What SNHU’s Global Education Movement students have taught us about online learning in the most difficult of circumstances

In the last year, COVID-19 has drastically reshaped all of our lives—how we work, shop, visit with friends and family and, of course, how we go to school.

As one of the fastest growing universities in the nation — with 160,000 online learners and 3,000 on-campus students — SNHU was uniquely suited to tackle the challenge of online learning in a pandemic. But from the early days of COVID-19, I’ve been thinking about one group of learners in particular: our SNHU Global Education Movement (GEM) students.

Since 2017, SNHU’s GEM has offered high-quality, low-cost degrees to refugees and vulnerable learners around the world. With more than 1,000 current students and 5,000 alumni across five countries, SNHU has helped displaced learners gain the academic skills to transform their lives for the better.

At the onset of the crisis — and throughout its duration — the GEM team and our partners have worked to protect the safety, wellbeing, and education of our students. Our students living in close quarters in refugee camps or dense urban centers were especially vulnerable to the virus’s spread. As the months have unfolded, however, one thing is very clear — our GEM students haven’t missed a beat in their education.

Just as with the many hardships GEM students have faced in their lives, this year, they continue to thrive — and GEM’s competency-based education (CBE) curriculum has been responsive to the constraints and uncertainty of the pandemic. Our CBE model provides a self-directed and project-based curriculum, bolstered by robust supports and internship and job placements, so that learners can engage in projects from any location and earn credits as they successfully master career-ready skills. Additionally, GEM students have been leaders in their communities throughout the pandemic, creating and distributing masks, running public education campaigns, and helping with basic essentials like food and shelter for their fellow community members.

The outcomes and achievements of our GEM students continue to speak for themselves. Today, 90% of GEM students are on track to graduate in four years, compared with 95% pre-pandemic. And every one of our GEM students has continued to engage in internships, even during the pandemic, as we have grown our internship program to include robust digital learning placements.

The COVID challenges the world has faced have been substantial, and this has been true for GEM as well. From sickness to lost employment and psychological stress, the hardships have been incredible. At the same time, the pandemic has also allowed the flexibility and innovation of GEM’s model to shine, and GEM students, as always, continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience and creativity.

This week happens to mark the International Day of Education. For me, it is only fitting that we use this holiday to learn important lessons from our GEM students and the partners that work by our side in this work – creativity, grit, and tenacity – and consider how we can bring the best of CBE and GEM’s program to students everywhere. Our world will be better for it.

Reposted from the President’s Corner Blog.