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What Is Adaptive Learning?

Posted in Adaptive Learning on June 16, 2010 by


Related: Watch Knewton President and COO David Liu explain adaptive learning.

Or read a transcript.

If you’ve spent any time in the field of educational technology, you may have heard the term “adaptive learning,” or one of its many aliases: adaptive instruction, adaptive hypermedia, computer-based learning, intelligent tutoring systems, computer-based pedagogical agents…

If you’re like most people, however, the precise definition of the term(s) probably still eludes you. So the question remains: What is adaptive learning?

At the most basic level, adaptive learning is the notion that computers can improve educational outcomes. However, until recently, most adaptive learning approaches have failed to realize this promise. Early attempts were often small-scale, focusing on a limited number of students or area of interest. Most utilized systems with only the most basic kind of adaptivity (eg. “Present Question A—collect the answer—if correct, branch to Question B, if incorrect, branch to Question C.”)

Just as adaptive learning’s name evolved over time, however, so has its potential to revolutionize education.

In the past decade, many industries leveraged the Internet to improve themselves. Unfortunately, the education industry wasn’t one of them. Let’s face it: We’ve done a lousy job of harnessing technology to better educate our kids. And the educational content that has found its way to the Internet is scattered across millions of blogs, content portals, and e-book libraries—making it hard to find and effectively unusable.

With the help of new innovations in adaptive learning, however, this can finally change. Knewton’s adaptive learning platform will facilitate the tagging and organizing of all this educational material, deliver and assess learning items, and use data mining to deliver optimized learning content for each student each day. While there have been several successful adaptive learning environments for specific domains of knowledge (generally math), Knewton’s platform is unique in the breadth and scope of its approach.

Adaptive learning makes content dynamic and interactive, placing the student at the center of his or her individual learning experience. The platform monitors how the student interacts with the system and learns, leveraging the enormous quantities of data generated by a student’s online interactions with ordinary (textbook-like) and extraordinary (game- and social-media-like) content, with teachers and peers, and with the system itself. It assesses not only what a student knows now, but also determines what activities and interactions, developed by which providers, delivered in what sequence and medium, most greatly increase the possibility of that student’s academic success.

Fear of online and computer-based educational approaches often stems from a misguided belief that these approaches will reduce teacher-student face time. In fact, the opposite is true. The platform frees up classroom time, allowing teachers more time to engage students directly. Individualized student data allows for more meaningful teacher-student interactions.

Ultimately, the Knewton adaptive learning platform provides a current snapshot of the student, coupled with the diagnostic information and recommendations so critical to improvement, while there is still time to help. Forget end-of-lesson/chapter/term/year assessments that reveal deficiencies without providing information or opportunities to remediate. This information is presented while lessons are still underway—giving students and teachers the data they need to act and improve, immediately.

In about 18 months, Knewton expects to open up the platform—so that anyone can use it, for any type of content. It will be free for teachers and not-for-profits; only those who charge for their content will pay. This technology will soon power educational content all over the web—and change the way we educate our children and ourselves.

David Kuntz is the Vice President of Research at Knewton