Innovative Application & Enrollment Processes for More Informed Students : Reflections on the benefits of this innovative process through the analytical lens of Behavioural Science
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This paper examines the practical experience and research background of one private training provider with over 10 years’ experience reskilling and upskilling mid-career workers with academic qualifications for employment in a growing technical and highly regulated pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.
This paper offers insights into how to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process for adult learners looking to commence studies on university accredited continuous professional development (CPD) courses.
This process is based and analysed through the lens of Behavioural Science, while also building upon the work of Dirksen, Colvin Clark, Stolovitch, and Keeps.
The data set has been gathered during 2020 and 2021, from 425 adult learners applicants, coming from a variety of educational and employment backgrounds, with 5 to 25 years of work experience.
Keywords: Career Change, Admissions, Induction, Orientation, Adult Learners, Behavioural Science
The innovative admissions and enrolment process for these adult learners returning to education, has built induction and orientation into the process before the applicant is offered a place on the course, which results in more informed, engaged and enthused students on their first day of this online course.
It minimises the workload on lecturers to bring these new students up to speed on what is required of them during the course, as the applicants who completed this innovative process:
- were able to summarise the module syllabus in their own words,
- knew how many hours they would need to study each week and the dates for theirexams,
- were aware of who to contact if they fell behind in their studies or missed anassignment deadline,
- knew what courses they could progress onto after completing this oneIn addition, they could identify 3-job roles that they would be able to do, and the salaries associated with them, and 5-companies that they could work for with this qualification for manufacturing safe medicines and vaccines.Qualitative feedback from the applicants on their satisfaction with the innovative process was gathered, and quantitative data was analysed of the numbers of applicants at each stage of the process, the number who were offered and accepted places on the course, and the number who remained engaged on the course after a 1-month cooling-off period (when they could leave with no penalties).There were 425 applicants in this case study, and of these:
- 312 (73%) submitted an Interview Form
- 303 were spoken to by Phone
- 276 were offered a place on the course,
- 261 accepted their place and were enrolledThe data from this group will be analysed using the analytical lens and theoretical framework of Behavioural Science, in particular Bounded Rationality, Framing Effect, Simplification Theory and the Dual-System Planner-Doer Model.
This paper is broadly practitioner research using case studies as illustrative of real-world phenomena. The methodology for comparison draws heavily on Bereday’s model of comparative styles and their predispositions (Bereday, 1964)
Key findings from this paper include:
- The high satisfaction of adult learners with the innovative admissions and enrolmentprocess for these courses, resulting in more informed and enthused students
- The high percentages of offers and acceptances on the course, as reflected in the lowdrop-off numbers of those applicants who had completed the detailed Interview Form
- The benefits of this enhanced process for both the lecturers, who are able toconcentrate on lecturing, and the universities who will be delivering a great first impression to the students starting their courses
2. Background and Demographics
The summary demographics of the group of 425 applicants discussed in this paper are:
- All based in Ireland
- All applied to the same reskilling/upskilling course
- All completed the same admissions, enrollment, orientation and induction process
- 159 female; 266 male
- 240 < 40 years; 185 > 40 years
- 200 employed; 225 unemployed
Applicants came from a range of other industries including manufacturing, food and beverage, finance, administration, healthcare, and construction.
All were eligible to receive Irish Government funding through an upskilling and reskilling initiative – where the Government would have paid either 90% or 100% of their course fees.
The programmes have been delivered online for over 10 years and, as a result, programme delivery was not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or the associated social distancing requirements. This is particularly relevant, since Ireland spent the majority of time from March 2020 onward in level 5 lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic (Department of the Taoiseach, 2020).
The programmes are all designed to transition experienced workers from other industries into the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing sector, which offers high-paying, high- tech jobs in a stable, secure and growing sector in Ireland (Halligan, 2016).
The 425 applicants breaks down into three class groups:
- 142 in Class 1 (Completed Process in August 2020, Ireland in Level 4 Lockdown)
- 144 in Class 2 (Completed Process in January 2021, Ireland in Level 5 Lockdown)
- 139 in Class 3 (Completed Process in September 2021, Ireland Open with no restrictions)
3. Conceptual Framework
This paper is broadly practitioner research using case studies as illustrative of real-world phenomena. The methodology for comparison draws heavily on Bereday’s model of comparative styles and their predispositions (Bereday, 1964).
In Bereday’s model, ‘everyday’ comparability is distinguished from socially-scientific or laboratory methods. The everyday comparability approach fits with individualistic practitioner research in that it favours establishing relations between observable facts, noting similarities and graded differences, drawing out universal observations and criteria, and ranking them in terms of similarities and differences.
