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Why Adaptive Learning Is on the Rise

Driven by great advances in data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and software design, adaptive learning shows great promise in improving student learning at the individual level. And this technology's potential is not limited to the K-12 classroom. It also works in professional development and training, e-learning and any other similar computer-assisted learning environment.

Educational technology specialists and instructional designers are collectively responsible for assessing and integrating educational technologies like adaptive learning. These professionals are also tasked with training instructors and additional training staff on the technology's implementation and use.

But what is adaptive learning and how does it work? Students enrolled in the University of West Florida's Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Instructional Design and Technology online program will study educational technology systems such as adaptive learning. This program of study can help graduates select and integrate new technologies effectively into their schools or workforce development programs.

How Is Adaptive Learning Defined?

To define "adaptive learning," it is best to think in terms of what adaptive learning does. According to EdSurge, "Adaptive learning is an educational technology that can respond to a student's interactions in real time by automatically providing the student with individual support."

In "7 Things You Should Know About Adaptive Learning," the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative states that adaptive learning "aims to provide efficient, effective, and customized learning paths to engage each student." Adaptive learning systems "dynamically adjust to student interactions and performance levels, delivering the types of content in an appropriate sequence that individual learners need at specific points in time to make progress."

Imagine a digital course that constantly assesses what you already know, ensuring there is no wasted time going over redundant material. The course also learns, through analysis and your input, the ways you best assimilate information, delivering content to you in differentiated modes. If your responses or behaviors indicate a lack of understanding in an essential concept, the program redirects you to a detour such as a pop-up module or hyperlinked article to acquire that knowledge. Essentially, adaptive learning creates an ideal course for you in real time.

What Are Some Advantages of Adaptive Learning Systems?

In essence, adaptive learning technology does the same thing an effective and responsive teacher would, provided they had the time to focus their attention on each student or participant. But the traditional human teacher's focus is too often divided across a classroom of students with diverse learning needs, competencies and knowledge sets.

Adaptive learning offers the benefit of being able to focus on each individual, all the time. Hence, it can respond to every student's unique learning needs moment to moment. This can lead to increased efficiency, depth of content learning and, importantly, the construction of an individualized sequence and rate of learning and skill acquisition, as opposed to the generalized sequence of a traditional classroom course.

In addition to the educational benefits, most Millennials have grown up familiar with digital technology and AI. Generation Z is considered the first wholly digital native generation, having grown up entirely in the age of cell phones and Siri. As these age groups become an ever-larger portion of the workforce, the expectation for perpetually responsive professional development will grow.

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to technology learning and reacting to how they, as individuals, best learn. These age groups are generally motivated to learn new skills. But being forced to "learn" things they already know in static PowerPoint presentations will result in little to no engagement, perhaps even having a negative impact on their performance.

Adaptive technology can meet this new generation of workers where they currently are and potentially could be, challenging them to learn new material and skills in an efficient way. In this manner, adaptive learning can quite literally speed up and improve professional development and overall productivity in a modern workforce.

Is Adaptive Learning Different From Personalized Learning?

At first glance, adaptive learning may seem somewhat synonymous with personalized learning. But, as EDUCAUSE states in the aforementioned article, "Adaptive learning is one technique for providing personalized learning."

Personalized learning is a broad guiding pedagogical principle or strategy that involves adapting all instruction, content and educational environments to meet a student's unique needs. Adaptive learning as a specific technology can be thought of as a component to an overall strategic instructional design based on personalized learning.

What Are the Potential Pitfalls of Adaptive Learning?

On its own, machine learning or AI adaptive learning could have the potential to learn the biases of students, "unconsciously" reinforcing them through adjusted content or learning medium. Detours programmed into adaptive learning systems also come with the possible consequence of disinteresting the student — if the detour is too forced — or acting as distractions if not actively directing student attention back to the main course of learning.

Instructional designers are therefore tasked with maintaining human oversight in the integration of adaptive learning, avoiding potential pitfalls and ensuring the adaptive learning system is developed in alignment with the program's curriculum and instructional pedagogy. In earning an online master's degree in instructional design and technology, students will study these and other nuances of effectively utilizing technologies like adaptive learning in instructional design and implementation.

Learn more about the University of West Florida's Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology online program.

Sources: What Bart Simpson Teaches Us About Detours in Adaptive Learning Use Detours to Drive Adaptive Learning

Dreambox: What Is Adaptive Learning?

LRNR: What's the Difference Between Personalized and Adaptive Learning?

EDUCAUSE: 7 Things You Should Know About Adaptive Learning


ELMLearning: If Personalized Learning Is the Journey, Then Adaptive Learning Is the Waze App

National Association of Elementary School Principals: Personalized Vs. Adaptive Learning

EdSurge: What's Happening Inside the Adaptive Learning Black Box?

Learning Solutions: Adaptive Learning for Today's Evolving Workforce

BizLibrary: Engaging Employees Through Adaptive Learning and Development

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