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Adaptive Learning

Could Adaptive Tech Offer Bridge to STEM Success?

college student working on computer

A new report from STEMconnector, a professional services firm that focuses on increasing the number of "STEM-ready" workers in the global talent pool, suggests that adaptive learning systems could help underrepresented populations gain traction in STEM education. According to "The Stunning Potential to Create Equity," the use of adaptive learning is helping students — including those from disadvantaged backgrounds — gain "ability, confidence and persistence" in their higher ed math courses.

The report was produced in partnership with McGraw-Hill, which produces learning products that use adaptive technology.

The process of adaptive learning involves helping students figure out where they most need support, then laying out a personalized learning path that enables them "to work until they feel confident." The use of adaptive learning, stated report author Ashley Szofer, helps students understand "that if they put in the time, they will eventually succeed. This increases their confidence in their abilities, and students tend to move ahead more quickly once they get the sense for how the technology can support them." Szofer handles communications and partnerships at STEMconnector.

She emphasized that the use of the software doesn't eliminate the need for the instructor. Faculty can leave "rote memorization of formulas and procedures" to the technology, she wrote, while they "can focus on helping students understand the more critical thinking elements of math problems — drawing on real-world lessons and experiences to help students understand that particular concept."

The report profiled the work of three schools, all using McGraw-Hill's ALEKS product in their math classes. Texas-based Cedar Valley Community College, for example, reported a rise in pass rates for the first three years of ALEKS usage: 18 percent for elementary algebra, 16 percent for intermediate algebra and 14 percent for college algebra. As math coordinator Mary Merchant added, not only have the math scores improved, "but the students' change in attitudes is also stark." As a result, she suggested, more students have begun majoring in subjects that require advanced math.

If math has become the barrier that holds back people with underrepresented backgrounds from pursuing STEM degrees, Szofer concluded, adaptive learning has shown itself to be a promising approach "to build equity for those entering college behind their peers in math, allowing for reparation of skill and confidence deficits often resulting from systemic educational inequities, and for eventually majoring in STEM degrees and succeeding in STEM jobs."

The report is openly available on the STEMconnector website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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