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IES Grant

Title: Postsecondary Teaching with Technology Collaborative
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Jonas, Deborah Awardee: SRI International
Program: Education Research and Development Centers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2026) Award Amount: $9,999,999
Type: Multiple Goals Award Number: R305C210003

Co-Principal Investigators: Edgecombe, Nicole; Griffiths, Rebecca; Seftor, Neil

Purpose: The growth of online learning means that college students must manage their studies more independently than ever before, making students' skills for navigating their own learning–such as finding sources of motivation, managing time and tasks, and reflecting on progress and making adjustments–even more critical to their success. Research has demonstrated the benefits of these self-directed learning skills and suggests that widely used technologies, such as learning management systems and adaptive homework systems, can support their development. To maximize the value of these tools, instructors, administrators, and education technology developers need more information about how features in these systems can best help students develop these skills.

To address this need, the Postsecondary Teaching with Technology Collaborative (the Collaborative) will conduct a series of studies and lead national conversations about technology in postsecondary education. The Collaborative's research program will improve our knowledge of how college and university instructors can effectively use technology to help students develop self-directed learning skills. The Collaborative will also help develop models to guide the development and effective use of postsecondary learning technologies to improve outcomes for students in a wide range of higher education contexts, including in broad-access and minority-serving institutions.

Research Activities: The Collaborative will analyze institutional policy and practice related to teaching with technology and conduct experiments to test how specific technology features affect students' skill development. Results will inform an instructional model and step-by-step, user-friendly guidance for administrators and instructors. With this information, the Collaborative's researchers will pilot the model and guidance.  These research activities will generate new knowledge about how technology-enabled instructional strategies can best support students to develop and apply self-directed learning skills.

National Leadership, Coordination, and Dissemination Activities (NLCD): The Collaborative's NLCD activities will build and promote knowledge-sharing among college and university administrators and instructors, researchers, and developers. The Collaborative will accomplish this by convening key stakeholders around problems of practice for instructors and institutions focused on students' skill development. The resulting cross-sector conversations will ensure that research, development, and instructional practice mutually inform one another, that development and practice are research-based, and that practice also shapes new research. Together, NLCD activities will

  • build understanding of the role of self-directed learning skills in students' success in online learning among administrators, instructors, and developers
  • support instructors to effectively use technology to promote student development and use of self-directed learning skills
  • advance efforts among developers such that the experiences, needs, and preferences of diverse students inform technology design, development, and testing.

Outcomes/Products: The Collaborative will produce new research on the effects of specific technology-enabled instructional strategies on students' development of self-directed learning skills and academic outcomes. This research will also expand our understanding of how these skills develop and how they are supported in a variety of higher education contexts. These findings will be integrated into a comprehensive, flexible instructional model and related guidance on how technology use in online courses can effectively support students to develop and successfully apply self-directed learning skills. The model and guidance will target instructors, administrators, and developers.

R&D Center Partners: SRI International and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) will lead the Collaborative in partnership with Achieving the Dream, educational technology developers, a team of expert advisors, and nine broad-access public colleges and universities across the U.S.


Research Setting: Research activities will be conducted with partnering 2- and 4-year broad-access institutions that cumulatively enroll more than 134,000 students. Five of the nine are minority-serving institutions. One operates entirely online.

Research Sample: The research will focus on students in foundational, online STEM courses and also involve instructors, staff, and administrators at the partner institutions.

Intervention Developed: The Collaborative will develop a comprehensive model and related step-by-step guidance–for instructors, instructional designers, and professional developers–around a set of technology-supported instructional strategies that together support students to develop and apply self-directed learning (SDL) skills. These skills include a wide set of abilities, such as students' monitoring and managing the motivational, strategic, and reflective components of learning, as well as students' sense of self-efficacy and belonging, their forming goals and task strategies, seeking help when needed, and reflecting on their progress. Instructors play a critical role in creating environments in which students can best develop and apply these self-directed learning strategies–namely where they feel safe and supported.

The Collaborative will also develop institutional policy and practice guidelines with information on costs. Three interrelated studies will inform the instructional model and guidance.

Study 1 (Exploration of policies and practices): In a qualitative study, the Collaborative will investigate how institutional policy and practice affect technology-supported instruction. This study will inform both operational definitions of self-directed learning skills that are locally relevant in varied campus contexts and a broader operational definition. The broader definition will serve as the basis for the instructional model and guidance and for the development of a student self-directed learning skills survey.

Study 2 (Test and refine targeted, technology-enabled instructional strategies): The Collaborative will conduct a series of rapid-cycle experiments to test and refine targeted, technology-enabled instructional strategies, such as use of specific features of learning management systems or adaptive courseware, to help students develop task strategies and metacognitive skills.

Study 3 (Design, study, and pilot-test the self-directed learning skills instructional model): Findings from the first two studies will inform a design process in which the Collaborative will jointly develop the comprehensive instructional model, tools, and guidance with institutional partners. Collaborative researchers will then pilot the instructional model and resources to gain insights on the usability, feasibility, student and instructor perceptions of value, and implementation costs. They will also explore what tools and supports (such as just-in-time guidance or use cases) instructors need to implement the model with integrity across diverse settings.