EPHEC offers students extraterrestrial experience with adaptive online training

Case stories | 06-06-23

EPHEC students brush up their Dutch language skills with an online journey into space 

L’école pratique des hautes études commerciales’, or EPHEC, is a university of applied sciences in Belgium that offers bachelor’s degree programs. Given that Belgium is a bilingual country, students need basic Dutch proficiency. But since Dutch is often not their native tongue, it is no wonder that some students could use some extra practice when it comes to their Dutch skills. For those students who need some extra help with their regular Dutch classes, EPHEC decided to develop an additional online course. This course lets students brush up on their language skills to boost their chances of passing their Dutch exams. It was reason for Delphine Voets, language teacher at EPHEC, to start looking for an efficient and effective tool that met the school’s needs. She ultimately found Drillster and has been running a highly successful learning program at the school ever since. We interviewed her about the project, asking her why she went for Drillster, what students get out of it, and, let’s not forget, why she put on a space suit for this project.

What were your requirements for a learning tool?

“First of all, the tool had to be 100% online. Additionally, we wanted a tool that is efficient, engaging, and to the point. And we also wanted an adaptive learning tool. A solution that adapts the learning material to individual learning needs. After all, every student is different and proficiency levels vary significantly. So it’s great to have a solution that taps into that. I heard about Drillster from a colleague who was using it for his role as field hockey umpire. I looked into it and was impressed with all the features it offers. The tool offers adaptive microlearning modules that, moreover, work in an assessment-based way. Students learn by answering questions and reading the associated feedback. The option of adding different versions of the same question, as well as equivalents, for even deeper learning is what attracted me to it.”

Did you have to win anyone over internally?

“I was convinced and wanted to get started with Drillster to reshape the learning program. Fortunately, I got the green light quickly and was given full confidence to take on the challenge. I did the project by myself, so I had a lot of autonomy and was able to work in a targeted manner. I really had to. I got approval towards the end of the academic year and the new program had to start in the new academic year. In other words, there was not much time. It was great, therefore, that I was able to get started quickly and in a targeted way.”

How did you start?

“It’s my job to help students improve their competencies, and to help them in an effective way to retain those competencies. And that’s actually quite a challenge, especially when you consider that these online lessons are offered on top of students’ regular Dutch classes. Students are not graded for it, but it is a bonus for their Dutch class. This makes it harder – but at least equally important – to persuade them to do these lessons and get them excited about it. It has to be both engaging and efficient, and not take up too much of their time.”

“Since time was of the essence, I started with grammar drills (each microlearning module is called a ‘drill’). I was able to make the drills myself using the authoring tool. It was fairly easy to do. The other topics followed soon. Throughout the year, I sent out surveys to students to get their take on the drills and make sure the content continued to tie in with their needs. And when necessary, I was able to make changes to the drills and courses. This way, I managed to keep people excited and engaged.”

You also did a lot of coaching. What can you tell us about that?

“Coaching is very important. The lessons are online, so I never see the learners. Good communication is crucial. I had to get creative. During the first year, 850 students in the 18-21 age range took part. I wanted to reach them all, without resorting to generic communication that appeals to no one. As I wanted to keep it personal, I decided to use Drillster’s reporting feature to my advantage. I generated reports of the learning results and split the students up into segments. There was, for example, a group of highly motivated, diligent students who had already made considerable progress with the learning modules. But there was also a group of students who had barely gotten started. And everyone in between, of course. Based on these segments, I designed targeted communications that I sent out at specific times during the year, such as a few weeks ahead of the deadline for a learning challenge. At those points, I tried to give students some extra motivation to step it up a notch and get drilling. Always in a positive way, of course, otherwise it doesn’t work. By working with segments like this, everyone felt that the communications applied to them. My goal was to keep the coaching very personal, despite the large number of students involved. Smart use of Drillster’s reporting feature enabled me to do exactly that.”

You use another unusual method to keep up learner engagement, right?

“I had to motivate, persuade, and engage students. To do that, I looked for an overarching theme that I could use. A steppingstone for the drills and communications. It had to be something universal. Something that is general and neutral in terms of politics, religion, etc. That’s how I ended up with the space theme. It’s universal and gives you something to work with for some time. It instantly gave me plenty of inspiration for fun communication and gamification elements. I decided to take the students on a journey into space. With every course, they conquer a planet, such as the spelling planet. I bought a space suit and recorded numerous vlogs and videos. And smart use of references to popular artists and influencers in the drills was a way to tie in with the target group’s experiential world. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Students found it surprisingly fun.”

What are the results so far?

“After the first academic year, I ran another survey among the students, and the respondents were very satisfied. They liked the learning program, the tool, the rhythm, the level of difficulty, and the personal coaching. They found the microlearning drills very pleasant to do. They were able to actually put into practice what they had learned. The numerous videos and the space theme were also received positively. The fact that you can learn online using an app was very convenient for this target group. The only points for improvement were the learning challenges. Initially, I had been a bit overzealous in setting these up in the tool, which led to students getting too many notifications. I already changed this during the year. Students liked the learning program so much that some wondered if they would still have access to the platform after the first year, so that they could keep practicing. That was, of course, the crowning glory for this project.”

“In fact, we got an actual award for this learning program. Together with Drillster’s Dominique Saint-Remy, we entered the Learning Excellence Awards. While the jury did not consider our entry to be a perfect match with one of the categories, they were impressed with the project, especially the way it got learners engaged and the special communications. We were given the ‘Coup de Coeur’ award. I am, of course, very proud of that!”

What does the future hold for EPHEC and its online learning programs?

“Obviously, this has us wanting more. The team for English has meanwhile ventured to set up a supplementary language course in Drillster for those who will benefit from it. Furthermore, I’m focusing on the challenge of how to get even more learners excited and engaged to really passionately join in and get drilling. Many students have worked hard on the drills, but there is, of course, always room for improvement. That’s what I’m going to do my best for. I’m also planning to make the program and the communications even more personal and visual to motivate people even more. With a little bit of creativity, I’m sure I’ll pull that off. The space theme is perfect for that, so we’re in for another year of stunning and impressive planets!”