What are Adaptive Learning Technologies?


Adaptive learning technologies refer to software and online platforms that adjust to individual students’ needs as they learn. According to a paper commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, adaptive learning is a “sophisticated, data-driven, and in some cases, nonlinear approach to instruction and remediation, adjusting to a learner's interactions and demonstrated performance level, and subsequently anticipating what types of content and resources learners need at a specific point in time to make progress." In this sense, contemporary educational tools are now capable of learning the way people learn; enabled by machine learning technologies, they can adapt to each student’s progress and adjust content in real-time or provide customized exercises when they need it. In higher education, many faculty envision these adaptive platforms as new, patient tutors that can provide personalized instruction on a large scale. There are two levels to adaptive learning technologies — the first platform reacts to individual user data and adapts instructional material accordingly, while the second leverages aggregated data across a large sample of users for insights into the design and adaptation of curricula.

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1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Adaptive learning is very suitable to support diverse student groups and also to engage students. Rather than encouraging students to compete with each other, Adaptive learning allows students to set their own goals and achieve their potential, at their own pace. Learning Management Systems offer means to monitor progress through quiz and surveys. At present most of the adaptive teaching is done by the teacher who monitors student performance and tailors teaching. In time to come, the LMS could have built in capacities to deliver content based on student progress and achievement of competencies automatically. So teaching and learning will be not only adaptive, it will also be automated. Some other platforms offer such automated adaptive learning environments even now. I would like to see this in Learning Management Systems. - nacha_sockalingam nacha_sockalingam Aug 9, 2016 - helga helga Aug 9, 2016 - ole ole Aug 10, 2016 - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2016
  • I have always seen Adaptive Learning as a natural evolution of very good teaching (i.e., a teacher knows his learners so well that he can actually adjust lessons/materials to cater for diversity). With AL, this is taken to an extreme -- and incredibly efficient -- level. The fact that learners have access to input that will both cater to their immediate needs and provide them with just enough challenge so that they don't feel demotivated can boost learning immensely. However, I believe that we still need to see further development when it comes to the development of learning strategies and analytics that measure skills which aren't so linear such as writing, discourse and the learning of foreign languages. - paulo.dantas paulo.dantas Aug 9, 2016 Agreed. - ole ole Aug 10, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016 - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2016
  • Comment above: In time to come, the LMS could have built in capacities to deliver content based on student progress and achievement of competencies automatically. Fortunately, this option has existed in LMSs for a number of years (e.g. WebCT had it in 1999). WebCT called it "Selective Release", and I believe Blackboard calls it "Adaptive Release" and allows you to create "rules" such as meeting a certain grade on a quick or competency before other content is released. This movement seems cyclical---in the 1980s and early 1990s, Integrated Learning Systems (ILS), were popular in K-12 schools...at least in some U.S. states. K-12 students sat in front of the computer during computer lab time, and were presented with the lesson (typically math and reading) and then a series of questions to test knowledge and application. The curriculum was adaptive based on the child's responses. It allowed each student to progress at their own pace. Perhaps the only difference now is the ability to leverage aggregate data for curriculum design changes. - MarwinBritto MarwinBritto Aug 9, 2016 A caveat here could be: This should not be a step backward to Skinner's programmed teaching - the danger exists, so all this should be made on the basis of newer learning theories with a real focus on the diversity in learning. - ole ole Aug 10, 2016 Which - by the way - relates to the discussion of HE teachers 'pedagogical literacy'. In a quality develop project I conducted together with colleagues one of the outcomes was that even seasoned teachers did not have the knowledge needed on HE pedagogy in general. Thus, their use of technology was not in all respects guided by pedagogical considerations. - ole ole Sep 4, 2016- rubenrp rubenrp Oct 2, 2016
  • In competency based educational models adaptive learning methods are already being built into learning platforms to provide personalized just-in-time feedback directing the learner along the path he/she is most suited for in engaging with the content. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016 Very good point especially for VET students- yvette.drager yvette.drager Sep 29, 2016
  • The way I see it, the first interaction of this kind of technologies with education could be helping to select the right candidates. Using data mining technologies, it could be possible to recognize the set of attributes that increase the probability of academic success of candidates. This set changes over time and over disciplines so it is required to adjust it frequently. The second interaction occurs helping students to choose the right set of courses to take, also using data mining techniques. Then, a third level appears during a specific course helping to determine if a student is requiring help with some particular subject, or helping to determine the right way to teach him/her (most comments are oriented toward this stage). We at javeriana university have been exploring all three stages and we see an increasing use of these technologies in the future. - jreinoso jreinoso Sep 7, 2016
  • We use adaptive technologies to help students practice and improve their skills in a number of M/S Office applications. Adaptive technologies are only effective if an instructor has been adequately trained in the logistics of how to apply their various functionalities., i.e., flags set for poor scores, regular reporting and student access to reports. As an example, I have had students who used the same adaptive system previously and were not aware that they could run a report of their performance. Thus, sadly used as an assignment drop box.- bsmith bsmith Sep 9, 2016 - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • Immediate feedback that adaptive technologies provide is important and valued by students....even more so today.- bsmith bsmith Sep 9, 2016 And feedback is very much wanted. - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • Once again, the technology changes, but the pedagogy remains the same - there is no substitute for teaching excellence, and providing Adaptive Learning Technologies are used to enhance, rather than to replace, or even make up for a lack of, teaching excellence, this is a positive use of big data as far as both the academics and scholars are concerned. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016 - yvette.drager yvette.drager Sep 29, 2016 - lkoster lkoster Sep 30, 2016 - ole ole Oct 3, 2016 - fledezma fledezma Oct 6, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

