D2L’s Philosophy on Adaptive Learning

  • 4 Min Read

Interview with Bill Bilic

We are here with Bill Bilic, VP of Adaptive Learning at D2L and one of the early pioneers in this field. He recently wrote a blog post that focused on D2L’s definition of adaptive learning as a foundation for adaptive technology solutions. As a follow-up, we wanted to ask Bill a few questions about adaptive learning and Brightspace LeaP™.

To start things off, can you give us some background on yourself? What is your experience in adaptive learning and what brought you to D2L?

BILL: Well, I’ve been part of educational technology for over 15 years now. I started at WebCT in 2000, where I was Principal Architect for the Vista product. In 2005, I founded HyperCube Technologies where my team and I worked on MyLabs, a Pearson flagship e-learning platform. In 2011, I founded Knowillage, an Ed-tech startup that was based on the ideas I had around adaptive learning and personalization using technology in education. Knowillage, which created the products Learning Engine and LeaP, was then acquired by D2L in 2013. I’m very happy to be a part of the D2L organization, where analytics in general is critical in the core platform, and where several industry-leading predictive analytics products are built.

In your previous post you talked about D2L’s view on adaptive learning, and that it’s all about “exploration.” Can you expand on what that means and how LeaP was built (on this idea)?

BILL: As Ken Robinson would say “today’s education is linear” and revolves primarily around an organized sequence of knowledge acquisition; it is always group-based. However while that exploitation-based process is critical for the scalability of institutions delivering education, it is not fully allowing learners to demonstrate their potential. Through “exploration” the learner not only re-confirms their prior knowledge, but also discovers new ways of acquiring knowledge and sets the foundation for creative thinking. LeaP, and its underlying Learning Engine, encourages exploration through a constant offering of alternative materials and actions. Along with questions which verify the learner’s success, it also offers suggestions on what to do about learning objectives in areas of difficulty. This is largely based on the theories of reinforcement learning, where this feedback from exploration allows learners to get to mastery at a much faster rate than they would using the traditional delivery methods.

What does “personalized learning” mean to you and what specific role do you see adaptive learning playing within it?

BILL: There continues to be a substantial challenge in finding and integrating content into an instructional design or curriculum. With the diversity of delivery systems and LMS’ within a single institution, content discovery, access, and personalization have become very hard. There’s a great opportunity here to build a smart and flexible technology. The focus should be around bringing together a variety of educational resources, then mapping them to the learning objectives which offer personalization for each learner – all with little to no manual setup by instructors.

All teaching is reliant on “a contingency of reinforcement, which needs to be immediate and adequate.” With the feedback facilitated by a technology (through practice questions and offering recommended materials), this reinforcement is not only immediate and adequate, but it is also universally re-usable. In doing so, it offers a promise of converging the learners’ own personalized and most effective path to success.

Feedback and accompanying reinforcement is a critical component of adaptive learning, without which the personalization could only be achieved through pre-determined pathways that stem from a pre-determined un-ordered set of learning objectives.

Brightspace Leap is smartly built on exactly those opportunities, and it is at the center of our overall platform offering.

If we think about some of the broader and more critical challenges our industry is facing (attainment/retention), how do you see adaptive learning helping as a solution (within a personalized learning context)?

BILL: Adaptive learning is definitely a great opportunity as a technology in education, as it goes way beyond the simple facilitation of online content delivery. As technologists however, we must resist the belief that a “good” education is entirely quantifiable and therefore manageable by a computer. Moreover that adaptive learning is some kind of magic incantation that will solve all problems just because it is based on big data. Adaptive learning at the basic level helps in provision, personalization, and allows the learner to acquire information in a very focused and effective manner. Beyond that, it’s freeing up faculty time to spend with learners in the classroom. Instructors can teach at much higher and more complex levels, with a greater focus on analysis, synthesis, and creative thinking. While we strongly believe that adaptive learning platforms are the future of education, they cannot serve as a replacement for teacher-facilitated classes. LeaP empowers teachers to provide students with a richer and more personalized educational experience, and allows learners to unleash their true potential.

Check out the first post in our series to learn more about how we define adaptive learning, as well as an educational webinar that discusses adaptive learning as the breakthrough innovation impacting education today.

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