8 Minutes of reading
Adaptive learning in education
For many years, education has been thought of as a process led by teachers or tutors, who set expectations that students have to meet. Now, a shift is underway. That’s because the views and desires of learners are being taken into account, and the training process is adjusting to better suit them.
This change is summed up by the rise of adaptive learning, an approach that focuses on personalising educational content so as to address each individual’s needs and preferences. We’ll talk about why it’s become so widespread in the world of education and discuss its benefits.
Understanding learners’ needs through adaptive learning
Though early forms of adaptive learning date back to the middle of the 20th century, its first use in education in a more modern sense came in the 2000s, when it started to be adopted by universities in the US. Since then, it has become much more widespread, in part as a result of the global pandemic and the resulting shift away from face-to-face tuition and towards remote learning.
As mentioned above, adaptive learning is all about personalising education so as to meet the needs of learners. This is made possible thanks to artificial intelligence, and is additionally informed by findings from neuroscience.
Adaptive learning systems rely on algorithms which continuously analyse large volumes of data. This enables them to detect which content and teaching methods students best respond to. Using this information, they then put together a course that addresses the learner’s skill gaps, the speed at which they attain new information, their existing knowledge, and their preferences.
The data that powers adaptive learning systems is collected via platforms that students use every day, such as an LMS. Initial assessments are used as a starting point to gauge the learner’s existing aptitude for the target skill.
As the learner completes additional modules, more data is gained about them. Adaptive learning systems can then use this to refine the kinds of content and teaching methods that they offer to each individual. For example, if a learner failed to achieve a pass mark for a given module, they may be offered additional information and questions to ensure that they understand and memorise the topic.
How adaptive learning improves education
Thanks to adaptive learning, the teaching process has been greatly enriched. That’s because it’s now possible to offer online tuition that’s tailored to each student’s abilities and the pace at which they learn.
Certain fields are particularly well suited to personalised remote learning, including languages, history and maths. That’s because adaptive learning offers students content appropriate for their level at the start of the course, before covering a particular concept step by step, with clear progression being made. This is ideal for knowledge-based subjects, as well as for hard skills.
Meanwhile, for those studying both in person and online, adaptive learning is able to provide a range of learning methods that complement classroom teaching. As such, it helps learners not only to acquire new knowledge, but also to revise topics already covered with a teacher or tutor.
It’s even possible to use adaptive learning to revise an entire year’s curriculum ahead of an exam, with the system able to provide additional resources as necessary if a learner is struggling with a particular concept or subject.
In order for adaptive learning to work as efficiently as possible, it needs to be backed up with a catalogue of high-quality content covering a variety of topics at numerous levels of competency.
The use of adaptive learning is beneficial not just for individuals, but for the class as a whole. It quickly reveals if students are performing poorly in a particular area and allows teachers to rework their course so as to explain the concept in a different way.
Why students like adaptive learning
The key strength of adaptive learning is that it heightens students’ motivation, commitment and drive to learn.
Content is adapted to students’ skill levels, and is thus neither too easy nor too challenging, with the result that the modules and quizzes they take spur them on rather than putting them off. Additionally, students have some control over the content they see, as they are able to choose between various options offered to them. There’s also a “coaching” mode containing both individual and group challenges, which use gamification to keep learners stimulated.
This stands in stark contrast to forms of online training that learners may be used to, such as dreary e-learning modules, or recorded lessons that offer no opportunity for interaction. It’s no surprise that learners find adaptive learning much more appealing!
As technology moves on, adaptive learning is finding new ways to flourish. Now, it’s able to take into account the much broader ways in which we all use the internet, with methods such as social learning and mobile training courses becoming commonplace. It’s now even become possible to access training content offline—all a learner needs to do is download it to their mobile app, and they can use it wherever they go. This is a perfect fit for students, who are increasingly looking for greater flexibility with regards to training.
What’s in it for educators?
An individually tailored approach to education is widely acknowledged to lead to better results. The problem is that, in the past, teachers simply didn’t have the time to create unique material for every single student, and thus had to create one-size-fits-all content.
Thanks to adaptive learning, it’s now possible to take into account each individual’s wants, needs and skill sets, and to use these to put together personalised courses. This helps every member of a class to make progress.
Adaptive learning can prove an invaluable tool for educators as it offers a wealth of information to view and analyse. It’s now easier than ever to check which parts of a course students understand and which need to be revised, as well as to determine the overall progress of the class.
Some, nonetheless, remain resistant to adaptive learning, worried that it will supplant the teacher’s traditional role. However, these systems are best thought of as an aid to education rather than a tutor in their own right. The role of human interaction remains crucial, and the support offered by a teacher cannot be replaced by an algorithm or online platform.
Moving forward, the challenge is instead to ensure that we keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape, and get to grips with the tools necessary for creating excellent educational content that adaptive learning platforms can use.
It’s clear that adaptive learning has a major role to play not just in education, but in any sphere where individuals need to gain new skills. It’s already revolutionising how training happens in the workplace, and it looks set to have an even greater impact in the years to come.