Adaptive Learning Technologies: Preparing Students through Personalized Content

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The annual NMC Higher Education Horizon Report is a recognized resource that explores emergent areas likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry. Three projects featured in this year's report illustrate how adaptive learning technologies can increase student learning and success.

Adaptive Learning Technologies: Preparing Students through Personalized Content
Credit: Cherries / Shutterstock © 2018

If college courses and related material could be more dynamic and responsive, how could those resources impact students' learning outcomes? With adaptive learning technologies, options for personalizing content and educational experiences in new ways are being explored in a variety of disciplines and contexts.

The 2018 NMC Higher Education Horizon Report defines adaptive learning technologies as those that monitor student progress and use data to modify instruction. The ways in which such technologies are being incorporated into specialized training, scalable courses, and degree programs demonstrate their wide-ranging applications in postsecondary education. Three examples submitted by institutions for this year's report illustrate this value:

  • Scaling adaptive computer science instruction: In a for-credit computer science MOOC, Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) has incorporated scalable adaptive learning technologies. Faculty authored a custom McGraw-Hill Smartbook and artificial intelligence (AI) autograder nicknamed Phineas & Ferb (after the popular children's cartoon). The Smartbook adjusts to students' demonstrated levels of comprehension, and the autograder inspects and evaluates their code, intelligently generating robust test inputs and offering specific feedback on existing errors or areas of weakness. The GIT course, which has seen over 93,000 free MOOC enrollments, also uses an adaptive faculty-authored textbook. Created with McGraw-Hill's Smartbook platform, the book proactively adjusts its content based on students' ability, which is tested through active learning exercises interspersed with short video tutorials.
  • Personalizing education through an adaptive foundational course: At Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), How People Learn—a project funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—was part of an online personalized course that will become part of a common core experience for all incoming students in the master's of education program. The pilot project sought to create foundational courses that align with learners' backgrounds, interests, existing knowledge, and future aspirations. How People Learn connected the science of learning and human development with a variety of practitioners' roles in the education sector. Each student's learner profiles included a unique data set with self-reported data, course activity analytics, and assessment and evaluation data that faculty used as the basis for alignment with HGSE foundational courses.
  • Preventing operational stress injury with adaptive VR content: No one can predict when a mass casualty incident will happen, and when one does, emergency personnel responding to the scene must have the resilience to work effectively under significant stress. In our last post, we described how Humber College is educating first-responder professionals with support from its media studies students, who have lent their expertise in game programming, animation, and graphics to the institution's virtual reality (VR) training experience. With this technology, aspiring paramedics are exposed to emergency scenarios where split-second decisions have critical consequences. As a result, they learn how to better manage operational stress under pressure, and are significantly more prepared to face the kind of life-or-death situations that may await them after graduation.

Check out the latest exemplars and insights on adaptive learning in higher ed in the NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition.

Kristi DePaul of Founders Marketing provides editorial support and regular contributions to the Transforming Higher Ed column of EDUCAUSE Review on issues of teaching, learning, and edtech.

© 2018 Kristi DePaul. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.