What is Adaptive Learning?

Among the most-bandied-about terms in education today is adaptive learning. Yet even educators have difficulty in understanding the concept, let alone in explaining it to parents and other participants in education. That is because definitions often refer to algorithms or sequencing, which are not words used every day by most people. What is this type of learning in simple terms?

Defining the Term

The most basic definition of this type of learning is that it is a kind of personalized learning facilitated by the use of computer technology. Of course, teachers have long incorporated computers in the classroom, but these systems are a new approach to making education less of a one-size-fits-all proposition. It allows real-time assessment of a student’s progress.

Categories of Adaptive Learning

This system can be broken down into two types. The first, according to thejournal.com, is the Facilitator-Driven approach. The computer technology is used to build and then access a student profile so that appropriate content can be selected for each student. This relies on a system component that produces assessments periodically, for instance every few months. The teacher uses the profile and the assessments to gauge student progress and to direct content at the needed level from a dashboard. The second type of this learning system is Assessment-Driven, and this is where all the excitement lies. In this type, input from a student determines the sequence of learning tasks and the level of the tasks assigned.

How the Assessment-Driven Type Works

The website Ed Surge explains the process of learning with this computer technology. A student accesses the computer to learn a concept or skill. The computer asks questions and tracks the student response. If the learner is having difficulty with a concept, in math, for instance, the computer can bring up a video teaching a math process needed to solve the problem. It can also break that needed skill into easier tasks. Once the student has mastered that step, the computer returns to the assigned problem, like opening a text to a bookmarked page, and the student resumes the assignment. Based on the student’s responses or response time, the computer may offer prompts to perform a certain action such as carrying a number in addition.

Importance of the Innovation

Instead of teaching a concept and waiting for a monthly or even a weekly assessment before altering the curriculum to meet student needs, the system uses the performance of the student to make the adjustments in real time. It can change the sequence of tasks, introduce different levels of difficulty and offer supplemental learning aids at the point of need. These systems can even use the data to predict at what time of day the student will be the most successful, or whether he will pass an examination. It is an entirely new way to think about differentiated education. The technology is expanding rapidly due to grants by the Gates Foundation, and by the partnerships forged between educational material publishers and software developers.

There will always be a need for a teacher in the classroom, but the role of that educator is changing from a lecturer and instructor to a facilitator. Adaptive learning centers the content and rate of learning on student ability and that could change everything for his education.

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