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Adaptive Learning 101 – What, How, and Why

Instructor-led training continues to remain a popular training methodology in corporate training. One main reason for this is that an instructor can adapt the learning material to suit the needs of the target audience. If a learner is unable to understand the content, the instructor is available to present the content in a simplified manner, based on the learners’ existing knowledge level. But does this happen in online training? If you’ve answered no, then it’s time to rethink. Technology-enabled learning does offer a couple of options to deliver learning that’s customized to each learner’s needs, and adaptive learning is one such option.

What is Adaptive Learning?

Adaptive learning refers to the use of technology to provide an interactive learning experience where learning activities are customized to address the needs of each learner. Depending on what each learner already knows and needs to know, a unique learning path is provided to each learner within the course. Based on learners’ responses to activities in the online training program and questions posed to them, algorithms are used to adapt upcoming content to the individual learning needs of each learner.

Consider the example of a sales training program. A learner with work experience in sales might be able to progress quickly through the online training. On the other hand, a new hire with no prior work experience is likely to face slower progress. A learner with experience is allowed to progress to content that is entirely new to him just by answering a few questions that test existing knowledge, whereas a learner who is new to the very concept of sales receives guidance in the form of additional content and resources so that he becomes proficient in sales. Adaptive learning offers a way to standardize the learning outcomes of the online training program.

How is Adaptive Learning Different from Personalized and Competency-based Learning?

If you are new to adaptive learning, you will realize that it’s often used interchangeably with terms such as personalized learning and competency-based learning. But, there is a difference. Personalized learning can be compared to a tree which has multiple branches – adaptive and competency-based learning are a few of its branches. Personalized learning is a broad term that encompasses both adaptive and competency-based learning.

Personalized learning refers to learning that is tailored for individual learners and this customization can happen for content, curriculum, method, or pace of learning.

Adaptive learning is data-driven, and the training program adjusts in real-time to deliver content and resources that a learner needs at a specific point of time, to progress in the training. With competency-based learning, learners are able to focus on mastering skills through meaningful feedback. This is done through the effective use of pre-assessments.

Both adaptive and competency-based learning are approaches to deliver a personalized learning experience.

Why is Adaptive Learning Suitable for Corporate Training?

Adaptive learning is favored in corporate training because of the following reasons:

1. Cuts Down Training Time

A challenge with classroom training is the time taken to train. Instructor-led training follows a rigid schedule and it becomes necessary for learners to take time away for training. Most of us are already aware that online training can cut down the time spent in classroom training, but do we know whether all learners have actually understood the training content, that too in the absence of an instructor?

Adaptive learning addresses this challenge as training is delivered based on learners’ existing knowledge. Also, the exact topics where each learner is facing problems is identified and tailored content that helps the learner overcome the problem is delivered. Valuable time is saved by focusing on the essential need-to-know content and by skipping content that learners have already gained proficiency in. This helps cut down the time spent by learners in completing online training programs.

2. Improves Learners’ Competencies

Achieving a passing score in the summative assessment of your training program does not always mean that competency levels of learners have improved. There is every chance of learners achieving the minimum score by attempting questions based on certain topics correctly, and skipping questions on topics they are not proficient in.

Adaptive learning can actually improve the competency levels of learners by getting them to spend more time on topics where they do not demonstrate proficiency. One way to do this in online training is through formative assessments that check learners’ knowledge on a specific topic. Depending on each learner’s response, the content is adapted to close the competency gaps.

3. Delivers Unique Learning Experiences

What makes a training program that uses adaptive learning unique is its ability to respond in real-time to the learner’s needs. Rather than delivering the same content to all learners, the content that is displayed to the learner depends on how knowledgeable a learner is on specific content. If the learner is a novice, then the learning path changes accordingly.

4. Increases Learner Engagement

A one-size-fits-all training program does nothing to improve the engagement levels of learners. Adaptive learning on the other hand, improves learner engagement by:

  • Continuously evaluating assessment scores and tracking topics that were re-taken (this gives an idea of the difficulty levels of topics)
  • Adjusting the learning path by modifying the content that is presented and also adjusting difficulty levels of questions posed to the learner.

Learners who have the expertise can automatically move to an advanced learning path. This challenges learners and helps them remain engaged in the learning process, thereby boosting learning retention.

5. Improves Quality of Learning

In an online training program that uses adaptive learning techniques, learning objectives are focused on specific knowledge segments or on teaching learners specific tasks. Learners’ proficiency in these learning objectives are assessed using probes (questions).

As learners interact with the training program, their responses are captured for further analysis and reporting. This data forms the basis for releasing the next topic of learning. The quality of learning is automatically improved when such measures are in place.

With adaptive learning, learners are required to spend more time in the topics where they lack sufficient knowledge and is sure to help learners achieve mastery of the training content. The data that is tracked from an adaptive learning program can be used to identify areas of improvements in training programs. Delivering learning in a predictable pattern is not very helpful when you have learners with unique learning needs. Adaptive learning is a strategy to consider when you are looking to deliver tailored learning experiences to the learners in your organization.

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