Adaptive Learning

What is adaptive learning?

As an essential element of learning and teaching in the 21st century, adaptive learning has become a core idea within education. Adaptive learning personalizes materials presented to students based on their performance while identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Strengths and weaknesses can be determined because questions are categorized and tagged by concept. Adaptive systems then ask questions according to these categories; recurring mistakes from a category will identify a student’s weaknesses. Adaptive systems do this in real time, allowing a comprehensive picture of a student’s capability to be drawn much faster than through a conventional text. Decisions that students make are tracked and used to modify the student’s pace between lessons. A summary is then provided to teachers. Below is a flow chart of how this works.

Learning Platforms without Adaptivity

The idea of online learning platforms started in the 1990s with computer assisted instructions. In the early 21st century, South Korean education companies took the initiative of transitioning out of offline learning to massive online open courses. One of the leading online education companies is Megastudy, which emphasizes efficient learning by providing high school courses online. Students watch lectures online and ask questions in a forum. This pure online model, however, has drawbacks. It’s not adaptive in that it doesn’t personalize how materials are presented to students. On Megastudy, students are given a certain time to finish a course. The platform does not provide a step-by-step pathway for students. It doesn’t direct students towards what they should learn next. It requires students identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Platforms that simply transfer the offline learning experience online are missing out on the huge opportunity that comes with technology. We need something more comprehensive — something that can think like mentors in classrooms. In response to these problems of online-only learning, educators have created a comprehensive platform known as the Intelligent Tutoring System.

Intelligent Tutoring System

The system serves as a personal tutor to each student at a lower cost. Instead of hiring tutors to guide a student through a course, the system analyzes student learning experience. It individualizes the pace of learning by regulating the content presented to each student. It can make learning a fun activity as well by eliminating the mundane atmosphere of sitting in classrooms. Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) is commonly referred to as a medium of adaptive learning. Without the intervention from a teacher, this computer system allows customized learning environment for students by providing feedback to the changing learning curves of each student. It reduces the dependency of students to teachers for personalized attention. Let’s take a look at how ITS works.

How ITS Works

The ITS is a system that utilizes cognitive models of humans to provide feedback to students as they are working through problems. Generally speaking, the ITS interface should contain three parts:

1) Domain Part: This is where learning takes place (conceptual learning — online video lectures)

2) Student Part: This is the main component of ITS. It collects large quantities of data on each student’s cognitive states and learning curves. It then presents the student’s learning process and provides the optimal strategies for learning with a dashboard.

3) Tutoring Part: This is where the ITS makes decisions on how the material gets presented to students. The system generates additional materials that are personalized to effectively strengthen students’ weaknesses.

Each student is different in their rate of learning, level of knowledge, and level of misconceptions. In the Concept of Blended Learning article, we discussed how it’s impossible for a teacher in a class of twenty students to cater to the individual student. The ITS allows students to learn through different learning paths not bound by the teacher.

Teacher’s Adaptivity

The best teachers modify their teaching materials based on student responses. Some teachers in classrooms are confined by the lectures that have been set in the past. Without technology, teachers have limited insight into the understanding of concepts — quizzes and homework help, but it’s difficult to look at results in aggregate. Once teachers incorporate adaptive learning platforms in their classrooms, they can modify their lesson plans accordingly. This gives teachers the ability to continuously improve their teaching and content. Also, teachers can create an online learning environment that is interactive by “gamifying” the contents and exercises.

The Future Paths

The pedagogical view that instruction be taught in classrooms has long been defeated. Adaptive learning platforms allow different curriculum paths, adjust to individual student pace, take background knowledge into account, provide an interactive feedback when solving problems, customize materials presented to students, and provides an in depth analysis of student performance. The integration of adaptive learning systems is essential for K-12 education. Higher education partnerships are now emerging as they acknowledge the common goal in education: efficiency. CollegeBoard’s partnership with Khan Academy and Pearson’s partnership with Knewton is only a start of the education reform. Adaptive learning platform’s ability to conform and compliment student learning will veer the way students are educated in the future.

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