Adaptive learning

Unit 1

Teacher 1:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, I’ve got an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to print off all of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests that the publisher sends with the textbook. I’ll also add in a few of my own supplemental activities, and put everything into numbered folders. Since kids like videos, for some units I’ve even got some VHS tapes on which I’ll place Post-It notes with time-marked segments for them to watch. Students will have access to a printed checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! I’ll also put some stickers into each folder. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video, they can put a sticker on their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have tracking posters stapled to the bulletin board so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited to set up this system of personalized learning!

Teacher 2:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, my school has an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to have access to an online adaptive learning system that includes all of the worksheet, quiz, and test items that the publisher sends with the digital textbook. There also are some supplemental activities, and everything is organized into numbered units. Since kids like videos, for some units the system even has some digital tutorials for them to watch. Students will have access to an online checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! The system also has digital badges for each unit. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video item, they get a digital badge for their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have access to an online data analytics system so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited we have this system of personalized learning!

32 Responses to “Adaptive learning”

  1. Thanks, Scott. Because adaptive learning is sounding a tremendous amount like the SRA program I used in 7th grade.

    Real adaptive learning seems to me to find a student’s passion and make it work. Today we made instruments in my 9th grade science class. Flutes, pan pipes, wind chimes, and water bells, all tuned to a specific frequency. For the first time in years, kids didn’t care for this assignment, but they LOVE the use of audacity to create mashups. Tomorrow, I’ll shift and we’ll look at autotune and show choir mashups instead of creating a class concert. The concepts are still there, but I will package them differently. It’s relevant to THEM, not to my way of doing things. I’ll give them a choice of four ways to show their understanding of sound applications, including the two above, ultrasound, and speaker design. And I can do this because I understand content, edtech, and kids. It’s a broad base of pedagogy and science. That is much different than packaged video demos and passive worksheets. Real adaptive learning requires reflection on both the part of the teacher and the students.

  2. Do the students, in either case, have any control over what they learn? We have to start further back than adjusting the pace – we need to consider what, exactly, we want kids to learn, in terms of genuine concepts (a la Lynn Erickson), skills and knowledge.
    For example at some stage, all kids study ancient civilisations. They can Google the details of any civilisation, but it is important that they understand concepts such as change, resources and systems in the development of all civilisations. The facts and figure about a specific civilisation can be taught quickly using flashcards, games, etc., giving time for students to
    a)Explore a civilisation of their choice
    b)Collaborate in discussions about the relevance of what they have learned to their own lives
    c) Use their learning to take some sort of personal action.
    Students can inquire into some high-level questions, so that the teacher’s role becomes one mainly of coaching, supporting and monitoring individuals and groups.

    By the way, do people still use video tape?

    • Hi Andrew,

      I like your ideas for student choice and voice. Thanks for sharing!

      I don’t know how many people still use video tapes (although my AEA still seems to have a lot of ‘em on our media library lending shelves!). I chose VHS on purpose to set up the analog-digital contrast. I could’ve used laserdiscs or DVDs – it wouldn’t have mattered, I don’t think!

  3. Your title adaptive learning is misleading. Adaptive learning systems like Teacher 2 sounds so enticing to teachers but actually they are not learner-driven. The technology and curriculum is still planned for them. It is cool that learners can go at their own pace to master content, but they have no voice in how they learn or choice in what they learn.

    The technology measures performance by clicks and past performance. Learners are not driving their learning in either of the teachers’ classrooms you mentioned. Teacher 1 is still working harder than their learners and designing instruction. A true personalized learning system has learners driving their learning with the teacher as facilitator and teachers and learners are partners in learning and co-designers of instruction and learning environments. Learners are motivated to learn if they can take responsibility for their learning and have support from their teacher and peers.

    • Thanks, Barbara. I used the title ‘adaptive learning’ quite deliberately because that’s what the systems are called that do what Teacher 2 describes…

      Now, whether these systems are truly ‘personalized’ or ‘adaptive’ is quite arguable, which is the point I’m trying to make with this post (and why I cc’ed you because I knew you’d have great things to say!).

  4. Love this!

    I get the point, but wonder if you need teacher #3 with an example of a positive use of technology to personalize learning through students teaching their passions.

    On the other hand your regular readers should already know what that looks like.

    Thinking of using this as a discussion starter with teachers. Have them read and then create a description of actual adaptive learning.

    Anyway you are giving me lots of thoughts to use this concept. Thanks!

    • I get the point, but wonder if you need teacher #3 with an example of a positive use of technology to personalize learning through students teaching their passions.

      On the other hand your regular readers should already know what that looks like.

      I’d be interested in a post full of specifics.

