Dec 01 2015

Personalized Learning Meets Higher Ed

With the right supporting infrastructure, adaptive learning could create highly effective curricula customized to student needs.

Blame it on the human condition, but it seems that people are more receptive to information when they are shown how it relates to them — their lives, their interests, their needs. As educators picked up on that fact years ago, we saw the beginning of the shift toward more personalized learning.

Since then, the train hasn’t stopped moving, and recent innovations have only stoked the engine. Adaptive learning technologies, in particular, seem to provide educators with new and better ways to reach students at an individual level, all while bringing personalized learning to scale.

I recently read a March study from McGraw-Hill Education and Hanover Research, which found that 85 percent of students surveyed experienced a moderate or major improvement in grades after using adaptive-learning technologies. And the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition predicts that adaptive learning will play an even greater role in the future.

Tools and Techniques to Power Learning

The promise of adaptive-learning technology can largely be attributed to the many innovative products and platforms on the market — solutions that continuously monitor student performance data so educators can address areas of weakness. Assessment-driven systems rely on automation to dynamically customize the student learning experience, while facilitator-driven systems present aggregated student data on a dashboard, allowing educators to manually tailor instruction. Whichever version of the technology colleges and universities adopt, IT should ensure sufficient infrastructure to support new learning platforms.

According to early survey results from Extreme Networks, more than 99 percent of educators feel that Wi-Fi reliability significantly impacts the success of personalized learning initiatives. Another 91 percent of respondents believe network analytics also play an important part. By monitoring network capacity and the number of users and devices requesting access, IT can determine whether upgrades are necessary and, if so, where they’re needed most. Mounting clusters of access points (APs) that support the new 802.11ac standard will expand wireless connectivity while simultaneously optimizing for capacity.

Power over Ethernet and PoE-Plus switches can streamline the installation process by eliminating the need to place APs near electrical outlets. They can also reduce costs, downtime and maintenance requirements, freeing up time for network administrators and architects to tackle bottlenecks and network backbone improvements.

Beyond increasing network traffic, adaptive-learning implementation can also place strain on data centers. That’s because most of the technology platforms generate vast amounts of student data — somewhere around a million data points for each student per course, per semester. While adaptive-learning providers could likely shoulder much of the data burden, colleges and universities should expect to see an increase in storage and processing demands.

Cloud and virtualized storage solutions can help alleviate some of the data center pressure to ensure that student data can be put to good use. Storage virtualization consolidates data onto a smaller number of servers to not only reduce duplicated data but also help lower maintenance and energy costs. Cloud-based solutions likewise cut costs by enabling centralized and tiered data storage.

The Need for Technology Training

Although the success of adaptive-learning deployments greatly depends on the technology and infrastructure at hand, it’s also dependent on faculty buy-in.

Professors and other educators should be willing to shed traditional lecturer roles to become learning facilitators. Institutions can help that evolution along by providing in-depth technology training and techniques for responding to student data while continuing to offer meaningful student support.

Colleges and universities can also ease the transition by working with technology partners that understand their needs and goals and offer expert advice on designing a learning environment that benefits both students and faculty.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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