    • The importance of immediate feedback that is personalized in nature for better retention of the content. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016- bsmith bsmith Sep 9, 2016 - yvette.drager yvette.drager Sep 29, 2016 And the brain learns wvery efficiently through feedback - don't forget peer feedback, by the way - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • As I described in the previous question, there are activities other than helping students during a course where adaptive learning can be use, for example helping institutions to choose the right candidates, or helping students to choose the right set of courses to take (surely there are more examples).- jreinoso jreinoso Sep 7, 2016
  • Training instructors on the benefits, disadvantages, and simply how to use it!- bsmith bsmith Sep 9, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016 - yvette.drager yvette.drager Sep 29, 2016
  • What about using this technology to help prepare students for further study (preparatory) - adapting to students to make sure they focus on gaining the skills they are lacking rather than all of the material - lkoster lkoster Sep 30, 2016

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • Adaptive Learning is aligned with Learning Analytics. - nacha_sockalingam nacha_sockalingam Aug 9, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016 - yvette.drager yvette.drager Sep 29, 2016 - lkoster lkoster Sep 30, 2016 - ole ole Oct 3, 2016 - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2016
  • One fact seems clear to me: professors' roles will shift more towards giving support to learners, taking into account learners' outcomes and being curators of content. - paulo.dantas paulo.dantas Aug 9, 2016 I agree, but still the teacher is needed as the expert of the discipline and for a real formative feedback + all the other 'extra-curriculum' obligations and task s/he has. So I'm not sure the teacher will be a mere "guide on the side" as Marwin writes below. But Marwin is right if the teacher (and the universities) do not acknowledge this fact and for financial reasons complete let the technology take over - a danger we have discussed in the Horizon projects quite a few times the last the years. - ole ole Aug 19, 2016
  • These systems are also designed to deliver instruction and using relevant data, adapt and personalize the curriculum, in some cases, even better than the instructor could possibly hope to with every student. If such is the case, what will be the role of the instructor? Perhaps truly a "guide on the side" ensuring students have the necessary support resources? - MarwinBritto MarwinBritto Aug 9, 2016 I would like to add that maybe the instructor could actually become more of a 'meddler in the middle' (McWilliam, 2009), with them using the best of both 'sage on the stage' and 'guide on the side' teaching approaches to support students - yvette.drager yvette.drager Aug 29, 2016 - ole ole Aug 30, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016
  • Though the implementation of this technology initially is both time and labor intensive with a hefty price tag, the long term benefits for students is critically important. As online learning grows, students are coming to expect personalized learning as part of the expectation for their courses. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016- bsmith bsmith Sep 9, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016
  • To me, this goes back to Bloom's 2 Sigma claims--that tutored students perform at two sigmas above non-tutored students. And while there is some evidence that 2 sigma might be a bit of exaggeration, everything I have seen suggests that machine tutoring can achieve similar outcomes to human tutoring. Put all that together and you get a world where robot tutors (call them adaptive learning systems) can replace people. I don't mean in principle, I mean literally. If that happens, well, that's kicks out of of the major structural pillars of higher ed--the teaching of core subjects. Why sign up for a class offered at the convenience of the classroom grid and faculty availability? Why not just log on and learn from Professor Robo? If the outcomes are similar or the same, then what of the teacher? I'm not arguing for this. I'm just pointing out that that all signs point toward roboto tutoring. As Jepordy champ Ken Jennings wrote: "Quiz show contestant" may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I'm sure it won't be the last." College professors may be next.- david.thomas david.thomas Sep 9, 2016
  • Professor Robo, I have no doubt, is a beguiling prospect for our fiscally-focussed colleagues and, with the world's entire knowledge, quite literally, at our fingertips, surely it is more important than ever for us move away from mere fact retention and regurgitation as a method of gauging academic achievement and progression towards ways of nurturing and assessing the development of critical thinking skills? In this way perhaps we can ensure that, whilst robot tutors may eventually do the heavy lifting, there will still be a place for academics to thrive in our institutions, as education becomes all about the development of wisdom rather than the "mere" passing on of knowledge. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 Agreed - ole ole Oct 3, 2016- gilly.salmon gilly.salmon Oct 5, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • At WGU we are exploring these areas now. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016
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