In everyday comparability, the view is subjectively from within and deliberately without perspectives’ detachment. It focuses on group interests, social tensions, impact factors and collective beliefs, patterns, and behaviours as experienced by the authors.
The perspective in this paper is the authors’ own as the private training provider of education programmes, mindful of the particular risks of insider research (Rooney, 2005).
In terms of analytical steps, this paper uses Bereday’s four stages as illustrated by Jones (Jones, 1971), as follows:
- Stage 1: Description using a common approach to present facts. This is covered in Section 5 – “Innovative Admissions, Enrollment, Induction and Orientation Process”.
- Stage 2: Interpretation using knowledge other than the author’s. This is covered in Section 5 – “Innovative Admissions, Enrollment, Induction and Orientation Process”.
- Stage 3: Juxtaposition for preliminary comparison using a set of relevant criteria. This is covered in Section 7 – “Results”.
- Stage 4: Simultaneous comparison, emergence of conclusions and hypotheses. This is covered in Section 8 – “Discussion of Results”.
4. Theoretical Framework
4.1 Behavioural Science
The theoretical framework in which this paper is based, is the field of Behavioural Science, which is the study of human motivation, decision making, and actions. It tries to understand how people interpret information; why they make the decisions they do when faced with multiple options; and, ultimately, why people behave the way they do.
The aim of the field is to understand and apply the “human factor” to the decision-making process, rather than building theories on people making simple rational/logical decisions and choices, i.e. the theoretical concept of the logical/rational “Economic Man”
The 4 key behavioural science concepts covered in this paper are:
- Bounded Rationality (Simon, 1955) – Humans make decisions to achieve a satisfactory
outcome, rather than an optimal one. People do not make “perfect” decisions because decisions are made based on the knowledge an individual has, their ability to process that knowledge, and the amount of time available to make the decision.
- Framing Effect (Tversky & Kahneman, 1978) – Explains that the way information is presented to an individual changes how it is interpreted. In other words, if the same information is presented in a positive manner or a negative manner, a person’s interpretation of the information and the decisions they make about it, will change.
- Simplification Theory (Samson, 2020) – Suggests that an individual is more likely to act on a message if it is easy to understand.
- Dual System, Planner-Doer Model (Kahneman, 2012) – Explains self-control in decision making and how humans appear to utilise a dual-system for making decisions, including the concept of delayed gratification.
4.2 Dirksen, Colvin Clark, Stolovitch, and Keeps
Key findings of Dirksen, Colvin Clark, Stolovitch, and Keeps in the area of understanding how students process teaching materials and assessments, were part of the underpinning theories of this innovative admissions, enrollment, orientation and induction process, including:
- Procedural memory needs practice (Dirksen, 2016)
- When learning something new, new connections are formed in the students
brain, and each time that new piece of information or skill is used, the
connection is strengthened (Dirksen, 2016)
- Embedded retrieval hooks at the time of learning – opportunities that give the
students practise of using the information – make practising and using this skill
easier (Colvin Clark, 2010)
- Asking students to implement the information, has the greatest impact in the
long term (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2011)
5. Innovative Admissions, Enrollment, Induction and Orientation Process
This innovative process breaks downs into three stages (detailed below), and the key points are:
- This process occurs before the applicant is offered a place on the programme of study
- The process aims to develop a more informed learner cohorts, minimising the workload
on lecturers in bringing their new students up to speed with what is expected of them
- The process, while reordering current practice within higher education institutions
(admissions, enrollment, orientation and induction) still covers all of these elements in a format that is beneficial for the students
The 4 stages of the process are as follows:
- Stage 1: Initial Phone Call and Application Form
- Stage 2: Orientation Documentation and Interview Form
- Stage 3: Final Induction and Orientation Phone Call
- Stage 4: Enrollment of Candidates
Stage 1: Initial Phone Call and Application Form:
This initial phone call is to assess whether a candidate is a good fit for the industry, and whether a career in the industry is a good fit for them. The top candidates from this group, are invited to submit an application form for the course
Stage 2: Orientation Documentation and Interview Form:
Once an application form is received, the applicant enters the second stage. Applicants are issued orientation documentation about the course, which covers:
- Detailed course syllabus
- Course Schedule
- Course Overview
- Course Delivery Overview
- Course Assessment Overview
- Overview of the Support Available during studies
- Overview of Further Education Options Post the course
- Links to relevant information on job roles and salaries.
Applicants are asked to submit an interview form, comprising of 62 questions, with details about:
- Why they want to work in this industry?
