Adaptive learning

When it comes to ideas about the future of education, A is for Adaptive learning. The term may be a buzzword in some education circles but the application of adaptive learning technology opens up profound possibilities for student learning outcomes.

What is adaptive learning?

Put simply, adaptive learning is all about using algorithms to track student performance. The algorithms modify the presentation of material based on the student’s performance. Adaptive learning systems capture data through assessment – as students progress through the content, adaptive technology reinforces strengths and targets weaknesses in learning.

Adaptive learning can be integrated into formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment is used to monitor student performance as they’re learning and contrasts with summative assessment, which evaluates student performance at the end of instruction.

Institutions are becoming increasingly more interested in the ‘edtech’ sector and the use of adaptive learning. A recent report claimed that schools in the US have tripled their spending on adaptive learning technology since 2013.

How does it work?

Adaptive learning is based on the idea that no two students learn the same way. Adam Catarius is the Australian product manager for Pearson’s higher education adaptive learning resources MyLab and Mastering. Catarius says that adaptive learning ensures that students get the same content but at the right time for them, based on their progress.

Adaptive learning quote

“Your content needs to be tagged to different learning objectives,” says Catarius, “and then, from there, it figures out where the strengths and weaknesses are and the common traits. So, if a student is really good at one thing, say they’re really good at addition, they move onto multiplication but, if they struggle with multiplication, they go back to subtraction.”

Catarius says that students learn at the speed that’s right for them. “If you go ahead too far based on something you know and you start to struggle, it’ll move you back to make sure that you’re getting the foundation learning that’s needed to continue,” says Catarius.

It improves student engagement through personalisation

Adaptive learning creates a personalised learning environment for each student, creating opportunities for engagement, better concentration and a heightened understanding of material. “Without adaptive technology, learning is very linear,” says Catarius. “You just go through a straight line and you don’t vary from that. Not every single student is going to learn that way. With adaptive technology, you’re making sure you’re meeting the specific requirements of each single student.”

Catarius says adaptive learning is particularly useful in higher education, where students become more autonomous in their learning. “Once you get into university, you’re asking students to become critical thinkers and to do a lot more on their own,” says Catarius. “With adaptive technology, it helps because, as they’re working through and doing their own work, they can actually start to tailor what’s good for them and where their struggles are.”

Adaptive learning quote

It helps teachers monitor and adjust based on student performance

The benefits of employing adaptive learning technology extend to teachers. Data from student performance can be collected and displayed to teachers to help them understand their progress. Teachers can identify students who are struggling in some areas and target other stronger students for extended learning. Data can help teachers respond to student needs as they’re learning, instead of waiting until after the student completes final assessments.

Teachers can also create individual follow-up based on performance. “Say you and I were both in the class and we’re doing the same quiz,” says Catarius. “I struggled in one part, you struggled in another. The adaptive follow-up would make sure that we’re getting what’s necessary for both of us. You would be doing something completely different to what I would be doing but we would both be doing adaptive follow up.”

Want to learn more?

Talk to your Education Consultant to find out how we’re using adaptive learning to help your students achieve better learning outcomes.

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