How Adaptive Learning is Changing Traditional Teaching Methods

By Bryce Welker

Adaptive learning is a new and radically different method of teaching–one that is only possible in the 21st century. Harnessing the raw power of computers to help educate is a simple, obvious idea in hindsight, but the implication of this new methodology is staggering.

A complete paradigm shift is occurring in the classroom, with educators introducing younger and younger students to online testing, smart boards and personal tablet computers as part of their scholastic routine. Here are just a few of the ways that adaptive learning technology can transform the classroom and traditional teaching methods.

Specialized Lesson Plans

In the past, it would be very time-consuming for one teacher to formulate a specialized method of teaching every student in their classroom. However, the need always exists as every student brings their own level of aptitude and experience. Educators are slowly phasing out the one-size-fits-all method of teaching with the aid of adaptive learning technology, replacing it with a curriculum tailored specifically to each student’s needs.

We can see a current example of this technique in practice at Arizona State University (ASU). Some of ASU’s online math courses are implementing adaptive software in order to gauge the knowledge of their students. Using McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS technology, students are assessed on which math concepts they are already knowledgeable about and those where assistance is needed. The software even includes special lesson plans to help students improve in their challenge areas, providing a specialized lesson plan to meet each individual need.

Another example is from Surgent, a CPA test prep company that offers what it calls “Adaptive Technology.” Before you can begin studying on their online platform, it requires you to answer a number of questions that set the foundation for what you already know and what you need help on. Then throughout the course, the program tracks your results and continually refines what questions you receive so that you’re not wasting time on your mastered content.

According to Crush the CPA Exam, “most clients [using Surgent] spend less than 100 hours studying for each part of the exam.” While this might seem like a lot of time, in the CPA world, this is significantly more efficient than some of the older companies and their models.

Grading Papers

Once the bane of a teacher’s existence, grading papers was a task that could take an entire weekend. Many educators found themselves working late hours unpaid, painstakingly checking hundreds of identical tests to assign grades. Fortunately, technology’s specific skillset makes it ideal for processing large quantities of raw data, such as the ScanTron technology used in standardized testing.

ScanTron works very well for simpler, multiple choice tests, but what about essays and research papers? These are much more complicated as the metrics for grading them are much more nuanced. Computer technology can detect grammatical errors and check for plagiarism, but that’s only one small aspect of the grading process. There isn’t a binary ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ you can apply can be applied to a written work; it’s a spectrum, with several parameters that determine its level of quality.

Enter M-Write, a new writing assessment tool in use at the University of Michigan. Using ATA, or automated text analysis, M-Write can assess the level of vocabulary used in a paper as well as how relevant the content is to the original topic. After performing a full assessment, the software will send the student a list of revisions and a current grade. Using M-Write, adaptive learning technology can cut down on quite a bit of grading time for teachers, even on complicated writing prompts.

Making Learning Fun

It is no easy task getting an entire classroom motivated about algebra. A classroom can have the smartest teacher in the world, but none of that information is going to make it into their students’ heads if they have no motivation to learn. To combat this challenge, teachers will often implement reward systems for good behavior, incorporate videos in their teaching plans and include songs and games to break up the monotony of a teaching session. These traditional methods all have the same goal: to incentivize learning in students by associating it with fun.

Adaptive learning technology can aid teachers in this aspect of educating as well, through the power of video games. Video games are captivating to individuals of all ages, and are very effective at teaching a great deal of information in a short period of time. For the most part, however, this incredible teaching technology is being used to teach players how to shoot at bad guys and jump on platforms.

Fortunately for educators, there are some video games that focus around teaching classroom curriculum, such as geometry, fractions and algebra. One such developer of these educational videogames is Mangahigh, who incorporates powerful learning tools inside fun, colorful video games. Students can engage with educational material at a higher degree of enthusiasm, and teachers can access comprehensive data showing where they are improving and where they need additional help. Thanks to developers like Mangahigh, the classroom can be a place of fun as well as learning.

Adaptive learning will continue to play a growing role in EdTech, especially in efforts to spread personalized learning and move towards competency-based education. The three examples above are just the tip of the iceberg–based on the usefulness of the above tools, expect to see more innovative uses of adaptive technology in the near future.

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Bryce Welker is Founder and CEO of Crush Empire. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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1 Comment


I agree with your stance that adaptive learning technology can transform traditional classrooms to 21st century learning environments. However, I do think we need to be aware of another perspective which is that with the use of computer-aided tools for correcting student work, teachers may be less aware of a student's weaknesses. If a computer is correcting and providing feedback to the student, it may be easier for the teacher to overlook what errors are being made. It is important that teachers utilize the time saved in correcting to analyze the data to better understand and address their students needs. This will help them be able to provide individualized attention and support for students. I am eager to see what new innovative uses of adaptive technology are unveiled in the near future.

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