Adaptive Learning: Benefits and Considerations

Over the past few years, the coverage on ‘adaptive learning’ in higher education has steadily increased. This has become evident by the increasing number of vendors and publishers offering their unique flavor of “adaptive” learning.

So, what exactly is adaptive learning?

Defining Adaptive

The formal definition is: systems that provide each student with a personalized learning experience, adapting the presentation of content and possibly assessments according to differences in student skills sets.

Think of it as a system that helps students get unstuck when they get stuck. A good comparison is a GPS application installed on your phone (let’s pick Google Maps). As educators, we all want to guide our students to a particular destination. That destination could be to better understand a set of topics or to learn a new skill.

However, the starting point for each student is different. You’ll certainly have students who have more exposure to the topic (or skill) and you’ll have others that are brand new to the idea. A GPS takes into account those different starting points and guides everyone to the same destination, no matter where they started from. This is different from being offered a static set of instructions (for example: getting driving instructions to Miami International Airport from Homestead when you’re coming from Broward).

Adaptive learning has the potential to do the same. It takes into account each student’s understanding about the general topics, then personalizes how the students view the learning materials. And, like a GPS, if you make a wrong turn or pass your exit, it will reroute you accordingly. A good adaptive learning system will continue rerouting students until they show mastery of content.


There are a number of benefits to using adaptive learning systems. The obvious one is the personalization that takes place for students. Each student will get to experience the course tailored to them individually. Students will also receive personalized help when they can’t seem to master a particular concept or topic.

Another benefit is the amount of data accessible to the instructor. Most adaptive learning systems come with detailed reports on student performance and behaviors. Imagine being able to peek inside a student’s brain as they read a section of learning content and see exactly where they stopped (or started!) understanding.

Many adaptive learning systems will allow you to view this information, usually referred to as a learning “path” or “map”. Now imagine being able to see every student’s “map” and stack them on top of each other! This would give you a bird’s eye view of the class and would empower you to intervene in the areas where you see most students are getting stuck.


Now, all that sounds great right? What’s the catch? As you can imagine, the adaptive learning software is only part of the equation. The heart and soul of a good adaptive course is a an excellently and carefully designed online course with the guidance of an instructional designer. Those courses take some serious time to develop. We recommend about 40 weeks (or more) to fully design and develop a quality adaptive course. The good news? The course will only get better and better over time.

Something else to consider is that students will be (seamlessly) ported over to a different environment other than the standard LMS to go through the course content. However, other course activities will continue taking place in the LMS; actions like submitting assignments, viewing grades and participating in a discussion forum will remain the same.

To Adapt or Not to Adapt: That is the Question

Hopefully, this overview of adaptive learning entices you to explore the topic even further. This is just the tip of the iceberg for adaptive learning. There are many other benefits and considerations to discuss, like the possibility of connecting and blending different courses together!

If you are interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to Gus Roque, Educational Technology Manager over email to discuss more. We’ll also be discussing adaptive learning at the next FIU Online Annual Conference (stay tuned!).


About Gus Roque

Educational Technology Manager for FIU Online.

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