Adaptive Learning

APLU Develops 6-Step Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware

A Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware: From Planning Through Scaling

Drawing on the experience of eight public universities involved in a multi-year adaptive learning pilot program, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) has created a six-step guide for implementing adaptive courseware.

APLU hopes to provide colleges and universities with a roadmap that runs from initial planning through scaling up the use of adaptive courseware across a campus. The idea behind adaptive courseware is to provide a personalized digital learning experience for each student. Courses are often delivered in a blended format that includes direct instruction from a professor who is able to tailor his or her own teaching based on student progress data that the adaptive courseware provides.

Among the first recommendations in the guide is to reflect on your institution's culture in terms of attitude toward innovation and continuous learning. "Because using adaptive courseware involves a change in pedagogy, instructors will likely need to step outside their comfort zone in order to redesign courses and integrate adaptive courseware," the guide notes. "If your institution's culture is not perceived as providing an environment to explore new academic approaches and learn from mistakes, instructors may be hesitant to participate. Begin thinking about what kind of structures can be put in place to encourage instructors to try new approaches."

The eight universities involved in the pilot have identified other issues. For instance, because of the additional time and effort involved in implementing adaptive learning, it can be challenging to motivate faculty members to participate. Schools may offer stipends or other faculty incentives, but timing can be an issue, Julie Greenwood, associate provost for transformative learning at Oregon State University, told Campus Technology last year. "We had one faculty member who had just spent five years redesigning her curriculum. This was not a good time to ask her to throw all that away and start over again."

A positive faculty experience is going to be critical to OSU's ability to scale up. "We have to provide structure and support to help the faculty deal with the technology," Greenwood said. "We want them to focus on curriculum and instruction, not to have to figure out how to get this to work in Canvas, how to access the analytics or worry about students not being able to log on. We have to provide a structure here at the university that eliminates those barriers, so this can run smoothly. We also need a positive student experience. We need to measure the student experience as it goes along, respecting their feedback and monitoring their success."

APLU's guide, which was created in conjunction with Every Learner Everywhere and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, details six steps colleges and universities should take to successfully launch adaptive courseware on their campus:

  1. Establish support: Institutions identify their rationale and big goals for an adaptive courseware project, understand the resources needed, and begin building support from institutional stakeholders, including administrators and faculty, who will need to commit time and energy in subsequent steps.
  2. Discover and decide: Institutions evaluate both existing internal and potential external resources for successful adaptive courseware implementation. At the end of this phase, institutions select an adaptive courseware product and decide which courses will be involved in a pilot.
  3. Design: An institution's implementation team designs the adaptive courseware pilot course(s), creates a plan for evaluating outcomes, and solidifies agreements with stakeholders who will take part in the pilot. More detailed planning is conducted to help keep the project on track during the following phases.
  4. Develop: Institutions develop the pilot course(s) based off the previously created designs. This entails either using an off-the-shelf product, modifying an adaptive courseware product, or building an adaptive course from scratch. Institutions also develop the ecosystem supports and resources needed for a successful pilot and work with instructors to help them understand how their pedagogy will change with the use of adaptive courseware.
  5. Pilot and iterate: Instructors teach their course(s) using adaptive courseware in a limited number of sections to allow all stakeholders to evaluate the effects of the changed instructional approach and identify areas for improvement. Schools may then choose to conduct additional cycles of the pilot before preparing to scale.
  6. Scale: An institution expands its use of adaptive courseware to its target level based on lessons learned from the pilot and iterate phase. This phase is an extended process that includes creating policies, structures and cultures that support sustained use of adaptive courseware.

"This guide provides institutions with a step-by-step guide for integrating adaptive courseware on their campus with a wide array of resources and tips for avoiding or minimizing the road bumps along the way. Our hope is that this guide will help more institutions utilize adaptive courseware and move along the implementation learning curve more quickly," said Karen Vignare, executive director of APLU's Personalized Learning Consortium, in a prepared statement. She oversees the pilot program and helped developed the report.

APLU originally launched its adaptive courseware grant program in 2016. The program awarded funding and support to eight public universities that agreed to adopt, implement and scale adaptive courseware to at least 15 percent of their general education course enrollments by the end of the three-year grant period. The eight participating schools are Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Georgia State University, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University, Portland State University, the University of Louisville and the University of Mississippi.

Cumulatively, the eight institutions report reaching nearly 75,000 course enrollments in 16 disciplines through Aug. 31, 2018. Over half of the enrollments are in biology, chemistry, math and psychology courses. The institutions report that students' cost of materials in the sections using adaptive courseware is lower than the cost of materials in non-adaptive sections. APLU called the data on student outcomes promising but limited. APLU has collected 18 months of data, but given the limited number of enrollments during the pilot phase, it is difficult to draw conclusions and cumulative statistics on student success, the organization said. The institutions are, however, reporting on their individual data and many have positive statistics about improved course success.

"A Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware: From Planning Through Scaling" is available on the APLU site.

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