Adaptive learning tool helps spur individual success

An online tool helped Siena College's Paul Thurston pinpoint student weaknesses.

Undergraduate professors employ myriad techniques to motivate their students to arrive prepared for active discussion. Despite our efforts, students often fall well short of our preparation expectations and struggle themselves with assessing their own course progress.

This is most problematic in survey or introductory courses that present an entirely new vocabulary of terms, the comprehension of which is critical to student achievement. Fortunately, adaptive learning tools are now available for many higher-education courses that can help professors address this problem.

These tools provide guidance for students by keeping them on an individualized path for success.

Over the past two fall academic semesters, I have incorporated McGraw-Hill’s Connect and emphasized the use of its adaptive learning tool, LearnSmart, in my Organization and Management course.

Through this experience I found that an adaptive learning tool such as LearnSmart, combined with the right emphasis on extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, yields optimal learning outcomes.

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In fall 2009, I led a sophomore-level class for the first time at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. I had mainly taught upper-level and graduate courses and was concerned about my ability to motivate the less mature students.

I decided to incorporate McGraw-Hill’s Connect with Contemporary Management 6e by Jones and George.  My primary goal was to have students attend class prepared to discuss the assigned material, and quickly become able to apply their understanding of basic management concepts through work with community partners and real-life experience.

I was attracted to Connect’s LearnSmart feature that acts as a “virtual tutor” to keep students on track and assess their understanding of and progress with the course material, serving as much more than an intelligent flash-card system.

LearnSmart also has a feature that provides users with instant comparison among students nationwide, adding a self-testing benchmark and level of competitiveness.

I truly felt the students would find the adaptive learning experience intrinsically motivating, and I demonstrated the system on the first day of class with encouragement to have some fun with it.