We are all born the same, needing food, love and care, but once we start to assimilate knowledge, each of us starts to show our uniqueness. There are no two babies to walk at the exact same age, or speak the exact same words. We all develop skills and process knowledge in a very personal and different way. That’s why I think that the learning process should be tailored to each individual, according to their needs and capabilities.
It would be great if this could be implemented starting with pre-school. We would look a lot different as grown-up individuals if we would all follow unique paths of learning.
Maybe someday this will be possible, and everyone will be able to reach their full potential. But in the meantime what can we do for the “cookie-cutter” generation? I have two words for you: adaptive learning.
This is the ultimate level of personalization. In this type of learning, every answer provided and every action taken by the student is tracked, stored and analyzed. The returning result is a personalized path.
Let’s say I’m taking a French class. The first step is to take a quiz that will evaluate my skill level. Depending on my answers, I will be enrolled in a beginner course, or be assigned a French vocabulary class to improve my spelling. Depending on how long it takes for me to apprehend the knowledge, I will be designated a tutor or be added to a group to get help or practice my pronunciation.
Does this sound too much like a Sci-Fi movie? Don’t worry, it’s not as utopian as it sounds. Way back in time, this process would have been very time consuming for both teachers and students. Basically you would have needed a teacher for every student in order to do that. One of the key benefits of adaptive learning is its ability to personalize learning with the help of technology.
What does this whole process mean?
First, it targets the student’s starting point based on prior knowledge. For example, all students follow the same curricula, but when you test all 4th graders with the same set of questions they will reveal very different results. They will excel in some parts and fail in others.
So if you were to start the 5th grade with an adaptive learning program, each student would receive a different task based on what they already master at this time. Struggling readers would be assigned reading materials and weak multipliers would be given more exercises to improve that skill.
Then, it prevents struggling students from getting frustrated for not being able to keep up with the general pace of the classroom, and gifted students from becoming bored. I remember how bored I used to get in French classes in highschool because I was a fluent speaker while others could barely say Bonjour. And how lost I felt in elementary school in geometry class, when everybody but me seemed to understand the Theorem of the Three Perpendiculars.
Last but not least, it customizes presentation, by constantly analyzing the answers the adaptive software selects from the study materials that make the most sense for that particular student.
What does a school need to implement adaptive learning?
Oh, nothing much, just ten times more teachers and TAs and a lot less students. I’m joking, this is not a viable solution.
But what about an LMS? Educational technology improves almost on a daily basis. Schools should take advantage of that!
Here are a few features found in LMSs that support adaptive learning:
- Everything is customizable. That means that most of the features can be enabled or disabled, class layout can be adjusted to fit different learning styles, grade level and so on.
- Analytics. Schools can choose a platform that includes multiple analytics to help teachers easily identify the progress level for each student. You should also be able to see how well the curricula is covered by the content and how each student is mastering the subject. When you see struggling students on certain subjects or very gifted ones, you can add them to dedicated groups and then make available content, assignments, resources tailored specifically for those students.
- Rules engine. Now that is a really great feature that allows you to set up rules that should be performed when students complete different tasks. For example, you can set up a rule that unlocks a lesson when the student completes an assignment, and awards a badge or points for the class game.
- Personalized assignments. Your students are unique, so why should they have the same assignments? Most LMSs allow teachers to give assignments only to certain groups of students.
- Learning paths (my favorite). This is a set of related classes you enroll the students that need to master particular skills. You can use the rules engine I mentioned above to enroll them automatically when completing a certain course or assignment.
What about the teachers?
With all this high tech intelligent adapted learning, what is there left for the teachers to do? Here are some perks for teachers and educators:
- They will have to spend less time lecturing and more time engaging students in the learning process;
- Instead of wasting time managing the class, they will get the chance to really teach;
- They will no longer calculate grades, but with one click they will get everything they need and use the gained time to connect with students and help them change their lives.
Over to you! What do you think about adaptive learning? Can you see it adopted by schools?