White paper defines each term; provides advice for approach mastery

terms-learning-differentiateNot all trendy terms are created equal, explains an industry whitepaper, with the aim of helping educators differentiate seemingly similar concepts in order to more effectively implement them.

The whitepaper, which uses information and research from EDUCAUSE, Education Growth Advisors, EdSurge, the Christensen Institute, and many other resources, says that many educators still don’t know the difference between personalized learning, adaptive learning and competency-based education (CBE).

“Providing clarity for educators as they look for innovative new ways to connect with students and improve outcomes is critical,” said Cherron Hoppes, chief academic officer at Helix Education, which produced the white paper. “There is no doubt that CBE is gaining momentum in the industry, yet educators still have a lot of questions about how they can best plan for and execute on a successful strategy.”

Based on what Helix Education notes is their own experience, as well as the expertise of academic insiders and industry coverage, here are the differences between—and tips for implementation of—personalized learning, adaptive learning, and CBE.

Personalized learning

Definition: [As provided by the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI)] A tool to help educators design student-centered instructional models. It seeks to accelerate student learning by tailoring the instructional environments—what, when, how, and where students learn—to address the individual needs, skills, and interests of each student.

Key characteristic: In a personalized learning experience, curriculum stays constant. “The course itself does not vary as students encounter the same flow of information in the same order as their peers,” explains the white paper. “However, a personalized guide or study plan is generated and updated as a result of pre-assessment activities to suggest which modules or topics may be skipped and where a learner should focus his or her time to develop advanced skills and knowledge.”

How to implement: Use diagnostic testing (or pre-tests) to gauge how much a student knows to create an individualized student path at the course and/or lesson level.

Considerations: 1) The technology system must have clear indicator for students and of students’ prior and current knowledge; 2) It must have meaningful assessments in a formative learning environment; and 3)Faculty and advisors must be well-informed on individual progress and direction.

(Next page: Adaptive and CBE)

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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