How University of Phoenix and zyBooks Used Interactive Teaching to Lower Math Attrition and Improve Learning and Retention

Math can be difficult to learn, and it can be even harder to teach. For far too long, issues with the way math is taught in schools and universities have led to significant attrition rates and poor math performance, particularly in higher education. While an understanding of the many new discoveries made in the field of mathematics can open new career opportunities for professionals and can be sources of new learning for students and researchers, imparting this body of knowledge to learners is easier said than done.

To address this issue, the University of Phoenix – in conjunction with zyBooks – experimented with delivering math courses using a new, innovative approach combining online learning with interactive material, real-time feedback, and helpful assessments. These approaches led to measurably lower attrition rates amongst students.

The University of Phoenix strives to help working adults prepare for and excel in the workplace with industry-relevant learning that has real-world applications. With flexible schedules, rich course offerings, and access to state-of-the-art resources and services, University of Phoenix students can learn what they need to learn to achieve their personal, academic, and professional goals.

Math attrition rates, however, have always been a serious issue. This is why the University of Phoenix leadership worked to rethink math education and why its alliance with zyBooks has been so groundbreaking.

zyBooks creates STEM material that is native to the web. This content has less text and provides students with more hands-on learning opportunities. Using question sets, animations, interactive tools, and embedded homework, students can learn by doing, a learning methodology that has long been known to be more effective than rote repetition. The zyBooks platform helps educators author and deliver teaching material and makes it easier for both the student and instructor to participate.

University of Phoenix and zyBooks presented the outcomes of their online math instruction project at the 2021 Online Learning Consortium Conference, which was held virtually in March 2021. The presentation focused on how the University’s redesigned approach to math education significantly reduced student attrition.

Dr. Jacquelyn Kelly, Ph.D., Associate Dean at the College of General Studies at the University of Phoenix, and Dr. Alex Edgcomb Ph.D., Senior Software Engineer at zyBooks, discussed the results of the project in the light of their recent research paper that reviews efforts to reduce math course attrition rates through a multi-modality approach. You can read more about the study here: Theory to Practice: Closing the Gap in Undergraduate Math to Reduce Student Attrition.

The idea behind the project is simple yet profound: by making math more interactive, student engagement increases. If you allow students to work at their own pace, self-select topics they are comfortable with, improve their engagement levels, and help them work their way through their coursework using helpful visual aids, questionnaires, timely feedback, and access to teachers and assistive material, you can promote a greater understanding of the material being taught as well as improve retention rates, both of which can lead to lower attrition and dropout or failure rates.

Animations, interactivity, real-time responses, visual aids, and other techniques to impart knowledge are heavily used in K-12 teaching. Why these methods have not caught on in higher education warrants investigation. Undergraduate students have struggled for decades with general math classes. This has led to high attrition rates, lower student confidence, and lower student preparedness for STEM careers. As an education pioneer, the University of Phoenix tackled the issue head-on with positive results. An important byproduct of the University’s work in math education is the workable blueprint it develops for other institutions to model in an effort to support students, improve math retention and reduce attrition.

Interactive teaching models based on student strengths can improve student confidence and help them understand how math has everyday applications in their lives. The vastly improved course design implemented by the University of Phoenix and zyBooks generated better student reactions when it came to learning math.

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is committed to building inclusive communities, learning environments, and supporting experiences by creating equitable spaces where academics, practitioners, students, and staff can work together. The Innovate 2021 conference was fully virtual and aimed to challenge teaching and learning paradigms while reimagining learning experiences. With the research presented by the University of Phoenix and zyBooks during the conference, other educational institutions may learn that disruptions in education today can positively shape classroom innovations tomorrow.

About University of Phoenix

Since it was founded in 1976, the University of Phoenix has focused on imparting industry-relevant teaching and training to busy, working professionals. With a deep understanding of industry needs and the issues facing today’s working adults, the University of Phoenix has rich course offerings, flexible scheduling, and extensive student support networks that can help students achieve personal and professional goals.

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