      • I’m thinking about a series of posts profiling some model schools around the country (and world). Until then, perhaps this will be of interest:

        3 big shifts, 8 building blocks, and some guiding questions
        http://bit.ly/15A1gQn

        I’ll also note that the specifics will vary, of course, the more student inquiry-driven we become because each student will follow his or her own path. That said, there are lots of places to learn from and recognize!

        • I’m looking forward to the series with model schools. I’d be much more interested in model classrooms.

          It’s easy to to come up with hypothetical non-examples, but for some reason, specific (even hypotheticals) examples of classrooms or schools doing what you are looking for seem to be harder to come by. There weren’t any in the link you replied with.

          Here’s an example from my classroom

          • Russ, there are hundreds, and probably thousands, of schools around the world that are designed around the 3 big shifts and (many/most of) the 8 building blocks that I outline in that link. We just need to do a better job of profiling and publicizing them. Stay tuned…

          • Scott,

            That’s my point. Maybe I haven’t been clear. It’s not that I don’t think they exist. I’m sure they do. For some reason, though, I see many more posts like this — “Here’s what shouldn’t be happening, hypothetically — than I see of “Here’s what should be going on.”

            Looking forward to them being profiled and publicized.

          • Maybe that’s because people don’t have the good fortune to work in those environments and/or don’t know about what other schools are doing differently.

            Also, 1) dissecting current practice is the first step of 2) rebuilding current practice. But your point is made that we need to make sure we make it all the way to 2, not just stop at 1!

          • …don’t know about what other schools are doing differently.

            Yes. This is what I’ve been asking for: tell us about what the other schools are doing differently.

            I will stay tuned.

          • I liked your post Russ. I think great examples include Shawn Cornally’s school he started and http://collaboraider.com/

            I try to blog about the projects that we do in our room. I would like to see more teacher blogposts about meaningful projects.

    • Thanks, Michael. I think Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey’s chart is very pertinent here:

      http://bit.ly/19bG6Kw

      We are being sold individualization under the name of ‘personalization’…

      • Exactly!

        As I wrote in the conclusion of my article…

        Technologies could be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities. We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology, where people are fragmented by a continuous partial attention.

      • Really like that chart, but find it discouraging. I am forced to teach the standards. I see no way for personalization to be compatible with standards. Am I wrong?

  5. 1. What goes around comes around.
    2. The pendulum swings – again.
    3. We tried that already.
    4. If you stay in education 30 years you’ll be in vogue at least twice if you don’t change a thing.

    American education reinvents itself as itself once again. Chalkboards. White boards. Interactive boards. Same old teaching wall.The corporate resources that were rolled out once before get repackaged from program in a box to program on a screen. These were invented to teacher-proof teaching rather than invest in developing the expertise and professional knowledge and judgement of educators. We can do better than 1 or 2. Been there. Done that.

  6. What? Computers aren’t magic? I’m so disappointed…

  7. Scott-
    Perhaps I’m way off base, but I think the point you are trying to make is just because something has been digitized does not make it more adaptive or personalized. In your example students in Teacher 1′s class and Teacher 2′s class are receiving essentially the same materials. What concerns me is that to people who don’t know better it would appear that Teacher 2 is infusing technology into her classroom. As schools purchase more of these packaged programs I fear there will be a backlash against technology. And there should be if the standard is simply moving to digital worksheets and badges! There is no shift in pedagogy or philosophy— no visionary ideas about how technology can be used to make learning more relevant in these examples.

    We need leaders who understand how important it is to use technology to transform learning. It will take an investment in PD in order to help train teachers so we are ready to implement technology in a meaningful way in our classrooms. We must set the standards high and not let teachers off the hook. We have to keep sharing our stories about how we are using technology to help our students have an impact on the world.

  8. Adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. Nor do they balance the desire for greater choice, in all its manifest forms, with the equity needed for a society to flourish. Computer adaptive learning systems are reductionist and primarily attend to those things that can be easily digitized and tested (math, science and reading). They fail to recognize that high quality learning environments are deeply relational, humanistic, creative, socially constructed, active and inquiry-oriented.

    This article http://www.bit.ly/philmcrae paints a picture of how old notions of teaching machines are being reborn through a seduction of data analytics and competency-based personalization (think individualization). It is also intended to be a declaration against the fatalism of adaptive learning systems as the next evolutionary stage for K-12 education in the 21st Century.

    As a side note, I have just come back from a conversation in the U.S. with one of President Obama’s a Senior Policy advisors on this very issue. Brace yourselves…adaptive learning is moving with a tsunami of corporate interest and we are about to meet it head-on in relation to student and teacher data privacy vis-a-vis commercial interests in Canada.

  9. Linked my name directly to a post: Transformative or just flashy educational tools?
    “A tool is just a tool! I can use a hammer to build a house and I can use the same hammer on a human skull. It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters.”

