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5 Questions on Adaptive Learning Answered – For Beginners

Want to understand adaptive learning? Imagine attending a classroom training where the number of learners is restricted (to let’s say less than 10 or 15). If one of the learners is unable to understand a concept, the instructor:

  • Gives a simpler explanation
  • Uses additional examples to clarify the concept

The instructor in this case is actually adapting her teaching strategy to ensure each learner understands the content covered in the training program.

Now let’s face the reality. In this fast-paced era of technology and globalization, we cannot afford the luxury of having an instructor modify the teaching method to help each learner. What we can do instead is design an adaptive learning system that can be leveraged in both online as well as blended learning programs. If you are new to the term ‘Adaptive Learning’, I am sure you have a couple of questions on what exactly this term means to corporate training. This post has the answers.

The Beginner’s Guide to Adaptive Learning

1. What is Adaptive Learning?

Adaptive learning is a technique that uses technology and data to address each learner’s trouble spots by automatically providing individual support, thereby making learning more effective.

Here’s an example to help you understand this better. Joe and James are sales reps in a pharmaceutical company, going through an online product training program that introduces them to the various drugs manufactured by the company, their uses and contraindications.

What’s Adaptive Learning?

Joe is unable to answer questions related to the contraindications of drug A. The adaptive learning courseware gives Joe content related to a basic overview on drug contraindications and retrains him on the content related to product A before he can proceed to the next module of the course.

2. How Does Adaptive Learning Benefit Learners?

Adaptive learning acts like a one-on-one instructor to learners. So you might have multiple learners taking the same course, but the content they see is based entirely on their current knowledge levels and experience.

For example, you have three employees taking a software training. The training program is actually an update that reflects new features included in a software being used by the procurement department. You could include a pre-assessment that checks learners’ existing knowledge and based on the score, the training program can branch out to address learners on three different levels.

  • The first employee is already aware of the software and has hands-on experience. He is able to go through the training program quickly. He is also able to skip going through content he is already aware of. So the time taken for him to complete the training is less.
  • The second employee is aware of the software but lacks hands-on practice. The adaptive learning program gives him multiple watch-try-do activities that simulate the real environment. He may also be given access to the test environment for practice sessions.
  • The third employee is new and knows nothing about the software. The training program takes him right through the basics to the point where he feels he can work on the software comfortably.

Each employee is at different levels of knowledge and skill proficiency. Adaptive learning ensures the right learning path is provided so that learners become proficient in what they need to know, instead of wasting time going through what they already know.

3. How is Adaptive Learning Different from Personalized Learning?

Both these terms are often used interchangeably. Personalized learning is an umbrella term and it’s right to say that adaptive learning is a kind of personalized learning. Here’s the difference.

Personalized learning, just like adaptive learning takes learners on a specific learning path. But the difference is that in the case of personalized learning, it is not dynamic. For instance, sales professionals in Asia are offered a personalized course on selling skills relevant to the sales skills in their region. So, as soon as a learner selects the region he/she is in, the relevant content is displayed.

Adaptive learning takes this concept a notch further. Even among sales professionals located in the same area and accessing the same course, each learner is provided with specific information that is needed to improve their sales skills and proficiency levels. This is done by tracking each response from the learner, and dynamically adapting to learners’ performance levels.

Adaptive learning provides a one-on-one tutoring experience by teaching learners what they need to know to achieve proficiency in the subject of training. Here the learning program adapts itself to learners’ performance levels in real-time and takes them on the most efficient learning path.

4. Is an LMS Required for Adaptive Learning?

Any learning program that requires learner activities to be tracked needs to be hosted on an LMS. So is the case with adaptive learning. But, the LMS needs to support adaptive learning by:

  • Being highly customizable
  • Providing anytime, anywhere access
  • Supporting a variety of content formats
  • Displaying content dynamically
  • Tracking every small progress made by the learner
  • Supporting learning analytics

5. Are there Different Levels in Adaptive Learning?

Depending on the level of adaptive learning you require, there are software tools available in the market to help you achieve that level. Here are the common levels in adaptive learning:

Self-paced interactive level

In this level, a learner completes the summative assessment and immediately receives feedback on performance (questions answered correctly as well as incorrectly). If a requisite number of answers are correct, new content is unlocked.

Content level

Learner receives feedback on the summative assessment. He also receives an explanation for each wrong answer and can review sections of content related to that question.

Assessment level

A learner answers a question in the summative assessment. If he answers correctly, the next question is a tougher one. If the answer is incorrect, he is given a comparatively easy question before proceeding to more complex questions.

Assessment and content level

Learner answers all questions of a formative assessment and receives a tailored plan that contains relevant content and practice activities. After completing this, he takes the summative assessment after which a new learning plan is generated.

Assessment and content level with high granularity

At this level, every step the learner takes to answer a question is recorded. Feedback is given at each step. How the learner performs at this level decides the difficulty level of the next question.

Adaptive learning is quite popular in the educational sector but is still an evolving field as far as corporate training is concerned. Though there is no doubt that adaptive learning can improve learning outcomes, this would initially require a lot of effort and investment in content development. Also, adaptive learning may not be applicable to all kinds of training programs. Re-engineering the same content and presenting it in different formats and complexity levels to suit individual learning levels and preferences is no easy task.

Have you invested in adaptive learning to train employees in your organization? What benefits has it brought? Please use the Comments section to share your thoughts with our readers.

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