Best practices report from innovative universities details how to maximize adaptive technology

adaptive-learning-adoptAdaptive learning, considered a ‘game changer’ for higher education in its innovative use of technology to deliver high-quality, highly-personalized instruction to all types of learners, is still relatively new in its adoption and implementation. Thankfully, 17 tech-savvy leaders in higher ed are offering best practices to get the most out of adaptive learning.

In a new report, “Maximizing Investment in Adaptive Learning,” sponsored by Adapt Courseware and produced by Eduventures—a research and consulting service—though adaptive learning is not only in demand by colleges and universities (Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon, the University of California Berkeley, and more) but meets the needs of today’s students’ through rich online learning environments and personalized learning, its full potential is not yet realized.

“Confusion abounds about what exactly adaptive learning is, what value proposition it brings to higher education, and, more strategically, what best practices institutions looking to adopt an adaptive learning model can glean in order to succeed with this emerging technology,” explains the report.

(Next page: 8 ways to maximize adaptive learning)

The report goes into detail about why adaptive learning is popular, what institutions are in full adoption mode, the three foundational characteristics to define adaptive learning, and why it departs from other valuable forms of personalized instruction (self-pacing, differentiated instruction), which you can read about here.

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But perhaps most critical for institutions eager to take the next step in this form of learning technology is the report’s eight recommendations on how to make adaptive learning effective.

The report’s researchers spoke with 17 leaders across higher education overseeing adaptive learning at their institutions, some with fully implemented systems, and others in the early stages of adoption.

According to these 17 CIOs, IT professionals and admin, there are 8 high-level priorities and best practices for colleges and universities looking to adopt an adaptive learning model.


1. Establish your philosophy of personalization, know your mission, and lead out with values, not technology. Establishing a philosophy of personalization and leading with it at all phases of adoption creates a network of shared values and trust among decision-makers, as well as a common language and commitment to creativity and innovation, says the report.

2. Identify the problems adaptive learning proposes to solve. “Adaptive learning is not about doing something new or cutting-edge, but rather, is a way to use technology to help solve problems an institution faces when delivering personalized, or remedial, forms of instruction,” notes the report. For example, remediation at scale, especially for diverse numbers of students with different learning needs, is a distinct problem that adaptive learning aims to solve.

3. Count the costs not just of adopting adaptive learning, but of not adopting it. Adaptive learning, done right, can actually be much less expensive in the long run than many traditional forms of instruction, especially when the platform is integrated with existing technologies, when it is offered as a cloud-based solution, or when it obviates reliance on face-to-face lectures and textbooks. Adaptive learning also offers asynchronous means of instruction that eliminate the need for scheduled remedial courses, late-night tutoring labs, or instructional time devoted to remediation in otherwise standard courses.

(Next page: 4-8 for implementation)


4. Choose your technology wisely. While one tool may make extensive use of technology to time-shift instruction, another may focus exclusively on instructor involvement, with technology functioning in the background. One tool may offer a faster pace of personalization, whereas another may be far more infrequent. Some offer a continuous flow of assessment, whereas others bring students through milestones throughout a curriculum, closer to mastery-learning. “Understanding the diversity of tools out there is a critical step, as some tools will work better for different institutions, and the costs of investing in the wrong tool far outweigh the cost of a slower and more discerning approach to matching the right tool to the right institution,” emphasizes the report.

5. Involve faculty at all stages of adoption. Generating buy-in from faculty members is important, since adaptive learning changes not just the form of instruction but also the method and the philosophy, the researchers explain. Faculty members should also be central to conversations with vendors and should have their needs and concerns heard early and often.

6. Launch in a controlled environment. A critical strategy is to facilitate a randomized controlled trial run of concurrent sections of an adaptive and non-adaptive course, and then measure the results.

7. Leverage adaptive learning only where it is best suited. “Institutions are advised to adopt adaptive learning only in subject areas where it is best suited and only in subjects where adaptive technology provides clear solutions for problems and pain points,” advises the report. “Even if starting with only a handful of remedial tools within a course, or as a tool for use in a single online course, a conservative approach helps establish a framework for efficacy at a smaller scale and only in areas where this technology is best suited.”

8. Quantify the benefits. Bring data to bear on bigger problems facing an institution, including outcomes, workforce alignment, cost-reduction, State and Federal policy demands, and the delivery of a transformative learning experience for every student, recommends the report. “Institutions can include demonstrating the added value of technology over face-to-face tutoring, showing how technology enhances learning outcomes, and sharing data on how more subjective forms of learning disrupt traditional teaching practices in radical but promising ways.”

For the full report, which details these recommendations in more detail, click here.

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