2.1 Content Presentation
The adaptive learning system develops a learning path
for each student and delivers individualized content based upon assessments of performance. One of the more critical requirements is that of delivering the content into “bite-sized” chunks that allow evaluation of bits of knowledge that are then compiled into a learning plan. The adaptive learning system tracks performance and monitors behaviors during the time of interaction and then delivers the adaptive content in an adaptive sequence individualized for each learner. A robust adaptive learning system offers multiple options for the modality of the content delivery, e.g., text, video, or interactive activities
. Some adaptive systems have the capacity to analyze performance and determine if the student learns better by interactive activities, watching videos, or reading and then deliver the content in the ideal format that is associated with that student’s improved performance.
In adaptive learning, content
delivery is guided by student performance and prior knowledge, thus providing a more personalized experience and promoting student engagement
(Dziuban et al. 2016). Kerr (2016) demonstrated that when the adaptive learning systems deliver content in the format determined by assessment to be the best for that student’s learning, student learning is enhanced. Additionally, Meccawy et al. (2007) showed that integrating content presentation with learner interaction enhances student engagement and success.
Most adaptive learning systems are accessed through cloud services providing the students with access to course content when they are ready to learn thus enabling student-centered learning, promoting learning autonomy, and encouraging self-regulated learning
. Another important
component of an adaptive learning system is the ability to provide remediation should a student not have the prior knowledge needed to perform well in the class. This affordance assists underprepared students to gain the knowledge while still in the course, thus not slowing
down their forward educational momentum (Dziuban et al. 2016).
The adaptive learning technology
field is so young that there are no set standards for these tools. This can result in confusion for those wanting to implement this new technology. Some tools offer some adaptive opportunities, but the adaptive options vary considerably from system to system. Many institutions and faculty find it a very real challenge to select the tool that best meets their needs. While many would prefer to develop their own content, the time and costs to do so are a real challenge to institutions and faculty.
2.1.3 Implementation Strategies
The recognized value of adaptive learning courseware
in the university system to increase student success has prompted numerous initiatives from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU)
. One initiative is the formation of the Personalized Learning Consortium (PLC)
, a membership organization charged with increasing information on using technology and personalizing learning in order to promote student success. In addition, the APLU, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, created a grant opportunity for universities to accelerate the adoption of adaptive courseware by public institutions. Eight universities piloted the process of adopting, implementing, and scaling adaptive courseware. One by-product of this initiative was the development of a tool for faculty, instructional designers, and administrators of postsecondary institutions to effectively navigate the market of courseware solutions. Recognizing that the selection of courseware is contextual, with the course context playing a critical role in guiding the selection and implementation of courseware, the Online Learning Consortium, Tyton Partners, and the Gates Foundation developed the Courseware in Context (CWiC) Guide
(coursewareincontext.org) to assist institutions in the complex process of evaluating and selecting the appropriate adaptive learning courseware for their courses. SRI International aligned the framework for efficacy research. Education of stakeholders is a major component of the CWiC Guide, and suggestions for implementation are guided by the defined needs of that institution.
2.1.4 Research Questions
Several research questions
were proposed at the X-FILEs workshop regarding content presentation and delivery. However, research answering all of the posed questions was found in current literature. This phenomenon supports the premise that adaptive learning is so new that current knowledge is somewhat nebulous. It appears that many, if not most, of the participants did not fully understand the current status of adaptive learning. One of the questions was “How are policies at various institutions determined for selecting and purchasing the content delivery tools?” which is addressed by the APLU’s Implementing Adaptive Courseware Guide (2017).
Each morning, Professor Jones pulls up the data on student performance on the assignment for that day and identifies topic areas where students performed poorly. She then adjusts her lecture later that day in order to focus on the content topics that the students found most challenging and reduces the amount of time for the content that the students already know to a minimum.
2.2 Interactions and Communications
Interactions and discussions have been shown to be a vital part of student learning
. From the time of Plato up to the present, students have depended upon interactions and communication with one another and with their instructors to facilitate learning. The range and depth of interactions
and the modality vary greatly across the learning environment. Very few stand-alone adaptive learning systems include opportunities for students to communicate and work collaboratively with other students. Adaptive learning programs that only deliver adaptive learning activities are typically used in conjunction with other teaching modalities in order to facilitate interactions between and among students. The component systems
delivering the adaptive learning activities can be used in online, blended, and face-to-face courses to enhance student-centric learning. Interactions and communications in most adaptive learning programs are limited to those between the student and the program, with the exceptions mentioned above offered by only a few robust adaptive learning systems.