    I think there is incredible potential in using analytics in adaptive ways. Video games masterfully keep players in a zone of proximal development – with the challenges not too hard to frustrate, but not too easy as to be boring. I think adaptive analytics can do that for learning… BUT… if all we are doing is testing for the next ‘paint-by-numbers’ skill rather than challenging students to be problem solvers (see Dan Meyer http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html )
    then we are not really making progress… no matter what tools we use.

  10. Thanks Scott! I really appreciate this conversation.

    Dave hit the nail on the head “if all we are doing is testing for the next ‘paint-by-numbers’ skill rather than challenge students to be problem solvers then we are not really making progress.. no matter what tools we use.”

    It is about creating flexible learning environments that encourage learner voice and choice. Yes, our kids love technology and need to acquire the skills to choose the appropriate resources for the task at hand. They are just too smart for many of these programs that plop them in front of a monitor for 100 minutes a day. We did this before like Pam mentioned and it didn’t work then.

    If learners are given an option to pursue an interest for a project like they do at the Inquiry Hub (www.inquiryhub.org), they want to learn more and share their findings like they did today in our webinar series – Thanks Dave!

    If instruction taps into their talents, learners are more motivated to use their talents to demonstrate what they know. If learning is relevant to the real world, they are more engaged in the learning process. Because this is their world — their time.

    Thanks Beth for mentioning PD and time. Teachers cannot do this alone. This is about transforming the way we teach and learn and where learners own and drive their learning, teacher and learner roles change. I am concerned about how education is being hijacked by corporations and shiny objects. I love tech but the focus needs to be on transforming not reforming our educational system. A little ranting here but you got me going…

  11. A flurry of comments… Thanks, everyone, for contributing to the conversation.

    Phil McRae has it right: “adaptive learning is moving with a tsunami of corporate interest” into our schools and policymaking. It’s being called ‘personalized’ learning and it’s being pitched as one of the primary revolutions that will fix ailing schools. Adaptive learning plays well into politicians’ techno-solutionist beliefs around educational data collection and analysis, and the idea of a ‘teaching machine’ that allows students to educate themselves is very, very seductive. (Self-paced students plus computers also happens to equal fewer teachers, fewer unions, and money savings in their minds.)

    I think there is some value in these systems, but they are not going to save our schools or our students. Nor do these systems foster deeper thinking or student agency; they simply allow low-level learning work to be facilitated by machines rather than people. The vision of Teacher 2 is well on its way (it’s attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and a great deal of policymaking attention and conversation), yet it is mostly just a technological layer placed on top of the vision of Teacher 1.

    Could these adaptive learning systems allow students and teachers to get to deeper, higher-level, creative work faster? Yes, but we will need to design for it. Right now, however, most of what we’re seeing is low-level cognitive work facilitated by humans being replaced by low-level cognitive work facilitated by computers. Like with ‘flipped classrooms,’ the ultimate value of adaptive learning systems will result from how we reconceive the remaining time and that requires smart, thoughtful intentionality rather than dumb, overzealous rhetoric.

  12. “As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video item, they get a digital badge for their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. ” <— This sounds quite a bit like Khan Academy.

    I'm not sure turning our classrooms into digital worksheet portals surrounded by video tutorials, all wrapped up in digital badges is a classroom ideal.

    Does anyone else smell low-level Bloom's Taxnomy?

  13. First – I think the idea of adaptive learning starts out with great expectations and ends up with Teacher #1 and Teacher #2 making a small step in a direction they think is forward.

    Second – true adaptive learning builds upon the building blocks you describe here: http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/resources/3-big-shifts-8-building-blocks-and-some-guiding-questions
    In order to make those blocks a reality we need to offer pre-service training that focuses on adaptive learning AND educational technology (not both together, not one short course) and in-service trainings need to move forward state-wide.

    Third – I believe that looking at this from a p-12 only perspective is limiting. We need to push education as a whole movement with connections reaching from preschool through graduate school.

  14. Surely this post is a provocation- isn’t it? Talk about pedagogy that is dangerously irrelevant. What are you thinking?

  15. Well said. But we do need a teacher 3 who uses an adaptive system judiciously, as part of an overall system or plan that is based on student-centered learning and projects.

  16. I am a hybrid of the two teachers: my school hasn’t bought in any software, it’s just me doing it, but we’re a 1:1 school so everything is digital. Each lesson folder has a selection of resources; different types and different levels.

    I teach the sciences though and my concern with just letting them pick their own pace is what to do about practical work; so although they’re free to pick what they do within the confines of each lesson, for safety and the logistics of it we all do the same practical. I’m not sure what the bigger answer to fully personalised learning is for the practical subjects.

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