All parents hope their children will receive individualized and personal attention from each and every one of their teachers, but as school enrollment grows and classes become more and more crowded, it becomes increasingly difficult for teachers to provide the degree of attention and personalization that may be necessary to fully engage each student. With the advent of technology in the classroom, teachers and schools can take advantage of tools that are highly data-driven and adaptive to individual students’ needs. Adaptive learning tools structure and present educational materials in a matter that closely matches students’ actual needs and cognitive abilities. This personalized approach creates a deeper rapport between students and classroom material.
Adaptive Is As Adaptive Does
It may seem like science fiction, but adaptive learning is not using strange technology to beam learning straight into the brains of our children. Rather, it is a series of highly complex algorithms that draw on an enormous data set to process a series of decision trees that — outwardly, at least — present a finely tuned instructional methodology that more readily matches the student’s ability to process and retain instructional material.
Adaptive learning comes from the idea of personalized learning — the concept that all instructors tailor their lessons slightly for the needs of each individual student — and it is a practice that most instructors learn intuitively in the classroom. By using technology in the classroom, teachers can more readily assess their students, which creates more finely tuned lesson plans.
Putting the Practice to Work
Recent studies using technology in the classroom have been able to leverage data-driven analytic models such as machine learning, cognitive load theory, knowledge space theory and intelligent interactive systems to create a style of adaptive learning that reacts swiftly and promptly to changes in the student’s ability to understand the instruction, unlike other models, which rely on interaction between student and instructor to ascertain comprehension. As these technologies and tools increase the individual customization of the material to better suit the immediate needs of the students, instructors can more effectively use their classroom time.
Smarter Learning Through Better Technology
A variety of natural, social and cultural variables both help and hinder every student’s ability to learn; these variables create many different learning capabilities. In the past, teachers have — through their experience and ready skill at assessment — determined which methods will reach the broadest subset of their students, and while this model works effectively most of the time, there are always students who fall outside the normalized curve. As classroom sizes grow, and as student populations become more diverse, the broad subset determination no longer works as effectively in reaching the greatest numbers of students.
Through personalized teaching and by automating certain aspects of the education environments, teachers have been able to maintain a high level of broad education reach. However, with increased access to educational technology, teachers now have the opportunity to systemize their personalized methodology and marry it to automated teaching methods.
The three most significant barriers to increasing education uptake are access, cost and quality. With adaptive learning through new technology in the classroom, teachers can innovate their learning methodologies, thereby reaching more students more concretely. Schools such as Carnegie Mellon, who have adopted an Open Learning Initiative, have seen increases of nearly 50 percent in the speed at which students absorb and demonstrate mastery of course material versus the traditional methods of staid classroom lectures and course assignments. Who wouldn’t want to learn faster? Adaptive learning may be the secret to all of our future successes.