What Is Adaptive Learning and How Does It Work?
Statistics is one example of the type of course best suited for adaptive learning technology, says Kathe Pelletier, director of the teaching and learning program at EDUCAUSE, because it offers yes or no answers to problems. These are the answers most easily interpreted by artificial intelligence, which adaptive learning platforms use to advance students to a certain place in the curriculum based on their knowledge and ability.
Once the AI learns a student’s strengths and weaknesses, it will tailor future lessons to plug holes in that student’s knowledge.
“The adaptive learning tool is able to provide immediate feedback and help guide the student, and really focuses their attention on what they don’t know yet,” says Pelletier. “The more guidance that we can offer in that way, the more efficient the learning is for the student.”
Instructors also benefit from the granular insights offered by the adaptive learning approach, and they can watch a student’s progress in real time through an adaptive learning map instead of waiting for an occasional quiz or test to provide insights.
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“It allows the faculty member to refine their instruction, add more content, do more review or meet with a certain subset of students, so it helps to focus and improve the instruction as well,” says Pelletier.
In the past decade or so, advancements in technology have pushed adaptive learning forward. Machine learning and AI have made adaptive learning platforms smarter, and the ubiquity of devices has made tracking student progress easier. A new player has entered the field as well, as textbook companies have invested in programs to transfer their text-based tools into computerized systems, offering an easy-to-implement adaptive learning solution.
How to Get Started with Adaptive Learning
At UNC Charlotte, Budhrani and her team started small, carefully choosing a group of courses to be part of adaptive learning offerings. She also says the university made sure from the start to include a variety of campus stakeholders in the conversation, from senior leadership down. And she says to be patient with course design — especially if, like at UNC Charlotte, you’re using a custom platform — because it can be a monthslong endeavor that will need to be routinely tweaked as students and faculty interact with the tools.
Those are all in concert with the kind of approach Pelletier recommends for a successful rollout. Adaptive learning shouldn’t require much in the way of a technological investment; in terms of work hours, however, the investment can be huge, and getting buy-in at all levels will be vital to success.
“I focus less on the pipes and more on what the specific technical connections need to be, and really go hard on the people part,” says Pelletier.