Personalized Power

A company founder shares research results on adaptive learning. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero 

JohnBoersma of Adapt CoursewareJohn Boersma is the founder of Adapt Courseware and a former university faculty member. As a seasoned academic, he understands the science behind course development, delivery, and teaching. He holds a doctorate in Physics and an M.B.A. Adapt Courseware’s adaptive multimedia individualizes the learning experience for each student based on academic abilities and needs. His company offers complete, customizable, adaptive learning resources that combine motivational learning approaches with advanced multimedia techniques to help students achieve mastery learning. In this EdTech Digest interview, John discusses specific research into the efficacy of the adaptive learning approach, why it is effective, the value of learning styles and competency-based learning. 

Victor: Can you describe the premise and goals of your competency-based, adaptive learning research?

Adapt Courseware logoJohn: While competency-based, adaptive learning is gaining more visibility, very little data exists today that explores the tangible results of this kind of approach. Our goal was to not only determine how Adaptive Multimedia delivered through a personalized, competency-based education model impacts the learning experience, but also how it can support stronger outcomes. Indeed, the data validated the effectiveness of our methodical and motivational adaptive learning approach as schools achieved significant improvements in student success, completion and retention.

Victor: Did the outcomes published in your white paper meet your expectations, or were you surprised by any of the results?

John: We anticipated that Adaptive Multimedia would have a positive impact on student performance, but we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that students using Adaptive Multimedia earned higher grades in most cases, and they scored higher on standardized tests following their coursework in all cases.

Even more impressive was the degree by which completion and retention rates improved. In fact, every school that participated in the research produced double-digit gains in retention. Specifically, these schools achieved, on average, a 16 percent higher course completion rate for students using our Adaptive Multimedia compared to students enrolled in online sections using conventional curriculum. Term-over-term retention rates for students using Adaptive Multimedia averaged 18 percent higher.

To us, these results signify a noticeable change in student behavior – that is to say, a personalized and interactive learning experience based on Adaptive Multimedia can transform C students into A students. It can give them confidence that they can succeed and encouragement to continue learning, both of which dramatically increase student self-efficacy.

Victor: What is Adaptive Multimedia?

CREDIT Adapt CoursewareJohn: Adaptive Multimedia delivers multiple modes of instruction, including high quality video and animation, text, and interactives, adaptively delivered so that each student has a personalized learning experience. Students can choose how they learn based on their preferred style and content adjusts depending on each individual’s own knowledge, skills and needs. With Adaptive Multimedia, students are given the opportunity to engage with the content at a higher level, practicing concepts through dynamic exercises. Overall, the learning experience is simply more fun – this is very different from the repurposed textbook content that often floods online courses, leaving students uninspired.

Victor: Why does Adaptive Multimedia work for different kinds of students?

John: Adaptive Multimedia really gets away from a one-size-fits-all approach to education. As content adapts, students are challenged at exactly the right level. This keeps students from being bored by lessons that are too easy, or frustrated by lessons that are too difficult. We are also starting to see some tremendous traction in developmental courses where at-risk and underprepared students are benefitting from the motivational strategies presented by Adaptive Multimedia. Their unique learning situations are being addressed, and they can progress and get up to speed on basic required skills in a timely and productive manner.

Victor: Where do you see room for improvement in online learning?

John: Online learning has come a long way, and enrollments continue to grow.  That said, many of the best multimedia, interactive and analytic technologies that support student engagement and productivity in an online setting are underutilized. Adaptive Multimedia presents a new way for learning to emerge from passive to active, and from static to dynamic. Adaptive Multimedia puts students in the driver seat of their online learning experience, and really allows them to take the experience as far as they want to go. This level of empowerment is something we haven’t seen much of in online learning to date, and it can be a tremendous motivator for student success. 

Victor: How would Adaptive Multimedia work in a classroom setting?

John: Adaptive Multimedia can be extremely effective for on-campus classes as well. In a true flipped classroom model, students can be exposed to the content and practice concepts prior to class, thereby reserving class time to ask questions, work with instructors, and collaborate in small groups.  Students can also work through the digital interactives together during class. 

Victor: How does Adaptive Multimedia meet the needs of instructors?

John: Adaptive Multimedia isn’t just enhancing the education experience for students, but rather instructors too.  The role of the instructor is as important as ever, and faculty using our courseware continue to tell us that it has become even more meaningful. They are able to teach students in new ways, not to mention they are able to better manage their time because they are less consumed with administrative tasks and can focus more on student engagement.  Adaptive Multimedia has enabled professors to gain increased visibility into student performance; better understand student learning styles; dissect the effectiveness of content; ease administrative tasks; and provide a higher level of personalized support.

Victor: What role do you think competency-based learning will play in the future of higher education?

John: I believe the opportunity to personalize learning in a way that systematically increases student completion and retention will be a major driver of education, especially as schools continue to struggle with scalability, cost, and access. Competency-based education backed by empirically-supported learning principles has the ability to produce mastery learners more effectively and more efficiently. In a world where websites tailor the eCommerce experience based on our browsing history and purchase preferences, there’s no reason that education can’t also be  just as individualized. It is no longer enough for all students to converge along the same educational path. Rather, competency-based, adaptive learning has the potential to take the student-centric mentality to the next level.

Victor: Any thoughts on education and technology in general? 

John: As a former university faculty member myself, it is encouraging to not only see the innovation that is taking place in our space, but also the way in which educators are embracing it.  Now more than ever, there is a focus on learning outcomes. And it isn’t enough to just see the trends going in the right direction, but there is an underlying need to understand the technology and the data behind the results, as is the case with our white paper.

Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize?

John: It is my hope that results like the ones we are seeing in our competency-based, adaptive learning research become the norm. If more schools can achieve double digit increases in completion and retention, imagine the opportunities for students to succeed.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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