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Tech tools help improve the adult learner experience

Stories & Case Studies
August 1, 2022

As part of their work with ATD’s Prioritizing Adult Community College Enrollment (PACCE) initiative, two Texas institutions are using their grants — funded by the Lumina Foundation — to update technology tools and resources that form an essential part of the student experience.

Temple College, responding to feedback from adult students is redesigning its website to better meet students where they are. And Austin Community Colleges District has implemented a chatbot and adopted a new customer relationship management software to better support adult learners at every step of their educational journey.

Keeping it simple

While technology tools offer a wealth of quantitative data, often the best source of information about what adult students need is the students themselves.

Beginning in early 2022, the marketing team at Temple College started to rethink the user experience on their website, including a page dedicated to adult learners. To gather data that would inform the redesign process, Dr. Becky Musil, director of special projects, went directly to the students.

“We tried holding some outside sessions, but those weren’t very productive,” Dr. Musil told Achieving the Dream. “But as we pushed into classes, I would say, ‘Hey, do you mind sitting down and looking at some websites with me?’” Students were willing to give comments on the design, navigation, visuals, and other elements of other colleges’ websites. Their reactions helped Dr. Musil and her team get a better understanding of how they could redesign the adult learner webpage with the student experience in mind.

More than anything, the students valued simplicity. “They didn’t want to waste time trying to find something,” Dr. Musil said, adding that many adult learners are parents who are “trying to balance school on one hip and kids on the other.”

Borrowing from an interactive resources document created by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, the team at Temple College started working on web design based on clear, simple icons that link to related pages and resources. The updated webpage will soon launch, and Dr. Musil looks forward to seeing how the new design affects the way students engage with the college.

While Dr. Musil and the marketing team have been able to hear directly from students already attending Temple College to inform website redesign efforts, they want to figure out how to capture more insight from potential learners who haven’t yet made it to the application stage. DeDe Griffith, vice president of workforce development, is working to partner with industries in the area to see how the college and its recruiters can reach more learners.

Staying in touch

The Austin Community Colleges District (ACC) identified a need to better support nontraditional learners who had earned a high school equivalency (HSE, also known as a GED) through ACC’s free Adult Education program. Of the students who earned an HSE, only about 40 percent were transitioning to enroll in for-credit classes, said Katherine Dowdy, executive director of adult education at ACC.

To improve this transition rate and the overall experience for adult learners, the district implemented technology solutions to better attract, retain, and support this demographic. ACC has utilized a newly adopted customer relationship management (CRM) software to help transition students who have enrolled in an Adult Education into credit-earning courses and programs.

David Zuñiga, director of the ACC welcome centers, said that the district hoped to implement the same high-level marketing cloud operation for Adult Education students as ACC currently has for traditional students. “We really want to home in on the marketing cloud tool to help our applicants transition from Adult Education over to the for-credit side.”

In June of 2022 ACC also launched a chatbot on their website designed to give users information about enrolling into Adult Education. The chatbot immediately showed results. “We filled our ESL application in record time,” said Katherine Dowdy, executive director of adult education at ACC. “Our entire first term was filled to capacity in seven hours. I don’t think we’ve done that in the life of adult education at ACC.”

Going forward, ACC aims to increase and improve the communication touch points they have with each adult learner. The college has paid careful attention to every point of contact with these students, including outreach, the application process, and connecting instructors with advisors to identify students who show signs of disengaging. “We’re just trying to be more welcoming,” Dowdy said. “The [Adult Education] program as a whole has to be healing.”

This is the second of a two-part story about data-informed efforts taking place in the Prioritizing Adult Community College Enrollment (PACCE) initiative. Read Part 1 here: Helping adult students finish what they started

To learn more about the PACCE initiative and to read other stories about colleges supporting adult learners through this program, visit the PACCE webpage.

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