Is COVID a Watershed Moment for Adaptive Learning?

Angela Kokis January 11, 2021
Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff once said “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” Because of COVID-19, most professors and students suddenly found themselves forced to use technology as they teach and learn. Students and teachers all over the world resorted to online learning for the first time in March. Many school districts scrambled to develop remote learning programs and teaching plans. This is not the case for the 2020-2021 school year where districts have reopened with formal instructional plans that took months of preparation.  The second wave of COVID-19 has arrived, prompting classes to move from in-person to virtual instruction from day to day and week to week. Adaptive learning is the key to providing personalized learning both inside and outside of the classroom.    
What is Adaptive Learning?
Adaptive learning is a computer-based or online education framework that adapts the learning experience. Adaptive learning systems use algorithms, assessments, input from students, adjustments/interventions from teachers, and different media to provide new learning content to students who have achieved mastery and remediation to those who have not.  Adaptive learning evaluates the student’s prior knowledge to deliver material that responds to learning needs and reduces comprehension gaps to maximize engagement in an effective and efficient time frame. Students are able to progress only once mastery has been reached. For instructors, adaptive learning can determine students who need additional assistance, evaluate performance, and achieve desired learning outcomes through real-time analytics. Adaptive learning is essentially a one-on-one learning relationship, as it provides each student with personalized content that is adjustable in real-time based on performance.  Each year, the summer learning loss affects students of all ages, causing them to lose some of the knowledge and skills they acquired over the school year because they are not receiving formal instruction in the summer months. The disrupted spring resulted in a significant amount of lost instruction time. Research shows that students have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, which is much greater than any summer learning loss. To get students caught up, teachers will have to know what learners are struggling with to adapt instruction. Maximizing learning efficiency is now more important than ever. Adaptive learning uses data to identify students who are not making adequate progress in the core curriculum and are at risk for poor learning outcomes. Teachers can provide interventions appropriate to the student’s level of need and responsiveness.   
How to Implement Adaptive Learning?
The adoption of adaptive learning tools varies from individual teachers to district-wide implementations. Various publishers and content providers have developed adaptive learning tools, as they understand what content works and doesn’t work to continually improve upon it. At Magic, we reimagine content for an immersive digital learning experience and build analytics to help provide personalized/adaptive learning delivery, so please feel free to reach out to our established professionals.  
  1. Align
When implementing adaptive learning, courses should match learning objectives to a consistent set of content, activities, and assessments.   The systems fall into one of the three groups:
  • Closed Systems: Comes with existing course content to enable the rapid implementation of the system.
  • Open Systems: Allows users to control all decisions concerning configuration and content.
    • Balances the time needed to develop an adaptive learning course with the flexibility to control content and assessments.
  • Hybrid Systems: Allow for limited configuration, like selecting lessons to be included in the course or importing course content.
    • If the system is open or a hybrid , instructors can adjust algorithms, content, and assessments.
  1. Engagement
The course should progress through learning modules, activities, and examinations that use active learning strategies to assess newly learned knowledge and skills. The assessments should provide students with feedback that is useful to better grasp course concepts in order to optimize performance.
  1. Analyze to Support
Analyze learning data to comprehend individual student progress and class progress to guide instruction. This could lead to immediate intervention for a struggling student, revising the curriculum for the next unit to revisit a topic that everyone in the class is struggling with, or even mean changes to the course level for the following year.  
The Future of Adaptive Learning
A one-size-fits-all approach in education has dominated the way students have learned for centuries, but that is starting to change in the e-learning environment. Those who were hesitant to introduce adaptive learning into the classroom are most likely using it in some form now. It is the ideal time to make full use of technology that will revolutionize the way students learn and teachers teach. There will be no turning back once the advantages of adaptive learning have been realized.  While the educational technology industry as a whole has responded quickly to the increasing demand, the pandemic has created an opportunity for the industry to bring about a significant shift in the education system. The spread of COVID-19 is a watershed moment for adaptive learning. It has presented challenges like no other but highlighted the critical need for adaptive learning. This is the solution to keeping students from falling behind and on a path towards academic success in a period of uncertainty. In the words of Rahm Emanuel, this is the time to change the nature of learning for the better. Adaptive learning is here to stay.     

Angela Kokis

Angela is an EdTech enthusiast with a keen interest in helping EdTech companies drive efficiencies in product and platform development