Adaptive learning has long been a part of education. The basic concept is simple: Coursework should be adapted to meet the individual needs of each student. Every teacher has experience modifying curriculum in some way to help students access information. Nowadays technology can help make the adaptations easier and more streamlined.
Adaptive learning technology seeks to do two things:
1. Help teachers adapt lessons.
Adaptive technology can follow a student’s progress as they work and recognize which concepts they’ve mastered and in which areas they need further instruction. The software of app will then offer additional lessons on a subject until the student gains mastery.
2. Provide information that empowers teachers.
Adaptive learning products track how each student is doing and provide teachers with class reports. Teachers won’t have to work individually with students for hours to assess which skills each student needs help with, because they’ll have on-demand data aggregating that information.
Adaptive learning technology is gaining some pretty important supporters. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have shown their support to the tune of $1 million in grants for universities to step up their adoption of adaptive learning. And studies have been showing that adaptive learning technology can help students achieve comparable results in less time, raise their scores, and improve retention.
Many of the benefits that adaptive technology offers in online courses also apply to traditional classrooms. However, the nature of online learning means that some of the challenges adaptive learning helps to address are especially relevant to online students. When teachers and students don’t interact with each other regularly in person, as often happens with online courses, having a tool that helps pick up the slack becomes that much more important.
Online students tend to work on their own schedules, completing assignments whenever they can find the time. Adaptive learning technology can help recognize the challenge they’re having and provide additional resources to help them work through it on their own, especially at times when a professor isn’t available to give help.
Students can also get a clearer idea of when they’re ready to move on. If they’re rushing to complete their work, it can be easy for students to assume they’ve understood what’s in a chapter and jump ahead – unless they have to take a quick quiz that shows what information they’ve retained. Adaptive learning tech will let them know when they need to slow down a bit and pay closer attention to the material.
It can be difficult enough to keep up with the various progress levels of a class full of students they see every day, so recognizing the progress of online students can seem downright impossible for teachers. Especially when the only communication they may have with students is via email and Skype.
Adaptive learning technology tracks what and how each student is doing so that teachers can keep up with each student’s progress. If one student’s acing everything they do, the teacher know don’t need any intervention. But another student who is having a hard time getting past one particular lesson could be a signal to teachers to offer help the student extra help.
Many students in the United States fail to complete school. 7% of high school students drop out before graduation and nearly half of the students who start college don’t finish within six years. Many of those students who don’t make it to graduation day are the kind of non-traditional students attracted to online learning.
Students trying to balance college with other big life responsibilities are going to have a hard time keeping up with the work. If they fall behind or especially struggle to get past a particular hurdle, they’re more likely to give up. Adaptive tech can help them get past those hurdles with a little extra help, or can alert the teacher in time to step in, so those students are more likely to receive their diplomas.
When students don’t have access to in-class time and office hours, making the most of any interaction they have with professors is paramount. Teachers don’t want to waste time on the stuff students already know, when what they need is specific help with this one thing that they just can’t figure out. The data produced by adaptive learning tech allows faculty to steer those conversations in the directions most important to helping the student succeed.
Teachers know a lot about how students learn, but research has produced so much scientific data on learning that’s hard to remember and implement everything. Data like exactly how many times a person should encounter a piece of information in order to remember it, or what kind of time intervals there should be between encountering a fact and being quizzed on it, are easily programmed into adaptive tech.
The most powerful adaptive learning solutions constantly collect data over time so they can refine how well the product works and become even more valuable to student users. Every student using these products is getting the benefit of the data the technology collected on students that came before.
A big part of what appeals to students about the possibility of online learning is being able to approach the material on their own time, at their own pace. Adaptive learning technology helps online students make sure they use their learning time as efficiently and productively as possible. Students still have to put in the work to succeed; but with adaptive technology, they’ll be able to focus on the right work.