Future of Learning

Data analysis reveals keys to student success

With nearly 3 million datapoints, Trilogy Education says it knows exactly what it takes to keep students on track

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Trilogy Education partners with universities around the world to offer fast-paced certificate programs in high-demand fields including web development and cybersecurity. Since 2015, more than 10,000 people, mostly working adults, have graduated from programs created by Trilogy and offered in partnership with universities such as Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Rutgers and the University of Pennsylvania.

If a student in one of these programs says in a weekly survey that he or she does not feel supported in class, particularly if that answer stays the same for more than a couple weeks in a row, Trilogy leaders can predict that that student won’t complete the program. The biggest determinant of a student’s success, according to Luyen Chou, Trilogy’s chief product officer, is low support. And that lack of support, if not addressed, means no graduation.

“We know it almost with a metaphysical certainty,” Chou said.

Trilogy’s certainty has been nearly 3 million data points in the making. Every week, students submit feedback about the course and how it’s going. Early on, this survey was longer and Trilogy collected data on more than a dozen different metrics, but over the last few years it has become clear what matters most. Six metrics drive student success, and Trilogy pays close attention to them, tweaking courses constantly to make sure students stay on track.

Each week, students answer questions about how clear the instruction was, how they feel about the pace of the course, how knowledgeable the instructor was that week, how strong their sense of mastery was, and whether they feel supported as a student, among other things.

“We instantly offer help,” Chou said, “either to coach the student or the instructor.”

Trilogy’s instructors are industry experts, not veteran educators. Across four certificate programs – web development (coding), data analytics, UX/UI (user experience and user interface design) and cybersecurity – they follow Trilogy’s curriculum, which is tailored to the local workforce needs near each university and, based on feedback from students, instructors and employers, adjusted to virtually guarantee strong outcomes.

Trilogy has made more than 650,000 changes to its curricula based on this feedback. And that, Chou is convinced, is a big part of why more than 90 percent of students graduate.

Chou got his start in K-12 education, working as a classroom teacher and then school administrator before working in education software development and ultimately rising through the ranks at Pearson. At Trilogy, Chou sees data being used to inform the curriculum and student support as he never saw in the K-12 world. But that doesn’t mean K-12 schools can’t do the same.

Many schools and districts collect even more data than Trilogy has. With the right analysis, teachers and administrators can discover similar correlations between things like student support and course completion. The problem, as Chou sees it, is disagreement over what outcome is most important. At Trilogy, it’s graduation and eventual job placement. But in K-12 schools, educators can choose to focus on student mastery of more than 100 different standards, student performance on a range of assessments, graduation rates, college-going rates, and on and on.

“That is much harder than, ‘Did someone get a job?’” Chou said.

But he believes the lessons learned at Trilogy are transferrable. Paying attention to data, finding correlations between the data and student outcomes, and acting on that knowledge can be helpful in whatever educational context these skills are applied.

Send story ideas and news tips to tara@hechingerreport.org. Tweet at @TaraGarciaM. Read high-quality news about innovation and inequality in education at The Hechinger Report

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Tara García Mathewson

Tara García Mathewson is a staff writer. She launched her journalism career with two award-winning pieces co-produced during a three-month stint at the Kitsap Sun… See Archive

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