Adaptive learning is a game-changing innovation for higher education. Historically used in remedial education, adaptive learning enables a rapid pace of personalization through the use of highly sophisticated, integrated technology. While the philosophy is nothing new, the technology is. Colleges and universities are using adaptive learning models to deliver high-quality, low-cost instruction to vast numbers of students.
If you’re considering implementing adaptive learning at your institution, here are five things to consider based on Eduventures research and recent interviews from our latest report, Maximizing Investment in Adaptive Learning.
1. Choose your technology wisely.
No one approach is the same. While one tool may make extensive use of technology to time-shift instruction, another may focus exclusively on instructor involvement, with technology functioning in the background. One tool may offer a faster pace of personalization, whereas another may be far more infrequent. Some offer a continuous flow of assessment, whereas others bring students through milestones throughout a curriculum, closer to mastery-learning. Some, also, offer dedicated technical support, whereas others do not. And some are purported to be more secure than others in the area of student records and identity management. Of great concern, further, is fair use and ownership of student data, which vendors may envision differently than institutions. Understanding the diversity of tools out there is a critical step, as some tools will work better for different institutions, and the costs of investing in the wrong tool far outweigh the cost of a slower and more discerning approach to matching the right tool to the right institution.
2. Involve faculty at all stages of adoption.
Generating buy-in from faculty members is tantamount to the success of any technology implementation, especially one as pervasive as adaptive leaning, which changes not just the form of instruction but also the method and the philosophy. Institutions that succeed with adaptive learning, especially those with strong and influential faculty-governance models, benefit from involving faculty members at all stages of adoption, from establishing a philosophy of personalization to identifying problems, and to the point of involving faculty in exploring potential tools and trying out new technologies. Faculty members should be central to conversations with vendors and should have their needs and concerns heard early and often. Without faculty buy-in, adaptive learning will, in the long run, prove costly and potentially at odds with an institution’s existing mission and instructional framework.
3. Launch in a controlled environment.
Once a tool is selected, a critical strategy is to facilitate a randomized controlled trial run of concurrent sections of an adaptive and non-adaptive course, and then measure the results. As a randomized study, students do not opt into a particular course, as to avoid bias, but are placed at random. Also, there is no pretense of experimentation with the adaptive course; it is the same as any other. Only instructors neutral about the value of adaptive learning are selected to participate in the trial. An institution then establishes common metrics to measure success across both sections, often using outcome variables such as grades in a course and student and instructor feedback. Analytics gained from the adaptive course are also useful, though only if collected using near-equivalents in the non-adaptive course. By launching courses in controlled environments, institutions gain an objective viewpoint on the success of a course and a helpful framework from which to build evidence of efficacy and outcomes.
4. Leverage adaptive learning only where it is best suited.
Institutions have explored adaptive learning in many ways: for instance, as a way to deliver more pedagogically robust online courses regardless of any need for remediation or simply to collect more data about how students learn for experimental purposes. While adaptive learningstill works best in recursive disciplines like math and science and primarily as a tool to enhance remediation, it has also seen some adoption in the social sciences and even general education. Institutions are advised to adopt adaptive learning only in subject areas where it is best suited and only in subjects where adaptive technology provides clear solutions for problems and pain points. Even if starting with only a handful of remedial tools within a course, or as a tool for use in a single online course, a conservative approach helps establish a framework for efficacy at a smaller scale and only in areas where this technology is best suited.
5. Quantify the benefits.
Likely the most critical step for maximizing investment is to bring data to bear on bigger problems facing an institution, including outcomes, workforce alignment, cost-reduction, State and Federal policy demands, and the delivery of a transformative learning experience for every student. A telling practice may be to show how adaptive learning has impacted an institution over time by exposing what that institution may have lacked or done poorly before using the tool. Some instances include demonstrating the added value of technology over face-to-face tutoring, showing how technology enhances learning outcomes, and sharing data on how more subjective forms of learning disrupt traditional teaching practices in radical but promising ways.