Students can choose when they work, and because the assignments are automatically graded, they can receive immediate feedback
as needed. A major component of adaptive learning tools is that of feedback
and scaffolding. Initially the student is assessed for knowledge, and the results of this assessment guide the delivery of structured feedback and scaffolding as well as new content. Ideally this process offers a student the opportunity to move through the course content at a pace that is determined by his/her prior knowledge as well as the amount of time he/she puts into the learning process. However, typically these adaptive tools are used in conjunction with a regular class (online or face-to-face), but it is not beyond the scope of adaptive learning to develop courses that allow students to complete a course more quickly than a typical semester period. These self-paced
courses offer flexibility of scheduling, but do present challenges as explained below. There are some institutions of higher education now offering self-paced courses, but these do not typically consist of adaptive learning software.
The instructor dashboards allow instructors to monitor student progress and identify students who are having problems early in the course so that intervention can occur in a timely manner. The student dashboards allow students to track their progress through the learning materials and promote self-regulation of learning, and some programs even offer metacognitive assessments to enhance the learning experience.
For a student to benefit
from an adaptive learning system, he or she must initiate interaction with the system, sustain engagement, and successfully complete the assigned activities. A student working in an adaptive learning environment brings a number of behavioral factors into play that affect the interactions with the course content. The internal student-level factors that influence student behavior in an adaptive learning system can be examined from the perspective of motivational theory. It has been shown that engagement, self-determination theory, autonomy, self-regulation, and the level of internal motivation are positively associated with student learning. The action of initiating engagement is driven by motivational factors. Reeve (2012) notes “self-determination theory is unique in that it emphasizes the instructional task of vitalizing students’ inner motivational resources as a key step in facilitating high-quality engagement.”
As mentioned above, many fully inclusive adaptive software systems do not offer student-to-student interactions nor student-to-instructor interactions. This could result in the student feeling isolated if no compensating adjustments were offered.
2.2.3 Implementation Strategies
Adaptive software programs can be used to offer supplemental
learning opportunities for the traditional classroom as well as in the fully online environment. Many of the fully adaptive platforms do not offer student-to-student interaction, and if this type of interaction is to be a part of the course, it is often necessary to utilize the communication opportunities offered by a traditional learning management system.
2.2.4 Research Questions
One research question
asked in the workshop was: “Can personalized avatars be used to deliver the feedback and scaffolding to lessen the students’ feelings of isolation?” Kim (2012) proposed guidelines for designing virtual change agents (VCAs)
(avatars) that would promote student learning needs in a personalized manner in online remedial math courses. The strategies were based on motivational learning theories and the interactions between the student and the VCA.
As the semester progresses, Keisha enjoys doing many of the interactive assignments. She likes receiving immediate feedback on her performance and guidance for her study in order to provide efficient use of her time. Keisha even enjoys the metacognitive component of each question and the ability to track her progress through the course. She recognizes the value of the learning resources and takes time to do additional review assignments that the program provides that focus on what she had missed before but limits material that she has already mastered.
2.3 Learner Activities
Prior knowledge assessments are typically the first activity that the learners encounter in an adaptive learning environment. Results from these assessments
guide the development of an individualized learning path that provides personalized content delivery for each student based on their strengths and weaknesses. This content can range from simplistic fill-in-the-blanks to more sophisticated scenario-based learning activities. The importance of engaging students in learning activities
is paramount. In many of the adaptive learning systems, the content included in the system replaces a textbook, meaning that all of the learning occurs via the interactions with the adaptive learning system. The learning activities delivered to each student are determined by the results of assessments, thus creating differing learning paths. Students receive different learning opportunities by the adaptive learning system as it analyzes student knowledge and scaffolding
needs (Meccawy et al. 2007). Learning activities that engage interactive animations of complex processes (e.g., cell division) with questions interspersed in the activities increase student engagement
Adaptive learning systems
have the capacity to provide targeted information based on individual learning needs (Peter et al. 2010), provide appropriate scaffolding (Raes et al. 2012), and personalize activities based on student responses (Chen 2011; Normandhi et al. 2019; Blair et al. 2016).
Gephardt (2018) studied the effect of utilizing adaptive learning courseware on student performance in an Economics course at Colorado State University as part of an Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU)
. She found that the “students who completed low-stakes adaptive assessments outperformed their peers who did not complete the adaptive assignment on easy and moderate questions on the exam that could result in a higher course grade. This suggests that if adaptive learning courseware is integrated as low-stakes assignments then student outcomes improved with relatively little effort on both sides of the instructor and the students” (p. 16).
