Studiecoach is a free online resource which intends to help distance students learn study-skills such as presentation, mind-mapping, meditation, scientific research, etc. It aims to prevent dropouts by giving students the necessary learning-to-learn skills to complete their studies.
Objectives of the Intervention
Studiecoach is a free online resource for study advice or digital coach and was created by the Dutch Open University which is specialised in higher education for adult students through supported distance learning. Following the university's open public nature of providing resources, Studiecoach is freely available for students and non-OU students.
OU students study at home and there is no personal contact during their study process, which requires a great deal of discipline. So, the main goal of Studiecoach is to help students on their way to a successful completion of their studies at the Open University and support services are necessary for the study process.
Studiecoach offers different services: online and face to face, in order to prevent the number of drop out students.
The Studiecoach website combines several media types and activities: video, tests, text, games, exercises, exam and training. The themes are: time management, anxiety, multiple choice exam training, oral presentation, written presentation, mind-mapping, meditation, finding scientific information on the Internet. All themes are visualised in the form of a mind-map and each topic is introduced by a short video and students can access further content and training programs or register directly at one of the training programs in the study centre. In addition to Studiecoach, the Open University organises a series of workshops around these themes at different locations in the Netherlands, where students (and non-students) can meet each other and discuss the topics at hand.
During its first year (2009), Studiecoach was not very embedded in the OU as a whole. However, the product was presented to departments in an effort to disseminate it and after having won an award (Medea Award) in 2010, Studiecoach is now more embedded, teachers from various faculties have taken it on.
Origins and rationale of this initiative
There were two key drivers that informed the rationale for setting up Studiecoach:
The first relates to a need that stemmed from the financial crisis: there was a difficult situation facing the OU which saw its resources dramatically reduced. It originally had 18 study centres, with a high numbers of personal coaches and advisers. As a result of the financial crisis, study advisers decreased from 25 to 3 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent). The result of the reduced human resources was that all the information, know-how and content held in those who were going to leave their posts would be gone. There was therefore a need to continue their work in some way.
Marion Stevens, who developed Studiecoach, felt that the solution was in finding a way to make the information and knowledge available to students in visual form. If study advice could be made available online, counsellors would not be needed: support could be given in a different form.
The second key driver was a belief that despite the fact that media-enhanced learning is increasingly commonplace throughout all learning sectors, there has not been an overall and general Start and Support Study Model. Studying in distance learning requires new and different study methods from the traditional classroom learning; in distance education there are fewer contact hours and there is more self-study which requires more self-discipline.
Taken together, the idea behind the service is to help students on their way to a successful completion of their studies at the Open University via support services that are necessary for the study process. In addition, they can make learning faster and pleasant.
Research was done into what problems students had, what they need and a developed a general Start and Support model was developed into the study process. In 2008 the website the content of the Studiecoach website was developed by the Open University, in collaboration with educational technologists and other experts such as graphic designers and game designers and specialists from other educational institutions, for example the TU Eindhoven, Maastricht Business University and other partners. Students evaluations were continually part of the development of Studiecoach.
The starting point was video as a method of instruction. A virtual Study Coach was developed on the website, who introduces the themes and all themes are given by experts through videos.
Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative
Original, intended target group:
- The website is intended for OU students as well as prospective students to help them at the beginning of their studies right up to them looking for employment. The idea is to help students through a study process which is supportive. For example, for a student who has to start, questions might be around exams or where they can go for help.
- Students with hidden handicaps are given attention to as well: the aim of the website is to help people with dyslexia or autism –this is an ideal system for them because they have their own time and space.
- Despite being developed for students, Studiecoach in fact has been made open for everybody across the world. At the moment it is used worldwide by students and it has been noticed that now it is used also by people in general, for example business people who are looking for training programs.
Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative
The main factors contributing to the success of Studiecoach are:
- Its dissemination: the initiative appears on leaflets, newsletters which helps with raising awareness of it.
- Student feedback / participation: ensuring students’ voices are listened to during all phases of the development of a new idea.
- Word of mouth: positive experiences being shared raise the interest from others, leading to more use and interest in the concept.
- Its design: Studiecoach is simple, flashy, does not employ an academic use of words. “Say it in one picture and say it in a flashy way” (quote from interview). The design of the site works: it has the right colours and altogether it makes it accessible and simple.
- Successfully responding to what the trends/demands are; responding to new learning styles that are required: the success of this particular initiative also lies in a high dose of entrepreneurialism.
Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals
The Studiecoach website combines several media types and activities: video, tests, text, games, exercises, exam and training. The themes are: time management, anxiety, multiple choice exam training, oral presentation, written presentation, mind mapping, meditation, and finding scientific information on the Internet. All themes are visualised in the form of a mind map and each topic is introduced by a short video and students can access further content and training programs or register directly at one of the training programs in the study centre. In addition to Studiecoach, the Open University organises a series of workshops around these themes at different locations in the Netherlands, where students (and non-students) can meet each other and discuss the topics at hand.
The development of themes on the Studiecoach website started through by workshops in OU’s study centres. These two elements were an important concept.
One of the key decisions was to figure out how to put themes on the website in an open and user friendly way. That brought the development to the use of the concept of Tony Buzan’s Mind mapping. A mind map which consists of all the themes which the team wanted to develop. A logical, organised model where to put topics in, but which is flexible for more subjects and themes.
Teams were formed around each subject (Stress management, Time management, multiple choice examination training, academic writing, presentation and so on), information is sought, technical scenarios and film scripts are written, actresses / actors are hired and professionals make the videos, which then go on the website.
“When you look at the Studiecoach website, you see a basic concept. We visualize the question which students have (real questions and problems!) and the expert will answer these, which can be helpful. In this way the student creates his/her own interview with the expert”.
This means that instead listening to somebody for 5 minutes; it only takes one to one and a half minutes.
Every concept, idea for development starts with a workshop so that they can be tested.
Describe if the project ensured its sustainability
The initiative is growing; it is showcased wherever possible and other universities have expressed an interest in taking it on. The important part of ensuring its sustainability also appears to lay in the ability to successfully respond to a need and to respond to what the users appear to be interested in. This is also possible through an analysis of website traffic and, in general from active participation of students who feed into the process of creating new content: for example, if students to not like an idea that is presented in a workshop, it will not be developed further.
Resources used in the initiative
Originally, there was no budget that could be used to specifically develop the initiative. Studiecoach was thus started with very few resources: via contacts that the initiator had in the Media Department who were able to give some time; students were eager to help in their free time. Since then, some resources were made available from OU’s departments that could be divided in different ways (around 20,000) so Studiecoach now has a budget.
- The key skills / resources needed are for: maintaining the website; managing any repairs; ‘buying in’ external expertise for website programming and adding innovative features (eg the idea is to make Studiecoach also available on mobile phones and tablets).
- Two people work on the website full time last year, when the website required more time. By now, however, internal staff know how to manage the website and external experts are needed only when there is a problem that requires particular expertise.
Did the intervention reach its objectives?
Formal evaluation of the initiative is a weak point at the moment. However, indicators of success indicators can be seen through:
- Website traffic: The website opened in January 2009 and the first year had about 58.000 clicks (about 200 visits a day). The average time spent on the Studiecoach is more than 4 minutes, which is a really long time. That means it captures peoples’ attention. Overall, there are at the moment ( 2014 ) 8,000 hits every month and 60% are newcomers.
- Award system, which has been very beneficial to Studiecoach. The initiative has been nominated for, and won, several awards and it is continuously expanding, generating interest from other Universities and within the OU itself.