Adaptive learning

Adaptive learning

Table of Contents

    Every seasoned teacher knows how to adapt a lesson to the individual learner and their learning needs.

    It happens in classrooms all the time when an instructor patiently explains something, especially to learners that might be struggling with understanding a certain concept.

    That’s all well and good for in-person tutoring and small groups. 

    But, what do you do when you’re training dozens of people online? 

    There is a solution and it’s called adaptive learning. 

    In this guide, we dive deep into:

    • Adaptive learning technology 
    • The benefits of adaptive learning 
    • Examples of adaptive learning

    Without further ado, let’s get right into it!

    What is adaptive learning?

    Adaptive learning is an approach to instructional design (ID) which delivers custom learning experiences that address the unique needs of an individual learner. In the face-to-face example above, adaptive learning happens in person, with the instructor leading the way.

    In e-learning, you can achieve the same through the use of adaptive learning platforms that draw on advanced edtech, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. 

    The point of adaptive learning isn’t to replace human teachers and instructors but to enable the scalability of the adaptive learning method. 

    Since we know that everyone has a different learning style and that some learners pick up the learning material faster than others, using adaptive learning technologies helps everyone achieve the learning objectives. 

    Essentially, by providing different learning paths, adaptive learning methodology helps over and underachievers both—the former stay engaged while the latter get the additional teaching time they need to eventually succeed.

    Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of approaches to adaptive learning:

    • Designed adaptability: Instructional designers decide the teaching sequence using if/then statements 
    • Algorithmic adaptability: Automated algorithms use signals from students’ learning activity (performance, behavior, learner feedback) to guide the teaching sequence  

    So, in what ways can adaptive learning systems adapt the lessons and learning processes?

    Here’s a short overview:

    • Real-time feedback: Offering appropriate help at the point of need, hints, feedback pop-up windows, encouraging messages, etc.
    • Differentiated learning pathways: Offering different content sequences to each learner, e.g., fast-tracking the advanced students and giving extra help to those struggling. 

    So, adaptive learning works alongside customized learning and helps achieve learning outcomes. But what other benefits are there? We’ll go over them in the next section.


    Three benefits of adaptive learning

    Adaptive learning isn’t just an educational technology buzzword. It offers some real benefits, both for learners and organizations that choose to implement it in their digital learning initiatives.  

    Benefit #1: Time-efficiency

    Getting a training program off the ground takes time. Whether it’s professional development or sales training, learning doesn’t happen overnight. 

    So, anything that ends up saving time is beneficial. 

    How does adaptive training save time? By allowing learners to skip the parts of online learning lessons that they’re already familiar with. That’s what we meant when we mentioned “fast-tracking” the advanced learners. 

    There’s no point in going over something you already know, and what’s more, forcing learners to do so will lessen their engagement. 

    You might be wondering how adaptive learning technology achieves this. It’s called a confidence-based approach. The learner answers questions on the content they claim to understand. If they “pass”, they can immediately go to the next module. 

    Saving time on training means employees have more time to be productive, and that benefits the company too. 

    The results from confidence-based testing are also useful feedback to course designers, which makes learning programs more effective.

    On a very basic level, this could entail creating a pretest for a training course. If an employee gets just one answer wrong, then they only see this question again in the next test (as opposed to repeating the full quiz). Reducing the cognitive clutter saves learners time and boosts their ability to retain the parts they really need.


    Benefit #2: Personalized learning

    Today’s workplaces are very diverse, and learning environments need to reflect that. Using adaptive learning is great when you have a diverse group of learners with different experiences and knowledge levels. 

    Adaptive learning provides individualized learning paths tailored to a learner’s unique needs and knowledge level. 

    L&D professionals do this by collecting analytics as employees advance through the different learning modules. From this, you can personalize the training content and learning goals for each employee. 

    While all learners benefit from this approach, those who can see the most improvement are the ones struggling with the learning materials. Adaptive learning can provide real-time intervention for those having difficulty getting through e-learning courses

    In addition to this, personalized learning increases engagement because it can adapt to a student’s learning style and enables them to learn at their own pace. With adaptive learning, no learner will ever feel like a training program is progressing too fast for them.

    Research from Stanford has proven that learner engagement is a powerful predictor of achieving desired learning outcomes. Personalization and learner autonomy are key components of engagement, and adaptive learning enables both of these.


    Benefit #3: Scalability

    We should mention that adaptive learning isn’t actually a new concept. It did take off with the introduction of digital learning, but teachers have always been adapting their lessons and approaches. 

