Adaptive Learning

Research: 5 Ways Adaptive Learning Has Changed

A new report from consulting firm Tyton Partners examines the evolution of adaptive learning and best practices for implementation.

In three years, adaptive learning has evolved from an ill-defined concept in higher ed to a key category of education technology, according to a new report from consulting firm Tyton Partners. And the most significant change since 2012: the development of new adaptive technology features to meet institutional needs. 

Tyton researchers analyzed the adaptive learning landscape; conducted interviews with higher ed leaders from 20-plus institutions about their experiences with adaptive learning; and surveyed 35 vendors with adaptive products in the market — and compared the findings with a similar study the firm performed in 2012, "in an effort to capture ways in which this market has evolved over time, and to consider the potential impact of these changes on the future adoption of this technology." They identified five themes that characterize the evolution, ranked from 1 (changed little since 2012) to 5 (changed significantly since 2012):

  1. While institutions have more experience with learning through product pilots, the path to broader implementation is uncertain;
  2. Applications of adaptive learning technology are expanding;
  3. The role of faculty is changing with the emergence of "adaptive teaching";
  4. Adaptive learning is a relevant option for competency-based education, but only in specific use cases; and
  5. Adaptive products are building new feature sets in response to institutional demand.

Slow Adoption

While awareness of adaptive learning among colleges and universities is higher than ever and many institutions have piloted the technology, "implementations at large scale are still few and far between," noted the report. The researchers pointed out that integration and ease-of-use remain roadblocks to adoption: "Institutions face significant difficulties integrating adaptive learning solutions into existing tools, particularly learning management systems, and into faculty and student workflows. Despite efforts to address issues such as interoperability and standardization of data flow between systems, students and faculty are often still forced to maintain multiple sign-ons and user profiles, resulting in a less-than-seamless user experience."

Another barrier: faculty skepticism. "Faculty still commonly object, for instance, to the ways in which adaptive learning alters the process and practice of teaching. Other concerns revolve around the complexity of using these products and the added workload," said the report.

New Features

"Overcoming barriers to adoption places as much burden on institutional leaders to engage faculty as it does on technology suppliers to evolve their products," noted the report, adding that "institutional demands and vendor responsiveness are evolving in tandem with one another, leading to a host of product enhancements and extensions that promise to increase adoption." The researchers observed that adaptive learning vendors have strengthened product features in three areas: collaboration, customization and content.

For instance, most suppliers offer features for direct communication between faculty and students as well as faculty-to-faculty and student-to-student interaction, according to the report. "These features promise to improve faculty's ability to stage interventions with struggling students, and to boost social learning and collaboration among peers, which helps promote the feeling of a conventional class experience within the adaptive environment."

The researchers also pointed to the growing use of open education resources within adaptive platforms, which provides a way to customize learning content at low cost. "Many suppliers are now offering content that can be remixed, edited, and distributed freely," said the report. "A wide range of products are being offered today, from ready-made, off-the-shelf courses with varying degrees of possible customization to products that provide a platform on which faculty, subject-matter experts or an instructional design team can create a custom adaptive learning experience using a variety of resources."

Lessons Learned

Based on their interviews with institutional leaders and decision-makers who have piloted or implemented adaptive learning, Tyton researchers made four recommendations for schools in the process of adopting the technology:

  1. Pilot with full implementation in mind. "Avoid the tendency to keep this technology in the 'innovation' box or to make light of its capabilities and potential contribution," stressed the report. "Instead, showcase this technology early and often, and work to ensure that its breadth and capabilities are transparent and understood. Afford users multiple opportunities to test-drive new products and to weigh in on which products were most engaging and effective." It's also important to tackle integration issues early on and optimize the user experience, the researchers noted.
  2. Engage faculty throughout the implementation. "While building transparency and trust among faculty is important, it is equally critical to establish a shared understanding of the impact of adaptive products on the teaching process," said the researchers. Involve faculty in the product selection process, train them on new products and provide opportunities for faculty to share experiences and best practices, the report advised.
  3. Ensure a coherent decision-making process. "Take context into account when selecting a product, and ensure that the process reflects the needs and expectations of all stakeholders involved," said the report. "Make sure that everything from vision to product selection reflects the character, conditions and needs of the institution."
  4. Know the product landscape. When embarking on the product selection process, make sure you understand how adaptive learning technology works, what product offerings are available and how products differ from one another, the researchers said. "Take note of unique features and functions across different products, and ensure that these align with stakeholders' needs and expectations."

The full report, including a breakdown of adaptive learning vendors, guidelines for institutional decision-making, and a taxonomy of adaptive technology components, is available on the Tyton Partners site.

4 Qualities of Adaptive Teaching

Adaptive technology is changing not only the way students learn, but also the way faculty teach, according to Tyton Partners' new report on the state of adaptive learning in higher education. "Today, we see the emergence of a faculty focused practice called 'adaptive teaching,' in which faculty are empowered through the use of technology to guide individual learner pathways and to direct and re-direct learning outcomes," wrote the researchers. They identified four qualities that characterize adaptive instruction:

  1. Active, insofar as it uses technology to add focus to the role of faculty as instructors who shape the "journey" and outcomes of learning;
  2. Relational, as faculty are empowered to work as subject-matter experts, coaches and guides alongside students who are progressing through an adaptive curriculum or assessment;
  3. Involved through the use of digital features and functions that enable faculty to direct learners through a module, course or program and to stage interactions and interventions as needed; and
  4. Insightful at scale through the use of analytics, dashboards and learning maps that provide faculty with greater transparency into student progress, as well as the use of indicators or flags to suggest potential interventions to improve the likelihood of student success.
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