Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Implementing Adaptive Learning Courseware? New Guide Can Help

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo L. Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network

One of the most innovative opportunities for addressing student success and personalizing learning today is the use of adaptive courseware. The courseware allows educators to tailor the instructional experience based on a learner’s individual needs.

A new guide aims to help institutions implement the tools that facilitate this personalized approach to instruction.

The Implementing Adaptive Courseware guide is the result of a two-year effort through the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). In that project, APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium coordinated the development and implementation of adaptive courseware for use in first-year English composition instruction. Faculty teams from four universities — Georgia State University, Montclair State University, the University of Georgia and the University of Mississippi — developed and piloted the courseware.

APLU Personalized Learning Consortium
A new guide from the APLU Personalized Learning Consortium focuses on adaptive courseware development, use and evaluation.

The project featured collaboration between institutions, faculty and students to develop scalable adaptive learning practices. Twelve faculty members contributed to the courseware or deployed it in their English composition courses with 463 students in 2016.

Goals of the project were to:

  • Engage faculty in the development and use of next-generation learning technologies and explore how adaptive approaches can improve learner mastery.
  • Create a discipline-specific cohort of faculty.
  • Support the development of learning modules using an adaptive platform.
  • Pilot learning modules in English composition courses at multiple institutions.
  • Evaluate and report on institutions’ experiences with adaptive courseware, and its impact on student learning.

Strada Education Network℠, formerly USA Funds®, supported the project to help promote innovative approaches to college and career preparation. The work is in line with Strada Education’s focus on Completion With a Purpose®, enhancing student success in college — or other postsecondary programs — and connecting graduates to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives.

The new guide outlines the steps involved in engaging faculty in the development and implementation of adaptive learning technologies, and tips and ideas for overcoming obstacles along the way.

Lynn Brabender, APLU
Lynn Brabender

I asked Lynn Brabender, program manager for the APLU Personalized Learning Consortium, about the project and the lessons learned.

Q: Why was collaboration important in this project?

By collaborating across institutions, faculty members were able to share ideas and identify common skills, learning objectives and content for first-year English composition courses. They had the opportunity to brainstorm the potential use of adaptive courseware to support these learning objectives and identify technology platform capabilities to support instruction.

Q: How should institutions approach the selection of an adaptive learning courseware platform?

We brought together faculty members from the participating institutions and representatives of courseware vendors for an in-person meeting. After presentations by each vendor, the faculty selected the vendor determined to be best suited to provide the tools to develop the courseware envisioned.

Because adaptive learning platforms are emerging technologies, there can be challenges related to the courseware’s capacity to meet faculty expectations. We learned that, in selecting the right tools for the task, it is important that there is a clear understanding not only about your instructional needs and goals — but also about your timeframe for development.

Q: What role should faculty play in developing personalized learning courseware?

Engaging faculty members in this project allowed them to broaden their understanding of adaptive courseware and explore its potential use for personalizing instruction.

Regularly engaging participating faculty, in person when possible, allows them to track progress, discuss common areas of concern, and prepare for training. Even evaluating tools that do not meet their needs can help them — and their students — to engage in the adaptive learning process. A high level of direct support to faculty is critical to ensuring that they can best develop the learning platform, so we established regular office hours for facilitating that support during this project.

Q: What did you learn about the value of adaptive learning courseware?

Faculty expressed optimism about the potential of adaptive courseware as a valuable tool for personalized learning. Students enjoyed the interactivity of the courseware and ability to receive feedback from professors and were receptive to expanding the use of adaptive learning technologies.

We view this project, and the resulting guide, as a starting point for campus-based or multi-institution faculty teams seeking to launch adaptive courseware initiatives.

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