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What is Adaptive Learning?  

Adaptive Learning replaces “one-size-fits-all” instruction with a personalized and self-paced approach that assesses the learner’s knowledge based on their inputs and presents content adapted to their individual needs. Through guided practice and ongoing feedback, the learner moves towards mastery of established learning outcomes (Shearer, 2017).  

Instruction is delivered via an Adaptive Learning platform that customizes each learner’s experience. These platforms vary from simplistic to advanced and are used in both online and hybrid learning environments (Mirata et al., 2020). In fact, many tools found in common learning management systems or virtual textbooks can be used in Adaptive Learning.  The platform individualizes the content and assessments placed in front of the learner based on their knowledge and learning preferences. It then uses guided practice as well as detailed feedback to address individual learning gaps and personalizes the pace of instruction or provides instructors with reports and recommendations to help personalize the learning experience (Cavanagh et al.,2020).  Either way, each learner follows their own unique path to achieving learning outcomes. 

How does Adaptive Learning work?  

In a digitally-mediated learning environment, algorithms draw on learner inputs in the form of assessments and targets exactly where the learner needs more training and bypasses subject areas in which the learner already shows mastery (Martin et al., 2020).  

Why use Adaptive Learning? 

Potential benefits of incorporating Adaptive Learning into course or program delivery that impact both learners and instructors include: 

  • Individual learning pathways make learning more efficient as learners are focused on what they need to know to address their own knowledge gaps. 
  • Learners’ entry-level knowledge in courses exists on a spectrum from basic to advanced. Adaptive Learning allows the instructor to support the individual learning needs at each learner’s level of knowledge. 
  • Learning analytics provide both students and instructors with detailed data on learner progress and challenges in the course. This information can help proactively support each learner and lead to greater success. 
  • Adaptive Learning can automate the delivery and assessment of some course content which frees up class time to explore higher-order learning objectives. 
  • Learners benefit from an immediate formative assessment that gradually moves them towards mastery of content through continual practice. 

Where to use Adaptive Learning 

Often, Adaptive Learning techniques are used to prepare for exams. However, it can be incorporated into almost any discipline or educational context. 

In hybrid or blended learning environments, you can use Adaptative Learning in the online portion of a course to help prepare the learner for in-person or synchronous classes, labs, or tutorials. 


Work done to date  

2019/2020 Adaptive 1.0  

Expanding on Open at Scale Trades and Apprenticeships, eCampusOntario undertook testing on the efficacy of Adaptive Learning platforms utilized in the plumbing, electrical, and automotive trades.  The project brought together eight Ontario colleges and three design firms to collaborate on pedagogy, content, and platform design.  Areas of focus included technical competencies required for each trade as well as more general communication skills.    

The following criteria were identified as critical to success:

Trade specific resources for the remediation of knowledge gaps that contribute to successful Certificate of Qualification exam pass rates in apprenticeships with high enrollments.

Media-rich resources, such as videos and simulators, as supplementary resources which support and complement preparation for on-the-job training.  

Easy-to-use and easy-to-implement technology with low barriers to entry, including use on mobile devices.  

Self-service access to free, openly licensed online tools and learning resources for apprentices.  

2020/2021 Adaptive 2.0  

Building on previous work, objectives of Adaptive 2.0 were to:

Increase Certificate of Qualification Exam pass rates for apprenticeship students using Adaptive Learning platforms.  

Improved proficiency in subject areas for students who complete Adaptive Learning modules.  

The Covid-19 pandemic greatly impacted the outcomes for Adaptive 2.0.  Post-secondary partners were required to devote significant resources in the pivot to new online learning environments and had little capacity to devote to other initiatives.  As a result, the two objectives for Adaptive 2.0 were deferred.   

Program efforts did secure the advancement of two partnership projects, supported by eCampusOntario and Desire2Learn(D2L). Both partnerships furthered eCampusOntario’s continued work in supporting member institutions in their creation of content for and adoption of Adaptive Learning.  Additionally, these projects garnered further insights into the impact of  Adaptive Learning on student experience and learning outcomes. Centennial College developed Adaptive Learning modules for two courses in the areas of Product Design and Musical Theory. The Product Design course facilitated learner exploration and development of their own creativity to meet marketplace demand. The Musical Theory course explored how Adaptive Learning can reach learners with different levels of experience and training.  This initiative leveraged user-testing with learners to evaluate and make improvements to the modules. Further plans include piloting these courses during the 2021/22 academic year.    

The second project, launched by Algonquin College, was a course section for ENG1813: Communications 1. Initial results from this pilot indicate that learners who completed Adaptive Learning modules demonstrated improved proficiency in subject areas over those who did not.  Both projects utilized D2L’s LEaP as the  Adaptive Learning platform.  


