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Breaking the “One Size Fits All” Model: GPS Education Partners


Andy Hepburn 1.jpgA unique new model of education is taking shape in Wisconsin. GPS Education Partners, based in Brookfield, provides 200 students throughout the state with workplace-relevant education in cooperation with manufacturing employers. They began in 2000 with five students and one partner employer. Today, they are a nonprofit 501(c)3 and the only manufacturing-specific, Department of Workforce Development Youth Apprenticeship Program in Wisconsin. GPS serves hundreds of students state wide, with plans to scale across the Midwest and then nationally.

Part of GPS’s leadership includes Andy Hepburn, Chief Innovation Officer. He combines a background in education—he taught high school history in a college prep environment—with IT industry experience. “I’d say I’m almost a perfect hybrid” of technologist and educator, Andy explains. “Over the years that I was teaching, we slowly and poorly introduced technology into the classroom. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how to do it right.” In 2015, Andy partnered with Realizeit to put their adaptive and personalized learning platform to work for GPS Education Partners.

Creating New Options for Young People

“The big problem we’re trying to solve as an organization,” says Andy, “is the fact that there’s not a one-size-fits-all model for education, particularly at the end of high school. Young people should have more choices beyond preparing for a traditional four-year college experience.” GPS Education Partners aims to provide an alternative to the traditional college path that offers an equally powerful opportunity to prepare for the workplace. Early on, the program was aimed at students who were likely to struggle to complete high school.

Now, it presents a viable model for any students who want to work with their hands, or aren’t enthusiastic about traditional classroom environments. “Why can’t we offer these students something more meaningful than going out and getting a minimum-wage job, or three part-time jobs?” Andy asks. “We wanted a student to be able to say, ‘I have choices to help me figure out what I want to do.’”

Right now, GPS partners with employers in the manufacturing sector. Businesses in Wisconsin are still making products for market—albeit increasingly sophisticated products, such as medical imaging devices and other technical equipment. “There isn’t any clear path for young people to get to these technical roles,” explains Andy. “So many people who wind up in manufacturing fall into these jobs as a backup or second thought. That has a negative impact on the growth of our middle class, our economy, our country.”

A Focus on Competency-Based Learning

GPS Education Partners wanted to offer employers a transparent qualification. While schools and colleges provide transcripts that show certain courses a graduate has taken, it’s tough to map those subjects on to specific skills which make a hiring manager confident a candidate can do the job. “If we were going to create meaningful hands-on learning experiences,” explains Andy, “the key was coming up with a competency-based system that would let students demonstrate what they know and what they can do in a very powerful way.”

That system also had to be flexible and scalable, because GPS Education Partners hopes to expand its model to other industries and states. “We wanted a system that was content-agnostic, no matter what industry or subject we were working in. Having the flexibility to create curriculum maps and competency maps for any subject, creating those connections between what students know and what they do, is what attracted us to Realizeit. If we had to do this without the Realizeit support, we would not be as far along as we are.”

A Work in Progress with Promise

Using Realizeit, GPS Education Partners is working with employers to develop competency maps which are delivered online to each of its program centers. “Previously, we provided a curriculum and the tools, but no delivery system. There was a lot more freelancing that went on because of that. Sometimes that kind of freelancing yields phenomenal results, and sometimes it means some students miss out.” Providing a consistent system meant placing students and their outcomes at the center of the learning process. 

The implementation of GPS’ model is on-going —and has morphed significantly since its beginning stages. “I’ll be honest: it hasn’t always been a smooth process,” says Andy.  “But the respect and the commitment Realizeit has shown us in terms of making the product work for our needs has been impressive. If I’m trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, I don’t want to be with a company that’s going to try to box me in.”

At the student level, introducing personalized and adaptive learning has yielded immediate benefits: students can see a clear pathway through the program. They understand what they are working towards, why each concept matters, and what they need to do at each stage to master a given topic.

In addition, Realizeit’s analytics engine and data-gathering offers GPS the evidence they need to show the schools and businesses they partner with that their programs have depth and rigor. GPS can provide competency-based reports that give schools the confidence to continue partnering with the organization.

They can also help employers take more ownership in developing the curriculum for their programs: with the knowledge maps, employer representatives can visualize what each training pathway potentially looks like, what topics and skills are covered, and advise the GPS team on any gaps that need to be filled.

“The Indicators Keep Telling Us It’s Valuable”

As GPS Education Partners re-imagines its education model fully leveraging adaptive and personalized learning, does Andy feel the effort has been worth the trouble? “It’s absolutely worth it,” he explains. “That’s not because we’ve made an investment; it’s because the indicators keep telling us it’s a valuable process. And with all the conversations about workplace-relevant training and manufacturing jobs, we feel that what we at GPS have to offer has never been more relevant.”

Part of the problem is the complete originality of GPS’s training model. “We’re trying to create an entirely new delivery structure, not just digitize an existing system. I think you’re always tempted by the idea that there’s an easier way, but I’ve been around long enough to know that there really isn’t. And with Realizeit, we have a strong partner to collaborate with.”

Learn More

Discover how Realizeit’s personalized learning and adaptive teaching system can help you and your students reimagine how you teach your courses while respecting your domain expertise and teaching style. Contact us today at (847) 241-4577 or click below to request a demo.


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