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Survey: Adaptive Courseware Helped Improve Student Learning During Pandemic

student studying on laptop

In a fall 2020 survey of institutions piloting adaptive courseware in gateway courses, 96 percent of faculty agreed that the technology helped them improve student learning, and allowed them to better monitor student progress and hold individual students accountable for engaging in class. Conducted by Every Learner Everywhere, the survey polled 56 instructors at 12 of the organization's "Lighthouse" institutions, colleges and universities serving large numbers of Black, Latinx, Indigenous and poverty-impacted students, which began implementing adaptive courseware and evaluating its use in 2019.

Three-quarters of the survey respondents were teaching their courses entirely online. Most used the adaptive courseware to supplement conventional instructional practices: Sixty-eight percent of respondents typically provided lectures (in-person, live online or recorded) of at least 30 minutes on a weekly basis.

Instructors used a variety of adaptive courseware products; the most commonly used were McGraw-Hill ALEKs, McGraw-Hill Connect/LearnSmart, Lumen Waymaker and Pearson MyLab.

The most common evidence-based teaching practices employed by faculty in the survey included:

  • Practice with immediate feedback (cited by 96 percent of respondents);
  • Clear statement of learning objectives (96 percent);
  • Information on how to improve (96 percent); and
  • Use of low-stakes formative assessments (94 percent).

The report noted that these practices were all directly supported by the adaptive courseware.

On the flip side, several evidence-based teaching practices were not as frequently used by faculty:

  • Peer learning or think-pair-share routines (cited by 54 percent of respondents);
  • Activities to allay anxiety, stereotype threat or imposter syndrome (38 percent);
  • Mastery learning (34 percent); and
  • Project-based learning (14 percent).

"These survey reports suggest that instructors who adopt courseware implement many of the practices known to enhance student learning," noted Barbara Means, executive director for learning sciences research at the nonprofit Digital Promise, in a statement. "But most courseware does not enable other evidence-based teaching practices, such as peer learning and establishing an inclusive course culture. These are practices we hope to see coupled with courseware use in the future."

Despite some of those shortcomings, a majority of faculty in the survey (56 percent) said they would recommend the courseware product they had used to a friend or colleague teaching the same course.

"We know that even after the pandemic, colleges and universities likely will continue to offer remote learning options for students, so the results of this survey are encouraging," commented Jessica Rowland Williams, director of Every Learner Everywhere. "Adaptive courseware for the participating faculty clearly provides an important mechanism for engaging students and serving their academic needs."

The full report, "Teaching Practices of Faculty Adopting Adaptive Courseware," is available on the Every Learner Everywhere site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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