- What skills they already have that would be applicable to this industry?
- What parts of the course they think will be most beneficial to them?
- Which 3 job roles they could work in post the programme?
- Which 5 companies they could apply to?
- What elements of the course they are looking forward to?
They are also expected to be able to:
- Summarize the module descriptors in their own words
- Note who to contact if they are struggling or need assignment extensions
- Note how many hours of study they are expected to do each week
- List any key assignment or exam dates
- State, in 3 sentences, why they should get a place on the programme
The answers to these questions are all available in the documentation they received, and a comprehensively answered set of questions is a good indicator of their ability to follow instructions, their interest in working in the industry, and their understanding of the documentation contained in the traditional student handbook.
Stage 3: Final Induction and Orientation Phone Call
This part of the process includes a phone call to confirm that the potential students understood each of the points raised in the orientation documentation, as well as to answer any further questions they may have about the course.
Stage 4: Enrollment of Candidates:
Once all of the above is completed successfully, the most suitable candidates are offered a place on the programme. Once the place has been accepted by the candidate, they are enrolled on the course, and are ready and prepared to start their studies immediately.
The underlying theories and how they map to the process outlined are addressed as per the table below.
Table 1 – Relating Theoretical Framework to thee Admissions, Enrollment, Induction and Orientation Process Outlined
6. Data Collection
The data gathered for this paper is both quantitative and qualitative. The limitations of quantitative studies – as being potentially statistically relevant due to large data sets, while being humanly irrelevant, missing the contextual details surrounding the results – are acknowledged.
The data for this paper was gathered directly by the private training provider during 2020 and 2021, from 425 adult learners applicants. Data was processed for ease of reading into tables and figures.
The data for this paper was gathered through an interview questionnaire as detailed in Section 5 above. This method of data collection was chosen as it allowed the researchers to gain the largest variety of data about the adult learners themselves and why they wanted to do the course. This form of data collection also allowed for the largest possible quantity of people to be considered.
The demographics for this group are detailed in Section 2, and it shows that these adult learners were not skewed towards one specific gender, age group or employment status.
However, in this case, in the straddling between insider-actor mode and
outsider-observer mode (Robson, 2011), and due to the research question in hand, the
The case of 425 applicants breaks down into three class groups:
- 142 in Class 1 (Completed Process in August 2020, Ireland in Level 4 Lockdown)
- 144 in Class 2 (Completed Process in January 2021, Ireland in Level 5 Lockdown)
- 139 in Class 3 (Completed Process in September 2021, Ireland Open with no restrictions)
There are four parts to understanding the impact of the Admissions, Enrollment, Induction and Orientation Process:
- Participation in the Process: This is measured in the number of applicants involved in each stage of the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process.
- Key Questions: This is measured in the number of correct answers to the key questions about the programme that the applicants answer as part of the interview questionnaire
- Skills Analysis Questions: This is measured through the quality of the answers submitted on the three skills analysis questions the adult learners completed in their interview form. The adult learners must be able to note why they want to work in this industry, the skills they already have that they are bringing to the industry, as well as the gaps in their skills that the programme will plug.
- Process Feedback: The experienced workers give feedback on their satisfaction at the end of the interview form.
The rest of this section will discuss these four effectiveness measures, in comparison to each of the three class groups noted previously.
7.1 Participation in the Process:
Table 2 (below) details the number of students involved in each stage of the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process for adult learners.
Table 2 – Details the number of students involved in each stage of the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process
For Table 2, it is important to note that:
- * denotes that the percentages are calculated relative to numbers of ‘Submitted Interview Forms’
- ** denotes that the data for the Cooling-off Period for Class 3 is not yet available
- Incomplete interview forms were removed from the figures
Table 2, demonstrates that at each stage of the process, the number of applicants who participated in that action, reduced, in particular:
- Between the ‘Stage 1: Initial Course Applications’ and ‘Stage 2: Submitted a Completed Interview Form’, there was a 27% reduction (113 applicants). This could be viewed as a
positive development, as these initial applicants decided not to proceed based on the
additional information included within the Interview Form.
- 97% of the applicants (303 applicants) who submitted a completed Interview Form were
spoken to by the Admissions Team.
- 276 applicants who submitted an interview form were offered a place on the
- 261 applicants accepted the offer and enrolled on the course. This can be viewed as a
positive development as those who were offered a place, were confident that this programme was the right fit for them.
