What Is Adaptive Learning?

Carol Francois
Carol Francois
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Adaptive learning is the use of technology to assist students in learning new material. This is a growing area of research and development, as more organizations look to technology to overcome the barriers to learning, reduce operational costs, and provide a consistent level of quality to users located in different geographical areas. Changes in technology have allowed many learning institutions to provide access to materials and courses to a broader audience while controlling access.

There are four aspects to adaptive learning: content management, access to instructors, system security, and tracking student activity. A strategy must be in place to address all four issues before an institution or organization can successfully implement a solution. This type of learning has been adopted successfully in Europe and Asia since the mid-1990s, but has received a much slower acceptance rate in North America.

Content management refers to the process of defining the course description, writing the course notes, and publishing them in the adaptive learning tool. The primary barriers are the complexity of the tool and the level of willingness of academic staff to expand their skills to include electronic teaching tools. Studies have shown that a tool that is well designed, intuitive, and fully supported by the organization has a higher adoption rate than other tools.

Many students are concerned about the level of interaction with the course instructors. The ability to ask a question in both public and private settings and receive a detailed response from the instructor is an essential part of the learning process. There are different tools used to manage this process, such as discussion boards, instant messaging, and online chatting. Tools that are well designed and intuitive have a much greater adoption rate than tools with more functionality that are not intuitive.

Security is an important part of the infrastructure behind adaptive learning tools. The common methodology is the use of security certificates and user names and passwords to control access. The primary concern is not one of data manipulation, but of access to controlled or restricted materials. Many multinational organizations use this technology to train staff in geographically dispersed areas in new business processes or technological skills. These programs are proprietary to the organization and should not be available to the general public.

Tracking student activity is closely linked to a managed content system. Students should only see courses or materials that they have registered for and require access to. In the background, the adaptive learning tool should track how often the student accesses the system, the actions they initiate within the tool, and the results of various evaluation tools. The security of this part of the system is very important, as confidentiality should be maintained.

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Discussion Comments


SauteePan - I agree that online learning is so convenient that more people are getting degrees than ever before.

While convenience and flexibility are huge advantages in E learning there are other disadvantages as well.

When taking classes online some people underestimate the amount of work that is involved in taking an online class. Each three credit hour class still represents about ten hours of homework a week so you have to keep this in mind when you select your course load.

Also, it can be difficult to reach a professor who might be able to help you understand a concept better.

Online learning is a great way to get an education but it is not recommended for people that procrastinate. Web based learning is best reserved for self starters and people that take initiative.


Cafe41 - I know that some school districts are offering web based learning instead of a traditional educational format.

For example, Florida Virtual School is a public school that offers virtual courses for students to take in the comfort of their own home.

This offers an alternative to physically attending a public school and provides the entire curriculum so that a parent does not have to worry about teaching the material.

It allows the school system to reach more children with less money. It is far more cost effective to provide virtual instruction then to have the child attend a traditional school.

Children that may have gone to an underperforming school no longer have to worry about not learning because they will have an instructor that will help them with the material as part of this web based learning model.

These are really the biggest advantages of E learning.


I know that web based learning is being implemented in a lot of schools. My children receive a lot of assignments in which they have to research information on the internet or view a specific site in order to reinforce a lesson taught at school.

Sometimes the teachers will suggest different sites for the student to explore as a form of free learning. Sites like Brain Pop, Fun Brain, and Cool Math are not only entertaining but educational as well.

Online learning like this could be a lot of fun for young students. Always make sure that you have some sort of internet filter that will block out inappropriate content so that your child can safely view this content.

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