Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of Linn-Benton Community College’s (LBCC) iLearn intervention, which was designed to assist workers with completing post-secondary education through nontraditional, innovative online education models and prepare them for employment in Oregon’s growing industries.
- The authors conducted an implementation evaluation using primarily qualitative data, focused on the intervention’s operation, activities, and results to determine if it was implemented with fidelity. Data collection occurred through conference calls, on-site interviews, virtual and in-person focus groups, document and curriculum reviews, and quarterly surveys.
- The study found that the intervention balanced students’ needs, programmatic development, and the community college’s administrative requirements, while remaining committed to its original vision. Strengths of the intervention included staff commitment, program accessibility and flexibility, a robust quality control process, the existing programmatic foundation, and the purchasing power of the grant.
- The evaluators noted the potential for partial and biased findings when utilizing qualitative research methods, as well as selection bias and researcher extrapolation.
- The embedded impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in May 2020.
Features of the Intervention
- Type of organization: Community College
- Location/setting: Oregon
- Population served and scale: Adults; Low-skilled; Dislocated or displaced workers; 259 participants
- Industry focus: Health care and social assistance; Professional, scientific, and technical services; Information
- Intervention activities: Accelerated learning; Career pathways; Student support services; Technology
- Organizational partnerships: Employers; Community organizations; Universities
- Cost: Not included
- Fidelity: Not included
In 2013, Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) received a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant to implement the Linn-Benton (LB) iLearn program. The LB iLearn was designed to aid TAA-eligible, veteran, dislocated, and disadvantaged workers in completing post-secondary education, using a fully virtual campus. The virtual campus design incorporated stacked and latticed credentials, used a competency-based framework that could accelerate learning, and offered extensive student support services through an online platform that used education modules for instruction. Specifically, LB iLearn campus staff offered customizable, online educational programming that was student-centric and allowed students to complete the program at their own pace. Additionally, this online platform provided academic and non-academic support to students through dedicated program personnel like Student Navigators, Content Experts, and Assessment Evaluators. The program was designed to help participants advance their careers by providing access to high quality online education that would qualify them for key positions in Oregon’s in-demand industries. LB iLearn focused on degrees in healthcare, accounting, business and office administration, and communications and marketing/social media. The program included partnerships with employers, community organizations, Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon University, and Southern Oregon University.
The LB iLearn logic model includes inputs (funds, LB iLearn staff and faculty, partnerships, LB iLearn Leadership Team, LBCC leadership); activities (program marketing and recruitment, student assessment and enrollment, online platform, student support services, program/course development); outputs (participants served, participants employed at enrollment who receive wage increases post-enrollment) and impacts/long-term outcomes (improved program alignment to industry needs, improved student outcomes, recognition of LB iLearn Campus as valuable, implementation at other institutions, innovative and new model for online education, affordable, convenient and student-centric option in Oregon).
Features of the Study
The implementation evaluation used primarily qualitative data and focused on the intervention’s rollout, changes to the original model, strengths and challenges, and outputs to determine how programs were implemented and what outputs had been generated. Evaluators also considered how to improve future performance and how the program could be scaled institution wide. The study design addressed the research questions through evaluation update calls, interviews with key stakeholders (e.g., staff, faculty, employers, participants, and leadership), document and curriculum reviews, quarterly surveys, and focus groups. To ensure the validity of the interviews, the evaluators had the Project Lead or the Project Manager present at every site visit. They also participated in all update calls and artifact reviews and assisted with report-writing. Virtual focus groups were recorded in addition to note-taking. The evaluation teams also relied on triangulation and collaborative inquiry to strengthen the accuracy of study findings. Evaluation participants included LB leadership, staff, and faculty; individuals with an interest in LB iLearn; individuals who enrolled in and/or dropped out of LB iLearn; individuals who completed an LB iLearn program; regional employers; and community partners. Analysis methods included a thematic analysis of interview and focus group data and survey analysis. Grounded theory analysis was used for open-ended survey questions and responses were organized into codes, which were then used to extrapolate findings.
- The study found that the LB iLearn model accommodated the educational needs of many different populations, including non-traditional students who may not otherwise have been able to access higher education.
- The study found that LB iLearn’s comprehensive support system and rigorous curriculum development and review process ensured ongoing student engagement and success.
- The study found that the grant allowed the LB iLearn team to experiment with innovations, some of which will be sustained beyond the grant, and ultimately, build its capacity to allow each student to customize their education experience.
- The study found that LB iLearn made multiple adjustments to its original project model to account for lessons learned. Areas of programming that saw changes included: program offerings (e.g., forgoing veterinary technology), the curriculum development process, target population (e.g., expanding the definition of “disadvantaged adults), staffing and leadership, the cost-recovery model, marketing and recruitment, data tracking, establishment of financial aid, and community partnerships.
Implementation challenges and solutions
- The study found that LB iLearn was able to meet student needs for accessibility, flexibility, and affordability through labor-intensive workarounds, despite the fact that its structure did not align with LB’s administrative systems and USDOE Title IV financial aid requirements.
- The study found that becoming eligible for Title IV financial aid ensured that the LB iLearn program was able to meet its programmatic development goals by the end of the grant period, despite delays.
- The study found that the structure of LB iLearn created a number of challenges in implementation. The open entry, accelerated, competency-based, and modularized structure of LB iLearn was both its greatest challenge and strength.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The evaluation design aligned with the research questions, and data sources were equally suitable for addressing the goals of the study. However, the evaluation team noted the potential for selection bias, researcher extrapolation, and partial and biased findings. Further, the study was delayed due to implementation challenges, which influenced recruitment and partnership development in the early phases of implementation. This also affected study sample size. Manual data collection was needed to overcome a mismatch in administrative systems. Due to these delays in implementation and consistent challenges, flexibility and adaption were necessary for the success of the LB iLearn program.