7.2 Key Questions:
Figure 1 below, shows 8 of the key questions asked of the applicants as part of the interview
- How many hours study time per week is involved in the course
- What the adult learner should do if they are unable to study any particular week
- When is the adult learner’s lab practical
- When is the adult learner’s online exam
- What is the overall duration of the programme
- What is the qualification they will receive after the course
- Who will award their qualification
- What are their options for further academic studies after the course
Figure 1 – Answers to the 8 Key Questions Asked of Applicants As Part of the Interview Form
From Figure 1, it can be observed that:
- Over 90% of the applicants answered these 8 key questions correctly,
- 90% of applicants knew how many hours of study they needed to complete each week
- 99% of applicants understood their academic progression pathway post the course.
- 100% of applicants correctly understood what they should do if they were unable to
complete their studies during any particular week.
To be able to answer these questions correctly, the applicants had to read and understand the course documentation in detail, and be able to apply it to the question they were asked.
It can be hypothesised that the adult learners securing places on the course were knowledgeable about the course that they were applying for, and what to do in the event that difficulties arose of either a course or a personal nature.
7.3 Skills Analysis Questions:
Table 3 (below) documents the number of comprehensive answers that were received from the applicants to the first 3 questions asked in the interview form. These questions were compulsory on the interview form and were therefore answered by everyone. For ease of interpretation, this data has been summarised into the average number of applicants who had a clear and comprehensive set of answers to all three questions.
Table 3 – Number of Applicants with Comprehensive Answers to the Skills Analysis Gap Questions
It is noticeable that 74% of the responses to these key questions across 312 applicants were very comprehensive. This clearly demonstrates that the majority of the applicants had a good understanding of why they wanted to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, what skills they had already gained in their work experience to date that would be relevant to such a career, and how this programme would add to their skills to help them to make a successful career change into the Pharma-MedTech manufacturing sector.
This finding supports the feedback of the applicants to the overall screening process as noted in Section 7.4 below.
7.4 Process Feedback:
Table 4 below documents the feedback from the applicants on their satisfaction at the end of the interview questionnaire. Despite the fact that this was not a compulsory question on the interview form, over 90% of applicants still answered this question.
Table 4 – Feedback from the Applicants on their Satisfaction with the Process
Table 4 shows that the vast majority of applicants found the experience as positive, with 91% in Class 1, 85% in Class 2 and 95% in Class 3 reporting this.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction to this in depth interview form lends to the hypothesis that the applicants value an in-depth understanding of the programme, before accepting the offer of a place on it.
8. Discussion of Results
Following the juxtaposition of the three groups across the four effectiveness measures (Stage 3 Bereday) in Section 7, a simultaneous comparison is now conducted for the emergence of conclusions and hypotheses in tabular form below (Stage 4 Bereday).
Table 5 below, links the original theory to what was seen in the results across the three groups of applicants.
Table 5 – Comparison of theory to what was seen in the results across the three groups of applicants
Based on the results demonstrated, the investment of time and effort at the appropriate point in the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process, delivers the best students for the least effort to both the admissions team and the course delivery team for a programme of study.
This gradual screening of adult learners provides the best possible outcome for themselves, as opposed to being unaware of the various protocols on the course, they are informed.
Likewise the lecturers, as opposed to having to waste valuable learning time explaining the basic structures around the programme, are able to concentrate on lecturing.
Finally, the university is able to ensure that the students have a very good experience when starting their courses, making sure that their first impression of the university is a positive one which will last.
Maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of the admissions, enrollment, induction and orientation process can be of benefit to the entire third level learning process, as getting the right applicants onto the right courses has knock-on benefits for the students, the lecturers and the academic institutions.
The induction and orientation process is usually well documented in the traditional Student Handbook for a course. However many students actually only read this in detail when they are faced with a problem, which often could have been avoided with a little knowledge and some preparation. As was said by one of the applicants themselves “It’s also a clever way to get students to actually read the syllabus, which, truth be told, I’ve rarely done in the past unless there was a problem”
Building this information into the admissions and enrollment process, and including a quiz on the relevant details for the students to complete, will ensure that all applicants will have read and understood their Student Handbook before they are offered a place on the course. After accepting a place on the course, the applicants will become students and behavioural science tells us that requesting/advising them to read the Student Handbook will not be as successful at that time.
In addition, preparing the students upfront about what is going to be happening on their course increases their confidence about enrolling, (which was confirmed in the qualitative feedback gathered during this innovative process). This innovative admissions and enrollment process has great benefits for the adult learners, one of whom stated in their own words “I know what I am in for and I am mentally prepared”. This contributes to the happiness of these adult learners with their overall learning experience, and is captured in their end of course student surveys.
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