Adaptive Learning: The Next Big Wave in EdTech

Adaptive Technology: The Next Big Wave in EdTech

Do you enjoy your school work and involvement in the process of learning? What if I told you that interactive enhancements make it possible for you to learn more effectively and have more fun doing it? The future of education continues to evolve as the next wave in technology – adaptive learning – is making its way into college classes in the form of interactive activities. Instructors want students to be fully engaged in the class and these technological-based programs provide another means to make this possible.

Adaptive technology allows educators to take the concept of student-centered education and one-on-one personalized feedback to an entirely new level through the use of programs that support individualized learning. These adaptive learning activities aren’t just games for students to play, they are responsive programs that adapt to their needs and provide ongoing real-time feedback about their progress towards mastery of the materials and course concepts. While the technology behind theses programs is complex, the end product is easy for students to use and provide many benefits.

What is Adaptive Learning All About?

Enhancements to Cognitive Functioning: As I indicated in my post, Neuroscience Helps to Explain How Students Learn, the process of learning is interactive in nature and true learning (where knowledge is stored in long-term memory) is a result of working with and processing information received. Students must be able to comprehend the meaning of what they’ve read in the course materials or heard during a lecture if they are to engage in learning and retain knowledge.

Your Brain + Artificial Intelligence

Adaptive learning technologies were developed by cognitive scientists who studied how students learn. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham believes that “thinking about meaning generally involves thinking about structure, synthesizing information, and applying knowledge to new circumstances.” Through his research, Willingham has found that “adaptive learning can stimulate and speed up the process by inserting “˜reinforcement’ moments into cognitive work– moments that prompt students to reflect on their particular solution, underscore the concept behind the solution, or describe the structure of some body of information.” In other words, these programs can engage students’ cognitive functions in a manner that promotes higher order or critical thinking, which is a skill that instructors emphasize as necessary for academic learning.

Responsive Technology: The technology itself is a form of artificial intelligence, which is based upon algorithms and pattern sensing. Adaptive learning is responsive because it provides instantaneous, real-time feedback about students’ performance in an activity. The adaptive learning program tracks students’ preferences, patterns, and performance during assessments as a means of monitoring and responding to them on an individual basis. The algorithm is designed to “learn” from the students’ behavior and make decisions about what they need based upon what the program has “learned” through their interactions.

How is Adaptive Technology Being Utilized in Education?

There are numerous vendors that have developed adaptive learning programs and many online schools have already implemented interactive activities into their curricula. Below is a list of some of the most popular adaptive learning technological programs being utilized in higher education today.

LearnSmart: This is described as “an interactive study tool for higher education that evaluates students’ ability and knowledge levels to tweak the learning content based on students’ strengths and weaknesses.” It is available through McGraw-Hill Connect in over 50 course specific subjects. The following video provides a demonstration of the program.

As discussed in the video, adaptive technology is responsive to students because it makes adjustments as needed based upon the level of difficulty and content. The program monitors competency skill levels and patterns of learning. After completion of a module, students receive instantaneous feedback and instructors receive a copy of their progress reports.

ALEKS – Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) is described as “a Web-based assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to determine a student’s knowledge or lack of it.” This program has been utilized by online schools I’ve worked for as a lab activity for development of students’ math skills and the modules typically include reading materials, videos, exercises, and practice problems.

Carnegie Learning uses adaptive learning technology to create “assessment and problem-solving activities to strengthen student conceptual understanding and underlying math proficiency.” The Apollo Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix) has recently acquired Carnegie Learning and this will allow the school to offer individualized tutorials to enhance students’ learning.

Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform uses “proprietary algorithms to deliver a personalized learning path for each student by identifying each student’s strengths, weaknesses and unique learning style.” The program tracks students’ progress and tailors the course materials to meet their needs. Pearson, an education resources company, has acquired the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform and in January 2012 began offering a series called MyLab/Mastering. Instructors that utilize this program may be able to include enhanced announcements, develop customized assessments, and other interactive features in their courses.

How is this Helpful for Students’ Learning?

The most important advantage that adaptive learning programs offer students is an ability to participate in a more inviting, interactive, and engaging course. While interactivity is an important component of any course, on-ground or online, it can be challenging at times for students to get involved – especially if the subject or topic is not that immediately interesting to them or relevant to their needs. For example, students have to read assigned materials that may include textbooks, which are often present text-based information in complex ways that are difficult to understand. Adaptive technology programs include activities, multimedia presentations, and customized resources that bring the materials to life, which can deepen the learning experience and increase reading comprehension.

Another benefit of an adaptive program is that it addresses the needs of various learning styles and abilities. Individual students sometimes have preferred methods to learning and instructors may need to find alternate methods of presenting the materials. In addition, students may be quick learners or need more time to process information – and adaptive programs recognize these patterns and tailor the presentation accordingly by providing additional practice or resources.  Finally, most adaptive programs offer immediate feedback and alter the activities based upon the students’ progress. Students benefit since they do not have to wait a few days to receive feedback from their instructor about their progress in class. The programs are responsive and react immediately.

Adaptive technology has made its arrival onto the higher education landscape and it seems that its full potential has only begun to be realized. Many online schools have discovered the potential benefits for students and implemented adaptive exercises that promote engagement in the class. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to use an adaptive program soon and when you do, take time to fully participate in these activities that support your academic development and success.

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

Photo © Matthias Kulka/Corbis

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