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Adaptive Learning, An Idea With Powerful Potential

by Kelly Walsh on May 25, 2011


Are adaptive learning based “teaching machines” a perfect partnering of technology and education?

The idea of tutorial computer applications that adapt to a student’s learning curve strikes me as an idea with a lot of potential. It’s no coincidence that the ability to enable students to learn and proceed at their own pace is also a key benefit of the work of the Khan Academy which we examined briefly in Sunday’s post – there’s a theme developing here! The creation and delivery of self-paced learning tools is clearly a huge area of potential for education technology, and adaptive learning functionality can multiply the effectiveness of these types of applications.

According to this recent article from The Chronicle, B.F. Skinner created the original adaptive learning teaching machine back in the 50’s while working at Harvard. Wikipedia’s definition of Adaptive Learning explains that in this model, “computers adapt the presentation of educational material according to students’ weaknesses, as indicated by their responses to questions. Adaptive learning systems endeavor to transform the learner from passive receptor of information to collaborator in the educational process”.

“No two students are alike, but most are taught the same material in the same way. That’s about to change.”
- Application software company Knewton, Inc

Knewton is a player in the Adaptive Learning sphere, and they claim to be developing the industry’s “most powerful adaptive learning engine” with “continuous adaptivity— the ability to customize educational content to meet the needs of each student on a daily basis”. While traditional classrooms and textbooks can provide the same material to every student, Knewton is intended to dynamically match lessons, videos, and practice problems to each student’s ideal learning arc.

The Adaptive eLearning Research Group at the The University of New South Wales at Sydney, Australia also builds “technology for creating educational content that understands what students know and what they don’t and then intelligently adapt to them.” Learn more about this here. But first, check out their video:


So what do you think about Adaptive Learning applications? Anyone have any experience with tools like these, or know of any other exciting developments under way in this field? Click here and to share your insights!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
TakingITGlobal – Social Learning With A Global Consciousness
Inspiring Learning Outcomes with Twitter in the Kindergarten Classroom
Facebook in the Classroom. Seriously.


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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