Adaptive learning

Definition: [Based on information from Education Growth Advisors] Using sophisticated data, this learning strategy behaves differently based on how the learner interacts with it. Curriculum adjusts based on the students’ baseline knowledge level and the technology can present materials to the student to ensure that his or her weaknesses are remediated and strengths are supported.

Key characteristic: Unlike personalized learning, each student sees a different course based on his or her individual learner profile and demonstrated progress. Different content is presented to different learners.

How to implement: Technology systems and granular data analysis provide a pathway for institutions to use adaptive learning strategies, says the white paper.

Considerations: 1) Based on formative assessments, student must be immediately presented with materials to direct attention and address knowledge gaps; 2)Activities should accurately align with students’ skills and abilities; 3) The system must have escalation of support.

Competency-based education (CBE)

Definition: [As defined by EDUCAUSE] This system awards academic credit based on mastery of clearly defined competencies. CBE shifts from grades to learning, emphasizing frequent, meaningful feedback to empower students to take more responsibility for learning than in conventional models.

Key characteristic: Unlike personalized and adaptive learning, CBE is a model that gives students opportunity to master specific competencies, which are often standardized, measurable learning objectives relevant to a degree and career, notes the white paper. Credit hours are de-emphasized, putting outcomes and mastery ahead of seat time and grades.

How to implement: According to Helix Education, “the best CBE programs leverage both adaptive and personalized learning designs to teach and assess defined outcomes…the unique thing about CBE is that it is not bound to a specific way to teach or learn.”

Considerations: 1) A CBE program must include customization to student learning styles; 2) The program must have a results-driven approach; and 3) The program must have a student-centered experience.

For more detailed information on these three definitions, as well as designing an LMS that includes all three strategies and models of learning, read the white paper, “Instructional Methods and Education Models Shaping the Future of Higher Education,” here.


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