FIU Online Builds An Adaptive Master's Program in Public Health

FIU adaptive master of public healthFlorida International University (FIU) Online is built on a mindset of innovation and continuous improvement. More than 20 years after its launch, the university remains a pioneer in digital pedagogy. With 100 online programs, FIU Online decided to take its master’s degree in Public Health a step further: the program is on its way to becoming not just fully online, but built around personalized, adaptive learning as well.

“My interest as an educator and researcher is to be at the forefront of what’s going on in terms of delivering knowledge and skills to the emerging and current workforce,” says Dr. Benjamin Amick, chair, graduate program director and professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.

His perspective proved the perfect foundation for implementing adaptive learning, which differentiates content and learning paths for students based on their individual knowledge levels and performance. FIU Online sought to explore this approach as part of its broader interest in continually seeking new opportunities to provide a better, more engaging experience for online students and ultimately improving outcomes.

Dr. Amick and the department’s faculty worked closely with the university’s academic affairs and instructional design teams to select an adaptive learning system that would align with two key goals. First, the team wanted faculty to retain academic freedom by ensuring the use of original content. They also wanted the ability to break down curriculum by discrete skills, or competencies, in order to re-bundle the curriculum for the future (into skills-based certifications, for example).

A Vision for the Future of Education

With these criteria as a guiding factor, the team elected Realizeit’s intelligent learning and analytics system.

“This work is based on a longer-term vision of what education will look like,” says Dr. Amick. “The faculty have now really thought about what they’re teaching and what students should be learning, and how those competencies and sub-competencies translate into skills. And as we shift toward more skills-based education, that becomes more and more important.”

So far, all but one of the core courses in the Master of Public Health program have been redesigned as digital, adaptive courses using Realizeit. The remaining courses should be completed within the next year.

The Impact of Going Adaptive

Beyond positioning FIU Online for further academic innovation, the adaptive courses are yielding a more immediate impact.

Faculty now have another tool to increase engagement, says Dr. Weiwei Chen, an assistant professor who worked with colleagues and the instructional design team to integrate adaptive learning into her course, Introduction to Public Health Policy and Management.

With Realizeit’s intelligent design structure, students are required to review the content and pass a knowledge check before moving forward in the material. Students also have more flexibility, Dr. Chen notes, with the ability to work ahead if they choose to and also to go back and revise lessons to increase their grades.

“I believe student learning has improved as a result of adaptive learning,” says Dr. Timothy Page, an associate professor who led the updates of two courses in the Master of Public Health program. “I’m surprised by the impact adaptive learning has even had on assignments they do outside of Realizeit. I read these papers and I think, ‘Wow, they actually get it.’ I didn’t used to get that feeling with everybody.”

While next steps begin with completing the shift to adaptive for the remaining courses, they also including showcasing the program to more faculty at FIU Online, says Senior Instructional Designer Surf Bhanji, who has worked closely with faculty to develop these courses in Realizeit.

Dr. Amick, too, is ready to keep pushing the initiative forward. “There’s a real opportunity here, and we’re not even scratching the surface yet,” he says.

Looking for more inspiration? See how other institutions are driving innovation and student success with personalized, adaptive learning.