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An education built for working adults: Learn-Practice-Apply

University of Phoenix is regularly innovating its program and course offerings to help students balance education and life in a rapidly changing world. At the heart of this innovation is offering students a quality learning experience that focuses on applied learning in a structured and predictable format to help students pursue personal and career aspirations without putting their lives on hold.

University of Phoenix serves a diverse working adult student population, offering continuing education, associate, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree programs from select locations across the United States as well as online throughout the world.

The same principles of inclusion and progress that led to the founding of the university are reflected in the College of Business and Information Technology (CBIT) mission, purpose and strategy today.

Instructional Framework
University of Phoenix originated from Dr. John Sperling’s recognition that the higher education needs of adult learners differ greatly from those of the traditional 18- to 22-year-old undergraduate learner. To that end, the learning model of the University is rooted in an instructional framework that draws from the theory of andragogy, as well as from constructivist and brain-based approaches. The model is designed to provide an active, engaging learning environment that allows for practical application of knowledge and skills.

The Instructional Framework provides a common structure for all programs and courses at the university. While industry and professional standards determine the content of courses and programs, the Instructional Framework serves as the guiding document for the design, implementation and evaluation of teaching and learning.

Theoretical Underpinnings
University of Phoenix utilizes a learner-centered teaching and learning model based on constructivist theories and the concept of andragogy. The Mission of the university is to provide higher education opportunities to working adults. University of Phoenix courses are intensive and interactive in nature, relying upon innovative teaching and learning tools that allow for practical application of knowledge and skills.

The curriculum, which is outcomes- and standards-based, prepares students for careers and is designed to facilitate the acquisition of theoretical content and useful knowledge and skills identified as crucial to the academic and professional success of working adults. The University’s learning process is designed to integrate academic theory and professional practice in an applicable manner to the students’ work and life experiences. The curriculum also integrates academic theory, skills, dispositions and lifelong learning as essential elements of professional practice applicable to the students’ work and life experiences.

This instructional framework is grounded in adult learning theory, constructivist theory and brain-based theory that guide the development of the curriculum and programs while also influencing how content is taught by the institution’s faculty members. To that end, weekly course curriculum is designed in a structured and predictable format for students to progress through a learn, practice and apply sequence to meet the learning objectives each week.

Consistent with this instructional framework, the University deploys a practitioner faculty model that leverages professional experience and knowledge in facilitating the learning process and achievement of course and program learning outcomes. The faculty member possesses the subject knowledge and professional expertise and serves as a role model as a working professional. The University’s goal is to meet students where they are, help students reach their academic and professional aspirations, and equip them with the skills they need to make a difference in their workplace and community through a learn, practice and apply learning process.

College of Business and IT Instructional Design
Instructional design within CBIT is guided by well-researched theories, methods, and models to ensure academic quality and rigor. Design decisions are made based on the content, context, audience, and learning goals of academic programs. Students are placed at the center of design. While a wide variety of methods are used to support the unique design requirements of each course, guiding principles of instructional design are consistently applied to deliver an optimal learning experience to students.

• Learning Outcomes: Clearly state instructional goals and objectives for a program or course based on academic standards defined by the colleges.

• Alignment: Ensure that objectives, assessments, reading materials, activities, media objects, faculty materials and other course materials relate to the defined learning outcomes.

• Students: Analyze the characteristics of the learner. Ensure that instruction addresses the needs of the target audience.

• Delivery Context: Analyze the characteristics of the learning environment. Ensure that instruction can be delivered within the learning environment and that students have the necessary tools.

• Selection and Sequencing: Identify prerequisite knowledge or skills students should possess, and determine the types of knowledge or skills to be addressed in the course. Select instruction that fits in the program of study and accounts for learning outcomes. Sequence instructional events to support the conditions of learning.

• Rigor and Relevance: Design instruction that meets the defined levels of pace and rigor for the course. Ensure that instruction is clear and concise and designed at an optimal cognitive load. Design instruction that is motivating, authentic and relevant. Ensure that learning objects meet an instructional purpose, add value to the course, and follow principles of effective design.

• Measurement: Design learning activities and assessments that are authentic and meaningful for the student and that measure the intended learning outcomes.

• Evaluation: Gather student and faculty performance data to evaluate outcomes of instruction.

Who We Serve

Consistent with the values, mission and purpose of University of Phoenix, the College of Business and Information Technology (CBIT) mission is to provide innovative, industry-relevant and accessible higher education that prepares learners to be competent, responsible and ethical practitioners and leaders. Our goal is to make a difference in the lives of our students and their organizations. This mission is reflected in the Instructional Framework.

CBIT serves two distinct working adult student segments, the Reboot Realists and the Striving Providers. The Reboot Realist values education more now than before and are looking to earn their Bachelor’s degree. This student segment is worried about finances and the workload, but their personal drive and goal-orientation will help them succeed. The Striving Provider values school and learning; is an average student but driven to graduate. This student segment has many goals to achieve with school (enhance career, support family, etc.), yet worry about having the skills to succeed and want a lot of support and flexibility throughout the journey.

By focusing on these two student segments, the University and College has developed a strategy to implement that centers around the student experience pillars of an education that Fits and is Worth It. Within each of these pillars, there are specific objectives that are tailored to the wants and needs of the two student segmented identified earlier. The College’s learning design model and course structure is derived from these pillars and strategic objectives.

