Learning To Adapt

Alice Savage talks to the industry leaders who are taking adaptive learning from science fiction to reality

Adaptive learning is fast becoming one of the most exciting and talked about technologies in the education sector however, the idea of intelligent tutoring is not a new one. Initially gaining traction in the early 1970’s these tentative first steps were limited by the scope of technology available to early pioneers.

Defining adaptive learning is not straight forward. Online learning tools and resources, MOOCs, and educational games can all include adaptive learning elements, however, a truly adaptive programme is constantly changing its delivery, content, and style in tune with the needs of the individual learner in response to their answers and input. 

At the core of this technology is artificial intelligence (AI). In the 1970’s AI was widely believed to be the future spawning swathes of popular culture media depicting rogue computers and dystopian futures. However, nearly 50 years later, we are only just beginning to see how promising AI technology is becoming. According to Ivan Ostrowicz , CEO of Domoscio, it is advances in this area that have elevated adaptive learning software to new heights. “Adaptive learning systems need AI to work, more particularly machine learning. Therefore, AI as it is now is enough to create an efficient adaptive learning technology. With the advancement in AI technology such as deep learning, we can expect adaptive learning systems to be even more efficient than they are today.” 

To be truly successful, the AI needs to benefit from a symbiotic relationship with the learner and the educator as it’s this feedback that causes the machine to learn and adapt. In turn this benefits the learner who receives tailor made content and the educator who can track learner progress via bespoke tools and metrics. To put it simply, the more a student learns, the smarter the machine becomes.

With this in mind it is easy to see why this technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we deliver educational content. Modern teachers are faced with a number of challenges. They are often time-poor and under resourced. Elliot Gowans, VP EMEA at D2L, recognises that modern classroom conditions are often less than ideal “While teachers play a significant role in shaping a student’s path, class size makes it a challenge for them to always be available. Personalising lesson plans for 20-30 children, all with different abilities and skills, is a Herculean task.” What we are seeing now through this emerging technology is the streamlining of teacher time and resource allocation. Educators are able to see at a glance which areas on which a student needs to focus and indeed which students are able to work autonomously.

As advances in AI technology continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, the education sector will likely feel the benefit

Adaptive learning has already been in use for several years, both in education and in corporate training. Among the providers, Domoscio has implemented its adaptive learning technology for primary schools, universities and companies. Among its projects, Domoscio partnered with the French publisher Hatier (Hachette group) to develop a tablet app for 10 year olds with personalised learning paths in Maths, English, and French and has recently started a project in collaboration with the Spanish publisher Edebé for primary and secondary schools. 

Pearson provide a blend of educational content, assessments and qualifications, and new digital teaching and learning services. For Tim Bozik, President, Global Product at Pearson, adaptive learning technology is not designed to take the place of a good teacher. “We like to think of education technology as a tool that can support effective instruction and, in turn, enhance learning outcomes. For example, a good teacher is often on the lookout for early indicators that a student is struggling or requires remediation. Through the use of predictive analytics, educators can now be provided with early alerts generated by the courseware, that enable them to provide just-in-time support to struggling students.”  

Ultimately it is this idea of support that follows adaptive learning technology. Far from being created to replace a teacher, the technology is designed to support an educator, who in turn can support their students. D2L’s Elliot Gowans is keen to point out:  “As technology gets smarter over the next five years, the potential for adaptive learning is huge. The personalisation, flexibility and insight it provides will transform education into a modern, intuitive sector.” 

From humble beginnings adaptive learning is fast becoming an exciting prospect for modern classrooms. As advances in AI technology continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, the education sector will likely feel the benefit and industry leaders are keen utilise the cutting edge of this technology to support teachers in delivering effective instruction. With adaptive learning the horizon looks less like a 1970’s tin-foiled vision of dystopia and more like a very real and tangible asset to modern learning. 


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