Purposefully Repurposed: College for America Converts a CRM Tool Into a Learner-Centered LMS

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Readers of NGLC’s blog are no strangers to Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America (CfA), the remarkably innovative competency-based degree program supported by NGLC that, in spring 2013, became the first such program in the nation to win authorization to offer federal financial aid not tied to the credit hour. This unprecedented development brought SNHU media attention from many corners, up to and including the New York Times. Behind a departure like this lie many individual smaller breaks with conventional processes and approaches. In and of themselves, these changes may not be media magnets, yet they constitute vital components of the breakthrough.

Today NGLC has published the first postsecondary education brief in its new publication series, “Next Gen Tools.” The series is designed to showcase strategies that grant recipients – both postsecondary and K-12 – are developing in the process of getting their new models up and running. Kristen Vogt’s early February post introduces the series and the first K-12 publication, announcing that the Next Gen Tools series—developed with research and writing assistance from Jodi Lewis of Sacramento State University’s Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy — will document the strategies and innovations vital to the implementation of NGLC’s new models. The big new idea in and of itself isn’t sufficient: realizing such an idea necessarily means taking numerous practical steps, each of which requires fresh thinking and its own level of disruption of “business as usual.” And each step holds potentially valuable lessons for other institutions with similar ambitions and plans.

CfA’s creators  confronted many challenges in launching the program, not the least of which was that learning management systems (LMS) – the glorified online syllabi of the 1990s that have since evolved into their present forms – were organized solely around the credit hour and the course rather than the individual. By contrast, College for America’s foundation is learners’ progression through the demonstration of specific, closely defined competencies. To secure an environment that matched their vision, College for America’s designers turned to a modification of Salesforce, a customer relationship management (CRM) system widely used in the business world.

To learn how SNHU’s IT team repurposed Salesforce to serve in place of a typical LMS for their competency-based degree program, check out NGLC’s new publication,CfA Learning Environment [CLE]. Like the first publication in the series and those to follow, it is designed with the busy reader in mind,and centers on the following questions:

•    Why was this tool developed?
•    How is it different?
•    What is the advantage for students?
•    How does it improve learning?
•    What is the advantage for instructors and administrators?
•    What are the challenges?
•    What’s next?

CfA Learning Environment [CLE) also includes screenshots from SNHU’s modified version of Salesforce to enable you to check out their innovative approach to using the system.  And there are links for more information, about the tool itself and the model it is used in—so you can dig deeper when you are ready for more detail.