote the use of the CLR and help students identify and pursue a wide variety of activities that can count towards the record. Partnering with the IR office is critical to understanding where institutions are already collecting and storing data and how to streamline multiple data systems. Given the digital nature of CLRs, early involvement from IT is essential.

Learning Frameworks for Mapping Learning Outcomes/Competencies: Organizational learning frameworks provide clarity around definitions and categorizations of learning at an institution. Establishing an agreed upon framework requires thoughtful deliberation from the project team members and other stakeholders, since it largely serves as the backbone informing the functional design of the CLR itself. Institutions may develop their own learning framework internally, or they may draw from existing frameworks, such as the Degree Qualifications Profile, AAC&U LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, NIRSA Core Competencies, NACE Career-Readiness Competencies, or the NILOA Transparency Framework. Each institution-wide learning framework will provide buckets in which a student’s learning outcomes and competencies can be sorted during the learning assessment process.

Assessment of Learning: The quantity of learning – such as the number of courses taken or the time spent participating in a campus activity – is relatively easy to measure; the quality of learning, however, is often more subjective and challenging to capture. A student’s participation in a student government organization does not necessarily serve as evidence that a student had a meaningful learning experience or developed any civic engagement competencies. Institutions need to have a clear process in place for assessing and validating the depth of student learning. At the University of Central Oklahoma, for example, faculty and staff who evaluate students are trained on how to utilize AAC&U LEAP/Value frameworks to measure and assess progress of learning along three levels: exposure, integration, and transformation. A student may receive credit for exposure to learning by attending an event, but they must demonstrate the drawing of connections to other experiences through written reflections or presentations in order for the learning to be considered integrated or transformative. Having a shared institution-wide understanding of what learning looks like should help ensure reliable, consistent assessment of student experiences.

Integration of Data that Reflects Student Learning from Multiple Places:

Student learning data may exist in multiple places, including an institution’s student information system, learning management system, co-curricular system, electronic catalog, or other internal databases. Data across these various systems will need to be securely integrated and connected to a common identifier in order to populate a student’s CLR. Institutions with sufficient expertise and infrastructure capacities may be able to build from an existing system through a homegrown approach, while others may work with vendors to create an external data warehouse. Regardless of approach to achieving system interoperability, all institutions should have a clear data governance structure that outlines who has access to, retrieves, and connects the CLR data.

Future Considerations

As interest in CLRs continue to grow, campuses will need to strike a balance between building a record highly customized to the specialized needs of a single institution versus enabling transferability with a record that is consistent and standardized within the system. Institution systems will also need to be designed with enough flexibility that they can adapt to the future needs and interests of the institution, students, and employers. Moreover, creating a CLR will not necessarily ensure its widespread utilization; strategic communication and advising is needed in order to market the benefits of CLRs and also address concerns over inequitable ability of students to participate in co-curricular learning experiences.

If interested in learning more about NASPA and AACRAO’s work, you can contact Amelia Parnell (NASPA Vice President for Research and Policy), Alexa Wesley (NASPA Research and Policy Associate), or Tom Green (AACRAO Associate Executive Director). Additional resources can be found here.