Equipping Students for Success: Integrating Soft Skills Competencies into Coursework through Adaptive Learning Technology

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Ball State University is working with technology partner Smart Sparrow to produce online soft skills modules that can be integrated into college coursework, as well as be a part of college readiness efforts for an institution. We will show new approaches to teaching soft skills online that leverage adaptive learning technology and how the modules can be adapted by faculty and staff to address urgently needed competencies, like time management, that are linked to student success, resiliency, and retention. 


Richard Edwards is Executive Director for Strategic Learning in the Division of Online and Strategic Learning at Ball State University. Edwards oversees three units: Instructional Support, Research & Development, and Faculty Learning Communities. He teaches MOOCs for Ball State University in partnership with Turner Classic Movies that have involved nearly 70,000 students to date. He has written numerous articles on online learning innovations and is an international keynote speaker on issues related to online education. He received his PhD in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California.
As the Director of Academic Communities at Smart Sparrow, Jon works with educators to help them leverage active, personalized eLearning solutions in order to get the results they need. Before coming to Smart Sparrow, Jon Monahan served in higher education publishing and educational technology. He has worked with Cengage Learning, later moving into the Educational Technology space with Sapling Learning and Macmillan New Ventures, working with projects such as i>Clicker and Late Nite Labs among many others.

Extended Abstract

As part of a larger effort to address college readiness and student retention in first year courses, Ball State University and Smart Sparrow brought together faculty, students, staff, instructional designers, and learning technologists to define and develop online modules that address urgently needed soft skills for students. The modules address such topics as time management, study skills, note taking, etc. that the literature has shown impacts student resiliency and retention in higher education. We will show how these modules are designed to identify existing student competencies in a range of soft skills. Furthermore, we will demonstrate how online modules can be used to direct students to other campus resources, such as the Learning Center or Writing Center, based on assessments and recommendations for further help generated as an outcome from the adaptive learning pathways. Finally, the online nature of our approach lends itself to an open consortium model, whereby multiple schools could partner together to develop a basic set of modules that they individually adapt to their own institutional needs and/or student success initiatives.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the development and design of online soft skills modules, how Smart Sparrow's online lessons were created to address those soft skills, and how these modules can be adapted by instructors/staff.
  • Hear about other recent resiliency and college readiness projects completed by Smart Sparrow that inspired the Ball State University approach.
  • Demonstrate how the adaptive learning platform works to create personalized learning outcomes and see how to design lessons that best leverage new adaptive learning technologies.
  • Generate feedback and ideas about online soft skills lessons and adaptive learning integration that can spur future development of this approach across multiple campuses and/or institutions.
  • Explore how to revise existing adaptive learning modules or test different approaches at your own institution, made possible by the ability to adapt lessons already made by Ball State and other schools. 

Participants will:

  • Learn about the Smart Sparrow platform and the collaboration process with Ball State professional staff and researchers to create these modules.
  • Glean insights about designing, developing, and assessing your own online module plan in order to develop soft skills or college readiness modules for your institution.
  • Gain timely knowledge about the power and personalization of using an adaptive learning approach for improving college readiness and enhancing student success.

Tips and lessons that will be shared during the workshop:

  • Lessons learned, including research and assessment data, from Ball State--as they have piloted online learning modules to address soft skills over the last 3 years in their large first-year gateway courses.
  • Insights and lessons learned from Smart Sparrow since they are currently supporting institutions and consortia exploring college readiness, student onboarding, and soft skills.
  • How students progress through these soft skill modules and are guided down relevant pathways and given differentiated feedback as part of the personalization of these lessons.
  • How Ball State and Smart Sparrow used pre-defined learning outcomes to address design considerations in the creation of the modules.