Lisa Fisher

Making Learning Personal with Adaptive Learning Systems

Discussion created by Lisa Fisher on Nov 11, 2016

When it comes to personalizing education, adaptive learning systems can support teachers with data to support decision-making about class instruction, as well as targeted assistance to individual students.


Although the word “adaptive” has come to mean many different things, simply stated, adaptive learning software adjusts the learning content or assessment items it presents to each student based on observations of student performance.


Adaptive learning systems are designed to provide students with an appropriate level of challenge, as well as the right amount of support. The optimal learning zone lies between the student’s comfort zone and the frustration zone. Too little challenge, and the student will quickly lose interest. Too much challenge, and the student will become frustrated and more likely to give up.


Adaptive learning software shares much in common with traditional private tutoring. The software can provide supplemental instruction and coaching to students on a one-on-one basis. It can quiz a student, identify areas of weakness, and provide tips to help him or her to remember key concepts. Highly adaptive learning software can help students to get unstuck on a particular step in solving a math problem. Perhaps most useful to teachers, some adaptive learning software can pinpoint exactly what students are doing well and where they might need extra help and support.


Personalizing Instruction with Adaptive Learning Systems


Adaptive learning software is most often utilized with a blended learning approach, in which the student learns part of the time through computer-based delivery of content and skills practice. Teachers, meanwhile, can provide targeted instruction to individual students or small groups.


Adaptive learning programs can’t replace a teacher. It is important that teachers understand how adaptive learning software works before implementing it in their classroom. This understanding enables a teacher to identify which teaching functions the software can fulfill and which it can’t. It’s also important to remember that the decisions about what content to offer a student next will only be as good as the knowledge structure that underlies the adaptive curriculum.


Adaptive learning systems can empower teachers to do their jobs better and give students more personalized educational experiences. They are not intended as full replacements for teacher-led classes, but they can support a shift in the role of the teacher in the classroom. The teacher’s role can change from providing whole group instruction to supporting students as they work on their individual learning paths.


Adaptive Assessments


To effectively teach each student where he or she is presently performing, an educator needs to know where the starting line is. Adaptive tests, which adjust with each test question and can include out of grade level material, provide the clearest picture of that starting line. Many tests adapt only after several items have been presented, which does not return the same precision as a test that reacts in real time to every single student response. In addition to this true adaptivity, the test also needs a deep pool of items to draw from in order to ensure that students are seeing new questions. And of course, an adaptive assessment must use a stable scale, which is the only way to accurately show a student’s growth over time, regardless of grade level performance.


Adaptive tests—like MAP interim assessments—can pinpoint student growth and instructional needs accurately in a relatively short amount of time. MAP assessments take about an hour, and give students and educators information they can immediately use to move learning forward.


To understand where all students are on their learning paths, an adaptive assessment can be an invaluable tool, provided it meets certain criteria: measuring growth regardless of grade and gathering data efficiently.


What are your personal experiences with adaptive learning systems, including adaptive tests? How do they support personalized education, and what are some of their limitations? Join the conversation and reply to the discussion below.