The Course Structure/Template
Course structure can significantly influence student satisfaction, motivation, and persistence. Providing students with continuity in their learning experiences aids in creating a familiar and comfortable experience and allows students to focus on learning instead of being overloaded by novel navigation. A consistent approach also reduces confusion, promotes quality and clarity, and ensures a logical, sequential, and meaningful course structure.

According to University and College market research, structure and predictability are cornerstones to the success of a working adult student. Students need a clear understanding of their educational path to. A structured plan and consistency in its delivery gives school a predictable role in students’ busy lives. This model is organized around three learning principles: Learn, Practice, and Apply (LPA). Each stage of the model builds upon the prior principle to ensure that students’ progress through the learning experience with the culminating phase of applying their knowledge and skill acquisition to career-relevant outcomes. Each course will utilize this structure to provide students with opportunities to learn, practice, and apply the knowledge and skills they achieve throughout this process.

The LPA model reinforces the importance of quality learning content, practice and feedback, and student application of learning (Figure 1). It simplifies a complex instructional design process and leverages language that encourages authentic assessment. In addition, while the model provides structure and predictability, it also provides the flexibility for appropriate differentiation based on program and career outcomes.

This flexibility can be achieved through the types of content, activities, or assignments that are developed within the learn, practice, and apply categories each week.


The Learn component of the design model promotes learning by providing content that supports the learning objectives and can activate existing knowledge and demonstrate new knowledge.


Fear of failure is a significant challenge for many of our students. The practice component of the design model promotes engagement through social presence, interaction, and prompt feedback. Discussion remains an important element of practice. Faculty can increase student motivation by engaging students in discussions that connect course concepts to fields of study.

Discussions also build a sense of community essential to student success by encouraging collaboration, active learning, and higher order thinking while preventing feelings of isolation and burnout . Practice and discussion promote learning by giving students the opportunity to discuss, defend, and reflect on learning while integrating the knowledge into their world.


Learners from our target markets are motivated by improved career and earning goals. In support of those goals, University of Phoenix courses give learners the chance to apply what they are learning. Giving learners opportunities to apply new knowledge and solve real-world problems promotes learning.

Learning Team Strategy

The University implemented Learning Teams to promote collaboration as an essential skill for the workplace. Interaction within a group spurs an exchange of ideas, which can lead to greater engagement in the task and with the people in the group. Exploration allows new ideas to be discovered and evaluated to determine whether they align with the parameters of the project and can be accomplished. The team process also allows members to assess teammates’ ideas and performance and the group’s progress toward its collective goal, offering opportunities to develop critical thinking skills.

Benefits of the collaborative Learning Team model include the following:

• Reinforcing learning in the content area

• Serving as laboratories for learning how to become more effective team members in the workplace

• Helping students improve interpersonal communication skills

• Enhancing horizontal learning (the transfer of knowledge and information among students) of discipline-specific course content through collaboration in course assignments

• Facilitating collaboration that results in the development of higher-order thinking skills

• Offering support groups to help students successfully negotiate the educational process

• Providing experience in team or group activities that mirror the workplace of the 21st century

The University’s collaborative learning team model serves as a means for students to develop transferable skills such as teamwork, communication, critical inquiry, and reflection. In acknowledgement of the diverse range of experiences adult learners bring to the classroom, students engage in collaboration through a wide variety of forms and activities that are both graded and non-graded.

Collaborative work, grounded in real-world and relevant contexts then combined with adequate resources, supports learners in this process.
These real-world and relevant collaborative assignments are mapped throughout a student’s program as milestones for developing the University Learning Goal of collaboration.

Placement of collaborative or Learning Team assignments is driven by the Program Student Learning Outcomes or course-level learning objectives. Collaborative or Learning Team assignments should provide authentic opportunities to collaborate that exist in a learner’s field of study. Not all courses within a program may require students to collaborate based on the learning objectives or outcomes being assessed for that subject matter. However, at a minimum, there are at least three opportunities for students to collaborate in learning team projects or assignments throughout their program that are tracked through the program’s curriculum map.

The outcomes of these assignments are collected by the School/College’s Dean of Assessment and performance is tracked to ensure that students are mastering the University Learning Goal of collaboration.

University Learning Goal: Collaboration

As a graduate, you will work effectively in diverse groups and teams. You will be a collaborator, able to function well within a team as both a leader and a follower. You will embrace diversity and treat others with respect.

The University Learning Goal of collaboration will be demonstrated by students at the introduced, reinforced, and mastery level as they progress through their program of study.

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2 Lee, C.-Y., Dickerson, J., & Winslow, J. (2012). An analysis of organizational approaches to online course structures. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 15(1). Retrieved from

3 Lee, C.-Y., Dickerson, J., & Winslow, J. (2012). An analysis of organizational approaches to online course structures. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 15(1). Retrieved from

4 Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

5 Kranzow, J. (2013). Faculty leadership in online education: Structuring courses to impact student satisfaction and persistence. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(1), 131. Retrieved from

6 Kranzow, J. (2013). Faculty leadership in online education: Structuring courses to impact student satisfaction and persistence. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(1), 131. Retrieved from

7 Kranzow, J. (2013). Faculty leadership in online education: Structuring courses to impact student satisfaction and persistence. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(1), 131. Retrieved from

8 Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

9 Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

10 Michaelsen, L. K., &. Sweet, M. (2008, Winter). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (116), 7–27.