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New Research Validates Effectiveness of Adaptive Learning

by John Boersma on August 4, 2013


Study Shows 15% Improvement in Success Rate for Students Using Adaptive Learning Courseware

It wasn’t long ago that adaptive learning was a relatively unfamiliar concept for colleges and universities.  What’s more, those who did understand what it was all about weren’t ready to immediately jump on the bandwagon without some proof of its effectiveness.

But that is all changing, and quite rapidly, in fact.  Research finally exists that validates what those of us at Adapt Courseware have believed all along – when evidence-based, fundamental design approaches are applied to an online course, you can individualize education and dramatically improve learning outcomes.

Adapt Courseware Study Headline
Student Studying

The Study

We had the opportunity to collaborate with two- and four-year public and private institutions to measure the success rates for students enrolled in our adaptive learning courseware compared to traditional online courses for the 2012-2013 academic year. The data showed significant double-digit gains in student success rates in the adaptive learning sections. We defined success rates as grades A through C divided by the number of students who were present at the add-drop deadline.

Across all students completing the adaptive learning sections, the success rate was 74 percent, a 15 percent (or 10 point) improvement over the comparison group rate of 64 percent. What’s more, the gains were skewed toward higher grades – students earned A or B grades at a 49 percent higher rate in the adaptive sections than in the comparison sections.

So why did students in the adaptive learning sections perform better?  We believe it is two-fold – both the course design elements and the role of the instructors contributed.

For starters, we’ve done away with the talking head videos, the excessive text, the one-size-fits all assignments, and that feeling of isolation brought about in many online courses today. Instead, we’ve made the learning experience more personalized, more interactive, and simply more fun by incorporating instructional design principles such as effective multimedia, optimal challenge, student choice, mastery learning, and social learning.

Effective Multimedia
By leveraging a “show and tell” effect, optimal learning can occur whereby visual and verbal materials are presented simultaneously. For example, brief cuts to a live speaker interspersed with graphics keep the student’s attention.

Optimal Challenge
When content adapts based on each student’s knowledge and skill set, he or she is able to progress through as few or as many activities as necessary. Students stay motivated because they are challenged at exactly the right level, rather than being bored by content that is too easy or frustrated by content that is too difficult.

Student Choice
Giving students choices in how they learn (watch, read, practice), when they learn, and how well they learn a particular concept or subject gives them greater ownership over their educational path.  When they have the opportunity to make their own choices, they are often more motivated and engaged.

Mastery Learning
By allowing students to stay with a particular learning topic as long as they need, they are more likely to demonstrate mastery of all skills and concepts. It is important to provide automated review and reinforcement at the point in the learning path where each student needs it the most.

Social Learning
Rather than the instructor simply disseminating information one-way, they can be collaborating with students, and students themselves can be interacting with each other through study groups, interactive study boards, optional profiles, screen sharing and webcam support.

Students have told us that the increased interactivity, the quality of the visuals, and the ability to learn how and when they want just doesn’t compare to the online courses they have taken in the past. And while these courseware design elements enabled students to more effectively and efficiently move through the course, instructors themselves played an important part in our reported success rates as well.

While the perception can be that the instructor’s role diminishes given much of the automation in an adaptive learning setting, in fact quite the opposite is true.  Based on the feedback we have received, instructors thought highly of the experience and their evolved role. Some even told us they liked it better.

To quote Stephanie Sabbagh, who led both adaptive and traditional online sections of Introduction to Psychology at Central Piedmont Community College, “My role as an instructor has become more meaningful to my students as we communicate more effectively, not to mention, I’m able to better manage my time.” She told us that the adaptive learning courseware allowed her to interact and engage with students in ways she never had before.

While the learning outcomes data itself is impressive, equally important in validating the effectiveness of adaptive learning is the engaging, productive, and personalized experience its users affirm.  So, are you ready to jump on the adaptive learning ‘bandwagon’ yet? Come learn more at Adapt Courseware.

*Image of girl studying courtesy of

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Moby Max is a Proven Adaptive Learning Toolset with Differentiated Curriculum for K-8 Students
Adaptive Learning, An Idea With Powerful Potential
Can Social Media Play A Role in Improving Retention in Higher Education? Research Says it Can.


John is the founder and CEO of Adapt Courseware, and a former university faculty member. Adapt Courseware is currently seeking proposals for its Adaptive Learning Research Grants. To learn more and to apply, please visit

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