    The only problem with this is that it’s hard to scale that approach in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers simply don’t have enough time to dedicate that level of attention to each student. 

    A Learning Management System (LMS) solves this scalability issue, making it easy to roll training out across your whole organization.

    Employees can access custom learning pathways from any device and choose the training mode that best suits their needs.

    Paired with a high-quality learning experience design, the adaptive approach results in effective learning across the whole organization.

    By now, you must be wondering how you can take advantage of adaptive learning in your company. If you’d like to know, then keep reading the next section of our guide.


    Three adaptive learning tips to implement

    So you want to make your learning adaptive? We don’t blame you, the benefits are pretty great. 

    We’ve rounded up our top three tips to help you on your way.

    Tip #1: Encourage continuous learning

    The first step toward adopting adaptive learning is to establish a culture of continuous learning.

    One of the things that companies tend to struggle with when implementing new learning and development initiatives is employee engagement. Supporting continuous learning is a way to break through that barrier. 

    If your employees feel supported and encouraged to learn and develop themselves professionally, they will take to any new learning initiative more easily. 

    The best way to promote continuous learning is to give your employees opportunities for informal and social learning. These can be mentorship programs or just having channels to share interesting videos, podcasts, and blog posts. 

    Here are some more ways to encourage continuous learning:

    • Provide microlearning content 
    • Build personalized employee development plans
    • Deliver informal learning content through your social media channels 
    • Use collaborative learning tools to let subject-matter experts from your company share their knowledge with others 

    Doing this won’t just make it easier to roll out your adaptive learning strategy, it will also turn you into a company with a proper learning culture


    Tip #2: Find relevant learning materials

    Before you can fire up your adaptive learning technology (your LMS), you’ll have to create (or source) some learning materials. 

    Any kind of learning object can be a part of an adaptive learning course—videos, images, infographics, presentations, quizzes, games, etc.

    Make sure that your LMS is full of interesting and engaging content. This learning content should be industry-specific and relevant to the jobs of your employees. 

    An L&D professional’s work is never done. Once you have created (or curated) learning materials, you’ll need to make sure they are organized into logical catalogs for learners. These catalogs can be organized by skill, role, or knowledge level. 

    The main goal is to create a system that makes it easy for employees to browse training, creating a Netflix-style experience. More advanced LMSs will then suggest similar content to employees based on their activity and the skills they want to hone.

    Take SCORM compliance into account too. You’ll want all the learning material to be easily searchable, discoverable, and reusable too. Since SCORM is a widely accepted standard, you’ll also be able to integrate in-house content with any learning content you’ve purchased from external providers.

    The most important thing is that you have a variety of content so that the adaptive learning system can draw from a lot of options. Think of it like this—if Netflix only had a handful of movies and shows, nobody would be a subscriber.


    Tip #3: Focus on personalized learning

    Personalized and adaptive learning aren’t precisely the same thing, but they do go hand in hand. Or, to be more specific, adaptive learning is the tool that makes personalized learning possible. 

    So, personalized learning is an individual student’s learning journey that consists of adaptive learning courses. 

    Adaptive learning helps make customization the norm in your training programs. 

    For instance, if you want to focus on upskilling a particular team, you should prepare an employee development plan based on:

    • Their current skill gaps that you’ve detected
    • Their preferred learning modality 
    • Areas of improvement you want to see

    Targeting the preferred learning styles of your employees will go a long way toward engaging them and achieving the desired learning outcomes. 

    By now, you’re an adaptive learning sage. So, let’s finish up with a quick review of the key takeaways.


    Now over to you

    Adaptive learning uses advanced educational technology, such as algorithms and artificial intelligence, to deliver customized learning experiences that engage learners. 

    An LMS is one of the best ways to deliver custom learning experiences that adapt to individual learners’ needs. This can be done at scale, through just-in-time feedback, personalized learning pathways, and using a wide range of training resources that cater to different learners. 

    With adaptive learning, it’s possible to keep advanced learners engaged while at the same time helping those who are struggling to master the learning material. 

    Companies that adopt adaptive learning see benefits such as time efficiency, better engagement and knowledge retention, and easy scalability of learning experiences. 

    Top LMSs, such as Docebo, leverage AI to promote adaptive learning at scale. From identifying skills gaps to suggesting relevant training content that builds individual skill sets. All of this empowers employees to learn at their own pace and develop the skills they need the most.

    Is your organization looking to kick its L&D strategy up a notch? Take a look at our glossary of the major industry terms, trends, and tools.


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