Providing engaging, robust
, and applicable learning activities that address the learning outcomes is probably the most challenging aspect of building an adaptive learning experience (excluding building the learning platform). Following that is the ability to develop appropriate feedback
and purposeful scaffolding
that free the student from needing assistance from the instructor in order to move forward in his or her learning path.
2.3.3 Implementation Strategies
There is often resistance to accept this modality
by the faculty due to training needs and time to set up the system (in those that are modifiable). Alignment with course content is challenging since many faculty members determine the content for their own courses. Therefore, it would be important that the system allows for adaptation by the instructor to give him/her ownership. The University of Central Florida modeled an excellent approach in developing and delivering adaptive content in their pilot program (Dziuban et al. 2016). However, it needs to be mentioned that the administration was behind the project and provided a great deal of financing, not only to pay the faculty to develop the content but also to pay graduate teaching assistants and instructional design support to reduce the workload of the faculty. Any institution considering building their own content would do well to explore what the UCF has done.
2.3.4 Research Questions
One question from the 3-day X-FILEs workshop was: “What learning activities are most effective in promoting student engagement
and learning?” Linnenbrink and Pintrich (2003) determined that relevant and relatable activities promote student
engagement and learning. Additionally, Van Lehn (2011) showed that utilizing an adaptive learning experience promoted student engagement and learning. Therefore, a valuable area of research would be that of examining student behaviors such as persistence, self-regulation, internal motivation, and engagement and see if the adaptive learning systems can capture that data correctly and determine if student learning is affected.
Dr. Jones designed her class so that the adaptive learning system assignments are due the evening before each class begins. This prepares the students for learning to occur during class by remediating those who were lacking in knowledge needed to address new material.
The most effective adaptive learning systems initially assess the student’s prior knowledge followed by continuous formative assessment
as well as guidance as the student moves through the course content (EdSurge 2016). Dziuban et al. (2018) proposed that adaptive learning acts like a GPS for students. It allows for personalized instruction by altering students’ pathways through course objectives. In addition, adaptive learning systems continually assess students’ knowledge, guiding them to efficiently and effectively progress through the course.
In conjunction with the creation of a personalized learning path
is the requirement of mastery of the material (Gebhardt 2018). Mastery learning
requires clear measurable learning objectives, an idea of what mastery of that learning objective entails, learning activities that assess the mastery, and a means of tracking and sharing the information to direct learning. STEM courses depend upon learning new content based upon prior knowledge, and a student moving forward in a lesson without mastering the concepts is a recipe for failure. Adaptive learning provides the assessment tools and evaluation options that can assure mastery of content, not only at the time of new content delivery but periodically checking the continued mastery throughout the learning path.
Adaptive learning courseware
can significantly reduce the amount of time a student takes to complete a course when evaluation of prior knowledge shows mastery of that content. The individualized learning pathway provided by the adaptive learning courseware can allow the student to move forward to the next module at a pace that is suitable for him or her. If gaps in knowledge are revealed, a robust adaptive learning platform provides remediation as needed, including appropriate feedback and scaffolding.
Grading open-ended questions such as essays, projects, etc. to assess higher-order thinking skills in didactic curricula of large classes can be onerous. Quite often, instructors use multiple-choice questions (MCQs). However, creating higher-order thinking questions in MCQ format is very challenging and time-consuming because typically a scenario, case study, or fairly complex problem needs to be described and three or four plausible, but incorrect choices created. Aguilar et al. (2006) proposed a computer-based adaptive assessment tool designed to use formative and summative assessments developed by teachers allowing them to use the information to perform real-time evaluations of the learners’ levels of understanding. Adaptive learning systems take the process one step further by removing the instructors’ tasks of evaluating the information to determine the levels of student understanding as well as providing scaffolding
to support the learner where needed, thus freeing them up to have more personal contact with the students.