Lessons Learned from Adaptive 1.0 and 2.0  

Numerous insights have been gained from Adaptive 1.0 and 2.0 and should be taken under consideration by institutions implementing Adaptive Learning.  

Take a Team Approach  

  • Development and implementation of Adaptive Learning solutions benefits from a team-based approach. Depending upon the scale of the project, teams may include subject matter experts, teaching and learning support, platform vendor, course facilitators, as well as research and analytic support.  
  • Select a vendor and platform that is carefully aligned with needs and available resources. It was noted that each vendor approaches project management differently with some developing content in-house with the platform, while others partner with external subject matter experts for content.  It is recommended that institutions consider working with a vendor whose approach to content and platform delivery is consistent with the resources available.  

Resources Needed

Participating institutions noted that limited time and capacity was often a key factor in their projects. Ensuring that dedicated resources are available was a key recommendation.  

Adaptive Learning projects are more resource intensive at the development stage. Once launched, the platform can be more self-directed with available technological support.  

Consider working with a vendor whose approach to content and platform development align with resources available internally.  

The learning curve for platforms can be time-intensive for some faculty and students. It is recommended that institutions carefully consider support and training necessary for success.  

Supporting Student Experience and Learning Outcomes

Adaptive Learning can allow students to better understand their own learning process and educators to better understand the needs of students.   

Institutions shared the following insights: 

  • Adaptive Learning solutions could be useful for students who were unsuccessful in a course through boosting confidence by identifying what they do understand and focusing their attention on knowledge gaps.  
  • Motivate students to engage with the  Adaptive Learning solution by clearly communicating the benefits to their learning.   
  • Adaptive Learning could be highly beneficial in hybrid/blended courses where modules could be used as part of a student’s online requirements.  
  • Both students and faculty shared the benefits of using learning analytics to create curriculum maps that show where the learner is in the learning process.  
  • Learning analytics should be used as a learning feedback mechanism for both students and educators.  

Evidence-based Decision Making  

User analytics can identify struggle points and inform the design and implementation of targeted supports and resources.    

Best results are achieved when a single platform is used across the institution or sector.  

Adaptive Learning Platform  

  • The use of a specialized  Adaptive Learning platform is not necessarily required to integrate  Adaptive Learning into a course. Other tools commonly available through Learning Management Systems, like quiz functions, can be used to develop  Adaptive Learning opportunities. 
  • The identification of a set of common practices related to developing  Adaptive Learning opportunities for learners could create a better understanding of  Adaptive Learning pedagogy and approaches to course design that are not centred on specific  Adaptive Learning technology.  

Next Steps 2021-2022  

For 2021/2022, eCampusOntario has embarked on Adaptive 3.0. This work has three main objectives:  

1

Conduct an environmental scan on the use of Adaptive Learning across the post-secondary sector in Ontario.  

2

Disseminate the general findings from Adaptive 1.0 and 2.0 to eCampusOntario member institutions and the public.

3

Identify common terminology, best practices, and pedagogical processes related to Adaptive Learning that are employed across Ontario’s post-secondary sector.  

To accomplish these objectives, eCampusOntario will be engaging our member institutions in surveys, interviews, and focus groups as part of the environmental scan.  The findings from this scan and previous Adaptive Learning projects will inform our final report, to be published in Spring 2022, as well as the curation of training materials to support the use of Adaptive Learning.  

Do you have any questions about Adaptive Learning? Contact us at adaptivelearning@ecampusontario.ca 

Post-secondary educators interested in learning more about adaptive learning or willing to participate in the environmental scan can register below.  

Register

References 

Cavanagh, T., Chen, B., Lahcen, R. A., & Paradiso, J. R. (2020). Constructing a Design Framework and Pedagogical Approach for Adaptive Learning in Higher Education: A Practitioner’s Perspective. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 172-196. 

Liu, M., McKelroy, E., Corliss, S. B., & Carrigan, J. (2017). Investigating the effects of adaptive learning intervention on students’ learning. Education Tech Research Dev, 65, 1605-1625. 

Martin, F., Chen, Y., Moore, R. L., & Westine, C. D. (2020). Systematic review of adaptive learning research designs, context, strategies, and technologies from 2009 to 2018. Education Tech Research Dev, 1903-1929. 

Mirata, V., & Hirt, F. (2020). Challenges and contexts in establishing adaptive learning in higher education: findings from a Delphi study. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 17(32), 1-25. doi:10.1186/s41239-020-00209-y 

Shearer, R. L. (2017). Adaptive Learning, Competency Based Education, and Personalization: Implications for Distance Education and Adult Learners. Journal of Lifelong Learning Society, 13(1), 49-71. doi:10.26857/JLLS.2017.02.13.1.49