How Adaptive Learning is Transforming Teaching and Learning | D2L Europe
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How Adaptive Learning is Transforming Teaching and Learning

  • 4 Min Read

It enables learners to stay on a confident path of learning and instructors to deliver more dynamic instruction.

There’s a good reason why adaptive learning technology was number one on Gartner’s list of top 10 strategic technologies impacting higher education in 2015 and 2016: it transforms teaching and learning for the better.

What adaptive learning does

Adaptive learning employs technology, algorithms, and curation to help learners remain on a confident path of learning while avoiding the pitfalls of boredom or frustration. For instructors, it can provide deep insights into how a student, a group of students, or a piece of curriculum is performing—adaptive learning technology gathers data on students’ knowledge, skills and confidence and uses it to modify materials or tasks presented to a student.

At its core, adaptive learning technology is about enabling instructors to help learners drive better learning outcomes through personalization. According to a study of colleges employing adaptive learning tech by learning science company McGraw-Hill Education (which works with D2L), adaptive learning technology improves student retention by as much as 20 percentage points, and pass rates by as much as 13 percentage points. And in a time of unprecedented budget constraints, human resource limitations, burgeoning class sizes, a completion crisis, and an increasingly complex, tech-savvy student demographic, the opportunity to use adaptive learning to better engage learners and drive completion is huge.

Learn more about how adaptive learning is transforming teaching and learning

While the way adaptive learning is implemented can vary by discipline, learning community (K-12 versus higher education, for instance) and the purpose of an academic program, it can help to facilitate a continuum of learning that transcends experiences.

“The role that adaptive learning plays is actually quite similar at many grade levels,” says Stephen Laster, Chief Digital Officer at McGraw-Hill Education. “For teachers, both that community college teacher and that K-12 teacher, it’s about arming them with deeper insights into where areas of struggle or where areas of acceleration exist within their student populations while allowing them to operate in the pedagogy and teaching style that works for them.”

How to implement adaptive learning technology

Effectively implementing adaptive learning technology starts with rigorous curriculum design, well-researched and thoughtfully implemented technology, and professional development for educators where necessary—all brought to bear with a deep focus on making sure that instructors are comfortable and capable, and that students have a seamless and engaging experience.

The experience itself needs to be intuitive and engaging, and learners and instructors should feel that it’s time-efficient and effective. It needs to involve a journey that allows for frequent student gains—what that looks like is largely dependent on specific academic design. Lastly, feedback should be structured so that the students understand where they are in the journey, where they’ve been, where they’re going, their successes, and the progress they’ve made so they can best optimize their time and energies.

How adaptive learning technology benefits instructors

Adaptive learning technology allows instructors to engage with students more as a coaches, mentors, and leaders. According to the McGraw-Hill Education study, it enables instructors to spend 72% less time on administrative tasks and 90% more time on active learning experiences, and with the kinds of insights it offers up, that means much more dynamic semesters.

While instructors still need to plan curriculum, lessons, and set goals and learning objectives, adaptive learning technology offers real-time feedback. They can use that feedback to quickly identify areas to emphasize in instruction based on student engagement with things like last night’s homework or in-class group work. Teachers are empowered to incrementally fine-tune learning within the bigger framework of the course or semester and engage with learners more authentically and meet their needs more proactively, providing personalized guidance based on deeper insights.

Watch our webinar on how adaptive learning elevates the learning experience

How adaptive learning technology benefits students

Adaptive learning can really make a difference in the classroom. According to the McGraw-Hill Education study, colleges employing an adaptive learning environment that integrated assignments, grading, and course content saw a 15% increase in the number of students that earned A’s and B’s. Student engagement with practicing concepts and homework tends to be higher with adaptive learning technology than without it because students are engaging with learning activities that are presented at the right time for the right purpose.

It comes down to students spending more productive time on tasks based on the ability to progress at a rate that’s more comfortable to them. Comfort is the key. And, by enabling insightful instructor feedback and providing screen-based awards and badges to promote and reward progress, adaptive learning technology instills confidence in students, particularly those that struggle. It changes the way learning happens and that’s a powerful thing.

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Contributors:
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.