Magazine article University Business

Adaptive Learning: Clearing the Hurdles: Overcoming Six Challenges Encountered in Implementing Adaptive Learning

Magazine article University Business

Adaptive Learning: Clearing the Hurdles: Overcoming Six Challenges Encountered in Implementing Adaptive Learning

Article excerpt

Adaptive learning, which brings the benefits of one-on-one tutoring to large numbers of students with instruction tailored to the learner, has garnered attention since the 1970s. But while it's a common topic in education circles and technology is now widely available to make it happen, translating traditional lectures to an adaptive learning format takes time, expertise and budget dollars. In other words, adopting adaptive learning is arduous.

Broadly, adaptive learning involves computers being used for interactive teaching, with the materials adapted based on each student's needs, as their responses demonstrate.

Ariel Anbar, director of the Center for Education through Exploration at Arizona State University, says the concept has several levels. On one level, courseware has adaptive feedback to what the student is doing, says Anbar, who wrote the adaptive learning course, Habworlds, which has been taken by more than 1,500 students. "The second level is where pathways change depending on what the student does. And the third is where the instructor adapts courseware based on the experience they have with their students."

Adaptive learning systems also get to know a student's preferences and learning style. "If a student does better on a test after a video, the system will show that student more video," says Thomas Cavanagh, associate vice president of distributed learning at the University of Central Florida.

Want to make a smooth transition from traditional to adaptive learning? Here are six challenges to implementation and what early adopters have done to clear those hurdles.

Challenge 1: Moving ahead without strong evidence

At North Carolina State University, students took a recent entry-level psychology class either in the traditional in-person format or via an online adaptive learning so outcomes could be compared. "Based on the research we did, there was no difference. Students did no better or worse," says Jeff Braden, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, who supervised the test program, developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Fulcrum Labs.

Yet Braden remains a proponent of adaptive learning. The method moves teaching closer to the active, collaborative approach recommended today, he says.

Online coursework suits large classes. And students, who don't all fit the full-time, young adult mold, can file assignments anywhere, anytime. If nothing else, the online content is replacing traditional textbooks, and access is often less expensive than print.

In an early pilot of adaptive learning at Central Florida, students were asked if they spent more time on adaptive or traditional coursework. Their answer: adaptive. Asked if they would take another adaptive course, "the answers were overwhelmingly 'yes,'" says Cavanagh. "The students felt they were spending their time valuably."

The lecture model at Arizona State has a 20 percent dropout/failure/withdrawal rate--compared to 6 percent for adaptive learning classes, says Dale Johnson, manager of the university's EdPlus adaptive program. "If we can do that across other disciplines, that is tremendous."

Challenge 2: Finding resources for development

Adaptive learning is hardly an inexpensive endeavor. Some colleges have funded their own work in this area, and some have worked with partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program, or ALMAP. Anbar's Center for Education through Exploration partners with the Gates Foundation and Smart Sparrow, provider of a platform that allows institutions to create active and adaptive e-learning courseware.

Other schools look inward for funding. "We have been bootstrapping it ourselves, which is maybe why we have not scaled to the level" of some of the other universities, says Cavanagh at Central Florida. UCF offers three adaptive learning courses--general psychology, college algebra and patho-physiology--and many other classes have some adaptive learning components. …

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