Conversation with The President: How’s The College Transformed the Student Experience?

Conversation with The President: How’s The College Transformed the Student Experience?

The American College of Financial Services student experience
Conversation with The President: How’s The College Transformed the Student Experience?
George Nichols III
Dec 07, 2020

During a year of hardship, we saw so many examples of heroism. During a year of complexity, we witnessed leaders step up with confidence. And during a year of uncertainty, The American College of Financial Services executed on behalf of our students, and in advancement of our mission.

To end 2020, I sat down to answer four pressing questions summing up The College’s 2020. I touched on technological advances, a renewed focus on transformative e-learning, and the potential outcomes The College can foster in economic empowerment and equality.

First, I discussed the strategic sea change in The College’s delivery of applied knowledge. The two cornerstones of that strategy are Brightspace, The College’s new learning management system, and Personal Pathway, its new learning model now available through the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP®) education programs, as well as several courses in the Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®) program.

Instead of outlining features and benefits – visit the program pages above to view the highlights – I looked into the future to help the financial advisor, life insurance agent, nonprofit fundraiser, or executive leader understand what this shift in thinking and execution will mean for them.

Listen to the short interview below, and make sure to subscribe to this blog to remain on the pulse of new College initiatives.

Jared Trexler: Hello, everyone. A happy holiday season to all as we near the end of one of the most challenging, chaotic, unusual years in our nation's history. We hope all of you listening are safe and well and navigating these times with a strong belief for a brighter future. We at The American College of Financial Services are dedicated to being your lifelong learning partner and advancing our mission to benefit society. Today, I'm sitting down with College president and CEO, George Nichols III, for his thoughts on the College's 2020 as well as his valuable perspectives from over three decades in the financial services industry. Make sure to follow President Nichols on LinkedIn, Twitter, and sign up to receive his latest insights right to your inbox at

George, let's start by discussing the strategic sea change in The College's delivery of applied knowledge. The two cornerstones of that strategy are Brightspace, The College's new learning management system and Personal Pathway, its new learning model now available through the CHFC® and CFP® education programs. I want to move beyond features and benefits and have you vision cast for a moment. I'm a financial advisor with a big insurance firm or broker dealer. What does this transformation mean for me now and for my future self, maybe five years from now?

President George Nichols III: Well, happy holidays to you, Jared, and to everyone that is listening. When I think about these two components of our future delivery, it really is about you as an advisor, you as a student. Let me start with Personal Pathway and then bring in Brightspace. Personal Pathway is actually saying to you, "We want to be able to deliver content and the learning components for you the way you want them, when you want them, and how you want them." And in the context of saying, "how," is I hear a lot of people say, "Well, I've never taken an online class." Well, the fact is it is online, but there are still components that would allow you to interact in the chat, be a part of an online community, and have direct access to the faculty member through chat, by phone, by video web, by Zoom.

We're trying to create an environment that acknowledges that this is a new way of learning for some people who traditionally think, "I have to go to the campus. I'm supposed to be there physically, and that's how I learn." As opposed to the new way, and by being online, it allows you to do it when you're in a taxi or in an Uber between meetings, when you're sitting idle and you want to pick up your phone. Then while you're learning in those moments, as opposed to, "I don't know when I can carve out just an hour." It really is about you, how you learn, when you learn, and the way you learn. That's the Personal Pathway.

Now Brightspace becomes the platform. When we decided that we needed to do something different and that if we're going to give you this flexibility in the Personal Pathway that we have to be able to have a flexible system that allows us to deliver that the way it should be. When we did an RFP process, we looked at every learning management system you can imagine that's out there. There's a lot of new ones that are coming online that are thinking in this new way of student learning. But we found that Brightspace was almost built for, “let's start with the student.” Yeah, I understand the pieces that the faculty bring in. I understand all of the components of your syllabus, but Brightspace was really to sound like, "Okay, if the student has all this flexibility, how does the faculty, how does the institution, The College figure out if they're really making an impact?"

Well, we still have the learning objectives, but we're able to track when a student is engaged in the coursework. We can see through data that maybe people are having a problem. I can see down to the student level or I can see down to the class level. All of my students are having a problem on this particular issue. Well, that information allows us to be very responsive and say, "You know what? We noticed this. Here's a video of how to understand it." The Brightspace system allows us that flexibility, but it also allows us that type of monitoring. It's not big brother monitoring. It's monitoring so that as we understand how you want to learn, we can help you learn better.

If you are normally one of those people that thinks, "I'm having trouble," and you just keep at it, well, maybe, you know what? We can help. We can say, we can recognize those things and say, "Are you having a problem with this and what is the issue?" Because what you're having may be broadly for everyone else and then we can interact so it actually gives us opportunities to engage with you probably even better than you'd be engaged with if you were on campus, other than you may go to your professor and ask.

But it helps us drive it. Taking the flexibility of a system that really started with the student as opposed to starting with the faculty and institution, which is very, very important for us in order for us to meet that objective of Personal Pathway that really says, "As you come to us to learn, it's really all about how you learn." Then, we're good at the financial knowledge part. We're going to give you the technical knowledge and the details that you need to be more competent, but it still has to be in some ways customized to meet you. That's what our future is, and we know that people are not monolithic so we've got to be able to have a system that is really, really flexible.

Jared: Thank you so much, George, and thank you for listening. As The College continues to fulfill its mission, check back for another conversation with George in the months ahead. Here's to a safe, happy holiday season and make sure to bookmark the for President Nichols' latest professional insights and announcements of College initiatives.