Formative assessments are efficient for both instructors and students to assess learning in personalized and adaptive learning environments. Instructors can check students’ understanding through formative assessment
and collect valuable data on student learning and then use that data to modify instruction. Godfrey (2006) found that incorporation of computer-based assessment increased student engagement
in learning and instructors believed technology-enhanced assessment tools positively impacted their teaching.
including assistive technology emerged as potentially powerful mechanisms for measuring growth mindsets or behavioral attributes of students as they engage in the learning process (West 2011). The Information Research Corporation developed an integrated technology platform eTouchSciences to support STEM learning that includes devices that provide multiple forms of feedback
, including tactile, visual, and audio, to the student (Thomas 2016). Examples of technology-enabled personalized and adaptive assessment tools used in higher education include Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Tutor Software, Pearson’s MyLabs, McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS Online Tutoring System and LearnSmart, and Australia’s SmartSparrow.
Intelligent tutoring systems
are some of the earliest adaptive learning technologies, and they offer personalized and interactive learning experiences that help students engage in learning more effectively than traditionally based instructional methods. This technology tool enables personalization of learning and evaluation of performance in real time. Intelligent tutoring systems enhance students’ engagement and individual learning experiences by providing immediate and adjusted feedback based on each student’s learning progression and his or her actions and responses to given questions and lesson activities (Thomas 2016). Adaptive learning systems go one step further to supply scaffolding to add to those interactive experiences in order to enhance learning.
Verification of identity is a must. It is very important to ensure that it is really the student doing the work. There are a number of methods to verify identity; however, many are quite costly to the student or institution.
composed of multiple-choice questions, including immediate feedback
for learning, can be delivered via learning management systems or adaptive learning tools and can be readily directed by teachers. Formative assessment with feedback and scaffolding becomes more challenging when one incorporates critical thinking and complex problem-solving (Spector et al. 2016: 59). The value of formative assessment cannot be denied, yet the overemphasis on summative assessment has resulted in inadequate resources for formative assessment (Ecclestone 2010; Sadler and Good 2006).
2.4.3 Implementation Strategies
Instructor training and professional development
opportunities are paramount to implementing a successful adaptive learning endeavor. The University of Central Florida (UCF)
and Georgia State University provide excellent examples of instructor training to promote adaptive learning in their institutions. The UCF developed a support network of instructional designers, technical experts, and content experts to assist faculty in developing courses using adaptive learning, and to further enhance the onboarding experience, they developed a self-paced
training course for faculty (Cavanagh et al. 2020). Georgia State offered a comprehensive adaptive learning workshop to foster faculty buy-in and commitment. They found that providing support as needed and building a community of inquiry enhanced the implementation of adaptive learning using the funds received from the APLU Learning Grant (Tesene 2018). Developing and delivering formative assessments
require extensive time and resources, yet this is a must for a successful implementation if an institution hopes to build its own adaptive learning content.
2.4.4 Research Questions
A powerful research question
is addressed in the literature and is worth mentioning here. That one question was: “What pedagogical tools in adaptive learning environments best promote student engagement
(and outcomes)?” Scaffolding is one of the most important pedagogical tools utilized in adaptive learning. Scaffolding is described as the structure of content and feedback
in such a manner that the student can work through the lessons without requiring intervention from an instructor, thus promoting autonomy and self-direction. A well-designed adaptive learning platform offers a robust experience with numerous branching options supported by scaffolding to allow students to work independently (Raes et al. 2012).
Professor Jones compared the performance of recent students in her course using adaptive learning with that of students from classes before she implemented the active learning component. She was able to quantify a significant increase in student pass rates and a decrease in course attrition after she integrated the learning activities into her course.
2.5 Co-curricular Activities
Co-curricular activities are learning experiences offered outside the classroom that allow students to expand their interests and perhaps even gain skills that would prepare them for their careers. Co-curricular should not be confused with extracurricular activities like sports and performance opportunities. Co-curricular learning experiences add depth to what is occurring in the classroom, yet are not typically graded. Co-curriculars include leadership skills training, service learning, and study abroad.
could easily provide personalization of a student’s educational path and the chance to apply and implement lessons learned without interfering with the set academic path the most institutions require. A menu of adaptive learning minicourses could offer students opportunities to gain skills adjacent to their primary courses, thus providing a personalized option of learning opportunities that are not part of the program curriculum.
is to ensure the safety of students participating in co-curricular activities while on and off campus. Another challenge is that many students at large universities have difficulties knowing what opportunities are available to them.
2.5.3 Implementation Strategies
Researchers at the University of Washington
discovered that students had difficulty finding co-curricular opportunities because they used many different sources to get information. A recommendation from the study was to address the student context and offer information at several different levels.
2.5.4 Research Questions
Many of the participants at the X-FILEs workshop
were unfamiliar with what co-curricular offerings were, and all questions posed were already answered in the literature.