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Why Adaptive Learning Benefits Non-Traditional Students

By Dr. Kitty Kautzer, Provost, Herzing University

Dr. Kitty Kautzer, Provost, Herzing University

Today, many college students do not fit the mold of the “traditional” student, one who enrolls in a post-secondary institution immediately following high school. In fact, adult learners – many of whom have children and work full- or part-time –account for nearly 74 percent of the undergraduate student population.

As non-traditional enrollment grows, educational institutions must find a way to serve students with a range of skill levels and professional experiences. Students enrolling in college right after high school have vastly different educational needs and goals than students who have been in the workforce for a decade and are seeking to advance in or change their careers.

"The use of adaptive learning technology enables a flexible, personalized, and supportive educational experience that accounts for concepts already understood and focuses upon those not yet mastered"

Personalized education is not a new concept; however, using data to customize the learning experience is a growing trend at all educational levels. At the college level, adaptive learning technology makes it possible for instructors to create a more effective and personalized learning environment for non-traditional students, many of whom have valuable skills and knowledge from prior work, military or college experience.

A data-driven approach to instruction

Adaptive learning systems leverage data analytics and artificial intelligence to modify the learning experience based on student mastery of course content. Students engage with learning materials and complete knowledge check assessments within the adaptive learning platform. The system“learns” based on these interactions and personalizes content delivery for students based on their level of competency.

It is important to understand, however, that adaptive learning is not about the use of technology.  Adaptive learning is a philosophical approach to teaching, which is now made more efficient using technology. The system is not intended to replace the interaction between the learner and the instructor, but rather to make the learning experience more transparent to both parties.

One of the major advantages of adaptive learning is that faculty do not have to wait until students complete a major exam to determine which students are struggling. By then, it might be too late to influence the outcome of the course. Rather, faculty have visibility into student learning at every step of the way and can personalize support for each student as a result. For example, if a student is struggling, the instructor can provide additional resources such as written and/or video feedback, invite the student to schedule an appointment, or suggest a meeting with a tutor. If students demonstrate mastery of the material more quickly, the instructor can provide them with “challenge content” to deepen their knowledge and understanding.

Importantly, faculty use the data generated by student activity on the platform to inform the use of class time.  Through the platform, instructors have a view into which concepts most students are mastering. These concepts do not need to be covered during class time, as the instructor can provide individual support to students who have not yet mastered them.  Instructors can also see where most students are struggling and revisit these concepts in class. If there are instances where some students are excelling, and some are struggling, the instructor may elect to have students engage in partnered learning activities.

Faculty access to data on student engagement and academic progress changes the classroom experience.  Students engage with content before coming to class, enabling faculty to employ more interactive instructional techniques during class rather than lecture.

Having visibility into their own progress benefits the students as well. Students do not have to wait until a major exam or midterm to know their course status. The adaptive learning platform allows student visibility to their mastery of course content. They can use this information to focus their studying or to seek out additional support if it has not already been recommended to them.

Adaptive learning in practice

At Herzing University, we employ the use of adaptive learning in our General Education curriculum and various nursing programs, both on-campus and online. Our experienced faculty use the information generated by the platform to determine how best to support individual students as well as the class as a whole. Students have the freedom to work at their own pace through the learning path while still completing the course within the defined term structure.

The educational, employment, and life experiences brought to the classroom by adult learners translate into mastery. The use of adaptive learning technology enables a flexible, personalized, and supportive educational experience that accounts for concepts already understood and focuses upon those not yet mastered. The result is a classroom in which instructors can provide students with the support they need to succeed exactly when they need it.

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