Mathspace - Adaptive Learning

Grades 6-11 | Math | Cloud-based

Adaptive learning – departure from the lockstep model of education

Adaptive learning caters to the individual and aims to meet them exactly where they are at any point in time. Mohamad Jebara, Founder and CEO of Mathspace, explains how technology can help to take adaptive learning to the next level.

Adaptive learning is a popular term of late. No doubt you've heard it when looking into apps and tools to support students' learning both in and out of the classroom. What is adaptive learning, exactly?

Differentiated, personalized, and adaptive are three of the biggest buzzwords in the education world at the moment. But what do they mean exactly? And what is the difference between them?

Differentiated Learning

Differentiated learning is an easy one, and something that we all know about. Streaming is the most obvious example of this. Commonly, this will involve students being placed in a group according to their ability level and the group following a set pathway through the curriculum. Most math classes that we come across these days are differentiated in some way to cater for the different levels of ability within the class. For example, within a school, you may have an advanced class or a remedial class, or even have these groups within a single classroom.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is where individual students, rather than a group of students, have their own pathway through the curriculum. This could be based on a diagnostic test that the student takes at the start of the year/semester to see what level they are working at for different topics within the syllabus.

For example, one Grade 8 student may have fractions covered but may struggle with decimals. A personalized learning path could be designed for her whereby she learns Grade 9 content in fractions, and work through some Grade 6 material on decimals to help her get up to speed in that topic.

So personalized learning is essentially individualized differentiation.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning takes it a step further and introduces a time element. With adaptive learning, not only do you have differentiation based on ability and individualized pathways through the curriculum, but there is a recognition that the pathway can change at any time.

Going back to our Grade 8 student, she might work through the Grade 6 decimals material more quickly than expected. With adaptive learning we'd recognize that she has demonstrated mastery of the Grade 6 level quickly, and then we could start giving her some more advanced material to work on – immediately, and not based on deadlines or when the work was due.

Alternatively, if she was struggling with the new Grade 9 fractions content, we could continue to allow her to work on questions suited to her ability at her own pace. This would give her more practice and more time to attain mastery of the topic, before moving on to harder questions and/or the next topic.

We can see that differentiated learning begets personalized learning, and from personalized learning comes adaptive learning. It seems a natural progression towards a learning program that caters specifically to the individual and aims to meet them exactly where they are at any point in time. This is a radical departure from the traditional lockstep model of education that the world has been following for the last hundred years or so.

Adaptive Learning - How to Deliver?

To a degree, it is possible for a teacher to facilitate adaptive learning in their classrooms without any additional technological aids. In fact, all good teachers will already deliver some degree of adaptive learning. Recognizing which students are ready to move on and which need a little more attention goes with the territory.

But to deliver a truly adaptive program, you need more than just spreadsheets and a good memory.

Perhaps this explains why it's only recently that adaptive learning has jumped to the forefront of the education frontier.

Technology helps us take adaptive learning to the next level and allows us to offer a truly personalized, granular, real-time learning program.

If our Grade 8 student demonstrates competence in adding fractions at a Grade 9 level but needs more practice with multiplying fractions, an adaptive learning technology can at once give them more difficult addition questions and make the multiplication questions simpler until they get the hang of the concept.

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