Adaptive Learning Technologies Prove Effective, Report Says

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

SRI Education, an organization that develops programs to identify trends, understand outcomes, and guide policy decisions in the education-technology sector, has released a report titled "Lessons Learned from Early Implementation of Adaptive Coursework."

The report begins by stating that to improve student outcomes in developmental and general education courses, educational institutions are relying on new learning technologies. One of the most prominent of these new technologies is a learning courseware that uses computer algorithms to parse learning analytic data collected to give students personalized feedback, study reminders, content recommendations, and real-time progress updates.

Starting in 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program (ALMAP) to advance an evidence-based understanding of how adaptive learning technologies could improve opportunities for low-income adults to learn and to complete postsecondary education. SRI then assembled the data and examined the impact, cost, and satisfaction of the Foundation's initiative. The synthesis is comprised from over 19,5000 students in classes taught by more than 280 instructors, and the resulting evaluation offers an insight into the state of adaptive learning technologies in American institutions of higher learning.

SRI researchers found that some of the adaptive courseware implementations resulted in a slightly higher average course, but the majority had no discernible impact on students' grades. Additionally, the odds of successfully completing a course were not affected by the use of adaptive courseware, and the impact of adaptive coursework on exam scores was negligible. Some students who used the courseware scored modestly higher, but no considerable advantage on scores was gained through the use of technology.

Students who used adaptive technologies had a very different educational experience than those who did not. These students were able to switch from a traditional lecture format to an adaptive blended instruction. Statistics show that these more blended, technological approach positively impacted students' learning and level of engagement. Again, the report finds that the move to fully online courses, however, only marginally affected students' grades. The results held similarly for students of all socioeconomic levels; the data showed that these technologies were not more or less advantageous for low-income students.

The report does assert the value of adaptive courseware that helps to provide micro-level feedback and instruction rather than macro-level guidance. For example, courseware that gave students regular updates about assignments and daily progress reports as opposed to more general overviews of their academic performance produced stronger student outcomes. The results endorse the micro-level courseware format.

SRI's report presents the positive and negative impact of educators implementing adaptive learning technologies in the classroom. Interestingly, the report conclusively shows that the use of such technologies will not enhance students' grades or test scores; strong grades can only be achieved by a student's motivation and persistence. Adaptive technologies will, however, engage students in meaningful ways through more interactive coursework and regular updates. These technologies help provide the framework for a student to succeed but do not replace the human effort needed to excel academically.

For interested readers, the full report is available online.

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