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EduTech Technology in Education

Adaptive learning: What it is and why it matters to students, teachers and schools

Adaptive learning What it is and why it matters to students, teachers and schools

Adaptive learning is a computer-based system that gauges a student’s performance and accordingly alters the study material presented to the student in real time. Teachers can customise the responses of the system using the learning analytics and fine-grained data offered by the best adaptive learning systems. They can perform functions such as comprehensive user management, administration, reporting, tracking and documentation using learning management systems (LMS) associated with adaptive learning. They can use individual patterns of engagement, objectives, strengths and weaknesses of learners to design a personalised course.

Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence that combines knowledge from a variety of fields, such as educational theory, machine learning, predictive analytics and cognitive science, and customises content depending on the needs of learners.


B.F. Skinner, a behaviourist, came up with the concept of adaptive learning in the 1950s. He built a machine to teach different concepts effectively rather than have students memorise them. The students were expected to answer questions related to the concepts learnt. They would receive positive reinforcement after giving the correct answers, and a few hints and steps to arrive at the correct answers on selecting wrong answers.

How it works

The adaptive learning system facilitates learning by adapting to the needs of an individual through the use of algorithms. The system takes note of the individual’s actions to design the interventions required in the learning process. For instance, during a test, the system uses algorithms to analyse the responses of a learner and then tailors the study material accordingly. The system also provides additional easy-to-understand course content for the questions that the learner takes a long time to answer. The questions for which the learner asks for hints can evoke a similar response.

In addition, the adaptive learning system can alert and allow teachers to take the required steps and support the learners who face difficulties with the course as a whole, especially with respect to understanding the course material.

Significance of adaptive learning

Adaptive learning removes gaps in students’ understanding. It meets their learning needs while considering the level of knowledge they have. It ensures that students master each concept before they move on to the next level.

The outcomes of learning improve with adaptive learning as teachers can easily monitor students and attend to those who need help. Teachers can have a better idea of the parts of the curriculum where students require assistance. They can intervene in real time before a student reaches the stage of failure.

Adaptive learning also allows schools to improve their results by providing personalised learning to their students in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, through the system, schools can reduce occurrences of cheating on tests with the use of different versions of assessments and content.

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