By John F. Hartley, Jr.
An increasingly important component of the educational technology market today revolves around two areas of higher education that we are already hearing a lot about – developmental education and adaptive technology. The latter is being discussed by technology providers as the answer to the critical challenge of helping prepare the next college-ready class of students. In fact, it is being discussed at great length by large publishers like Pearson and for-profit educational providers like The Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, as being a lot more than that. These firms are investing millions of dollars in adaptive learning technologies represented by firms like Knewton (Pearson) and Carnegie Learning (Apollo).
The promise and beauty of adaptive technology is that it tailors the delivery of educational content to individual student learning needs.
“If you want to move slowly, no problem, we’ll go slowly”; “if you’ve mastered one topic, then we’ll move on to the next topic”
Adaptive technology also makes the educational process more efficient and less costly by using fewer faculty resources and decreasing classroom teaching time. This starts to sound like a disruptive innovation.
While these firms may be initially focused on the developmental market, which is a beneficiary of public and private grant funding from the likes of Obama, Inc., the Gates Foundation, and others, adaptive technology in the developmental markets is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies like Pearson and Apollo hope that adaptive learning technologies will ultimately be applied to the entire higher education market.
But let’s take a closer look at developmental education. “DevEd” is not just about technology – it’s about people. Developmental education is often about young people with learning deficiencies or troubled family histories. Developmental education is also about the inadequacies of our K – 12 school system’s ability to adequately prepare students for college. Delivery of developmental education is not only teacher-centric, but oftentimes includes counselors needed to address personal challenges that can only be overcome at the human level. The nature of such personal attention does not entirely obviate the role of adaptive technology in developmental education; it underscores the need for educators and technology providers alike to think about how to realistically deploy this solution.
Is Adaptive Technology the Right Choice for My Institution?
The message to both providers of this technology as well as institutions is this: tread carefully and objectively measure student learning outcomes and institutional priorities. There is a lot of promise in this technology, as beta customers and providers alike will attest, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered first, including:
- How much of a source of pain is developmental education at your institution?
- How has the promise of technology worked to solve core educational problems in the past?
- How does educational technology compare with other technology changes we’ve made?
- What is the ROI of this technology? Can improvements in retention and graduation rates be estimated from a tuition gained / saved perspective? How much money will we save through efficiency gains and cost decreases?
- How are key buyer concerns being addressed by providers – things like data security / student confidentiality, quality of content, integration with existing technology, and cost?
Educational technology, online learning, and now adaptive technology have each created some level of disruptive innovation in the delivery of education. Educational technology has proven to be so transformative that it is now developing offshoots like adaptive technology that are poised to solve some of our more complex educational challenges like developmental education. However, adaptive technology itself is not yet a game-changer and should be evaluated based on what it can do for your institution.
Want to learn more?
Eduventures recently published a report on the use of adaptive learning in developmental education. Download the full report »