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Adapting learning can keep HE out in front

Andrew Robinson explains how a focus on adaptive learning can help HEIs stay ahead of the curve

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | January 22, 2016 | Higher education

Andrew Robinson, Director of Higher Education for Cengage Learning EMEA, explores how adaptive learning resources add value to the student experience while helping lecturers better manage time

Together with the age-old pressure of balancing the demands of teaching with their research responsibilities, university lecturers face increasing demand to deliver personalised learning to a growing and diverse student population.  With improvement of the ‘student experience’ a central priority for higher education institutions (HEIs), it is clear there is opportunity for digital innovation to support instructors and improve student outcomes.   

Adaptive learning tools can help lecturers at HEIs increase their focus on student engagement and assessment by allowing them to maximise the amount and quality of their interactions with students. Adaptive learning is an educational method which uses technology and data analytics to deliver educational content in a way that is closely personalised to the needs of an individual learner. 

It creates a personalised learning path, where the student is tested before moving on to another topic.  This method ensures understanding of what has been retained and mastered and is tailored to suit an individual’s learning style. With real-time adaptive learning, technology enables the student to go back and diagnose where they went wrong and gain an understanding of what they need to improve on. 

Technology is the real enabler here, customising content based on the results of a diagnostic test. The principle perceived drawback of adaptive learning is that it can be too rigid and prescriptive. That’s why good education publishers have spent a great deal of time and money in using adaptive learning tools, but taking these one step further by creating resources which are more flexible, broad ranging and suitable for students’ lifestyles and learning styles and seeking to create further tools to enable students to apply that knowledge. This will help make them rounded critical thinkers, not just knowledge bearers. 

Adaptive learning tools can help lecturers at HEIs increase their focus on student engagement and assessment by allowing them to maximise the amount and quality of their interactions with students

It’s a dynamic, fast moving environment which brings greater success in terms of attainment and student outcomes, with less likelihood of the need to repeat a course. Digital content gives students much wanted flexibility too. The online availability via virtual learning environments (VLEs) means that students can do their work any time, any place - in the middle of the night if they want to – which is important given the fact that many UK students now balance their studies with paid employment.

There are also great benefits for lecturers, not least of which is that this method of continual testing delivers a higher pass and success rate, with a reduced need for lecturer intervention. This means that more time can be spent engaging face to face with students in a tutorial/seminar approach. Another benefit for lecturers is that it enables them to adapt their teaching according to what students really need. 

The best digital resources provide lecturers with a far wider range of customisable options than would ordinarily be available. For example, e-books offer a wide range of tools such as a facility allowing lecturers and students to insert their own notes in the text. Some e-books offer text-to-speech functionality which can be very helpful in catering for different learner needs and even allowing for learning on the go. 

Digital platforms developed with the lecturer and student at the forefront can easily be customised to suit individual modules. Lecturers have the ability to incorporate their own content and resources, such as videos, lecturer slides and notes, and to move content around. These functions allow lecturers to provide personalised, locally relevant material to students in a way that a print offering alone cannot do.  Digital solutions also reflect more closely the way in which many students access content in their everyday lives.

I see adaptive learning as sitting within a portfolio of tools, as part of a wider range of technology such as lecture capture, social media, and other collaborative activity

Adaptive learning resources integrate assessment materials with narrative content and critical thinking tools which allow lecturers to provide students with rigorous tests which are automatically graded and provide a mix of contextual and narrated feedback. The UK National Student Survey highlights quality of feedback as a major source of complaint from students. So any lecturers with limited time and increasing student numbers will find this feature a most welcome innovation. 

Digital interactive resources certainly provide benefits for HEIs to grow cost-effectively. Forced to do more with less, the introduction of quality, customisable adaptive online platforms is the easiest way to achieve scale.  Scaling a building is very expensive. Scaling resources is not. 

I see adaptive learning as sitting within a portfolio of tools, as part of a wider range of technology such as lecture capture, social media, and other collaborative activity. The challenge for academics and lecturers is that they are amid a massive revolution in higher education which has never happened before – a change in delivery methods coinciding with an ever growing, diverse student population. 

When many think of transformation in publishing they think about the move from general print books to ebooks such as the Kindle. The potential revolution of a move away from print towards fully digital, interactive resources in higher education is far more radical.  It could lead not only to a reinvention of the teaching and learning process, but also to the transformation of the entire fabric of our higher education system.  With less residential-based education in the future, HEIs and their students could enjoy more flexibility as more and more education happens online and contact happens on social media.  

W: www.cengage.com

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