Montana Digital Academy Case Study

Problem: Montana’s rural landscape creates barriers in making education equitable and accessible.

Open LMS’ platform helped deliver a customized, flexible approach to digital learning to help educators ensure the success of Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) students.

90% of students satisfied with learning experience, and roughly 65% of students who enrolled recovered failed credits.

Solving an Education Equity Issue

In Montana, 65% of the state’s population resides in rural areas, bringing many challenges in delivering an equitable education. Many students who live in rural areas are at smaller schools, and it’s common for schools to be hundreds of miles apart from one another.

As a result, many students don’t have access to the same diverse course catalogs as larger, more urban schools, including Advanced Placement (AP), world language, and dual credit courses. This limits many students from more advanced learning opportunities and achieving educational goals.

To address this problem, the Montana State Legislature established the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) in 2009 to offer supplemental online programming to students through their K-12 public schools. With this program in place, some districts added up to 50% more courses to their overall roster for students. In addition to making these classes available, students could use MTDA to recover credits from courses they previously failed in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting.

We need a way to tear down the barriers to make learning as accessible and equitable as possible,” said Jason Neiffer, the executive director of MTDA. “The Montana Digital Academy has become a critical solution for students across the state.”

Open LMS Provides Customized Solutions

MTDA didn’t come to life overnight. Through a rigorous RFP process, Open LMS, the leading provider of open-source learning systems, stood out to MTDA as a viable option to help them provide an effective and engaging online learning experience for students statewide.

A significant goal between MTDA and Open LMS was to develop a strategy to increase the successful completion of credit recovery courses. Educators’ previous experiences working with students trying to recover a course credit showed that these students needed consistent and predictable feedback that would allow them to know where they were doing well and where they needed additional support.

MTDA leveraged Open LMS’ Personalized Learning Designer (PLD), one of its most powerful and most popular tools. It allows instructors to automate elements of their course to personalize the learning per student based on their interaction in the course. This proved to be valuable to keep students engaged while monitoring their course progress.

For example, if a student scores below 65% on a mastery assignment, they will automatically get an email explaining their score with recommendations about revisiting the coursework and improving their grade. Otherwise, if a student receives a passing score, they’re automatically introduced to the next course activity.

Open LMS was able to build on this momentum after it was acquired by Learning Technologies Group (LTG), further expanding its services to work in synergy with its always-deployed features. The Open LMS platform is also highly flexible, scalable and easy to use, which was helpful when MTDA experienced a dramatic increase in enrollment in Fall 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were concerned about a lot of different things in Fall 2020, but Open LMS was not one of them. We knew Open LMS would be able to scale up its software to meet our needs as we dealt with increased enrollment,” Neiffer said.

When creating the program, MTDA leaders determined that students needed to access their classes whenever and wherever to ensure the program’s success. Leveraging the right digital learning platforms to expand students’ academic options and class accessibility was essential to help accomplish learning goals.

Delivering Impactful Results

The Open LMS partnership with MTDA has contributed to impactful results for its students’ success.

When it comes to recovering failed credits, roughly 65% of students enrolled in MTDA earned back those credentials and mastered the skills throughout the course. To put this into perspective, 100% of the students in these online learning courses had previously failed those same classes in a traditional face-to-face learning setting.

The most important part of the Montana Digital Academy is the educators. We can’t do this without them. But Open LMS was this pinch of magic that connected everything,” said Neiffer.

Students also shared positive feedback regarding their experience, with around 90% of students being satisfied or very satisfied with their MTDA course. For students participating in AP courses, upwards of 90% earned a passing grade and could prove their mastery in those classes and pass AP tests at a rate that exceeded state and national averages.

Overall, MTDA leaders point to Open LMS’ flexibility and ease-of-use to get this idea off the ground and close the ongoing equity gap many students face.

Due to its success, MTDA plans to provide services for middle school courses in 2022 and will work with Open LMS to adopt a strategy to ensure they’re meeting this demographic’s unique needs.

About Open LMS

Open LMS leverages open-source software to deliver an effective and engaging learning experience. As the largest commercial provider of hosting and support services for the open-source learning platform, we help organizations and institutions deliver great learning experiences without complexities. Previously a Blackboard product, Open LMS was acquired by Learning Technologies Group plc (LTG) in March 2020.

About Montana Digital Academy

The 2009 Montana Legislature established MTDA as a supplemental online program serving students through their local K-12 public school. They offer instruction aimed primarily at middle school and high school students to supplement their local school coursework with additional avenues and opportunities through online classes.

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