By Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst
A few years ago, while Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and others were introducing massive open online courses (MOOCs), a small group of researchers and data scientists at Carnegie Mellon University were quietly focused on something that may prove to be far more revolutionary: understanding the intersection of online pedagogy, educational technology, and rapid advances in the learning sciences.
These efforts contributed to the rapid advancement of adaptive learning, an important movement that unites instructional technology with contributions from neuroscience, cognitive science, and data science to improve the production of personalized and scalable online learning environments. Our research suggests that no serious inquiry into the future of online education can ignore its potential.
Eduventures defines adaptive learning as both a concept and a tool that enhances learning through highly sophisticated technology platforms that enable rapid personalization and the collection of learning analytics. This system empowers students to meet learning goals and helps educators to improve the process of teaching and learning. Carnegie Mellon’s efforts, which include its Open Learning Initiative (OLI), have brought keen insights to bear on our understanding of “learning mechanisms,” or patterns in human learning, as well as multiple intelligences, learning behaviors, impulses, memory and recognition, and social learning.
OLI has created a repository of data on how we learn, why, and at what pace, as well as on the conditions that are optimal for learning. This information has informed the development of real-time, adaptive interventions throughout courses that customize content delivery and accelerate learning mastery. OLI has also incorporated various evidence-based approaches to analyzing learning behaviors in online course environments in order to modify existing courses, tailor student feedback, and improve assessment.
A number of companies have also made significant advancements in adaptive learning, from publishing giants Pearson, McGraw Hill Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to a variety of niche providers, such as Knewton and LoudCloud. Their products are breaking new ground in the adaptive learning movement.
What It Will Take to Advance this Movement Forward
To further advance this revolutionary practice, Eduventures believes that three simple shifts in the way higher education approaches adaptive learning will need to occur.
- Gain awareness. Many in higher education have been slow to adopt adaptive learning simply because they lack awareness of what it is, why it matters, and how to successfully incorporate it into course and program design. To learn more about these topics, read Maximizing Investment in Adaptive Learning. Eduventures published this report in the spring of 2014 to define adaptive learning, offer a framework for making sense of this practice, and outline ways in which colleges have effectively invested in this practice.
- Adopt curricular standards. Beyond awareness, higher education lacks agreed-upon standards against which to measure learning and assign value to the efficacy of certain tools and techniques. Adaptive learning promises to advance these efforts, but it will have little impact without some basis from which to measure and assess student learning. This will not necessarily be a Common Core for higher education, but close. Frameworks like the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) are a great place to start. This framework provides a coherent set of expectations and agreed-upon competencies that colleges can use to more effectively measure student learning.
- Systematically track learner progress. For adaptive learning to really take root, higher education would need to more rigorously track learner progress through the production of learning artifacts and measurable learning objects. These are best collected through the concurrent use of an e-portfolio tool. Without use of this complementary platform, it will be impossible to evaluate whether adaptive learning technology is having any impact on student outcomes. Using rubrics to evaluate student artifacts will allow institutions to compare which approaches to adaptive learning are more effective than others.
The Bottom Line
The future of online education will be less of an art and more of a science. To improve the quality and impact of your online courses and programs, focus on adaptive learning—the real revolution in online learning.
Brian Fleming will present a workshop at the 4th Annual New Directions in Online Learning Conference in Philadelphia. His session, titled, “The Competency Craze: Inside the Next Higher Ed Transformation,” will take place on Monday, April 13th at 9:00 am. Details here.