Every Learner Everywhere
Achieving the Dream

7 Adaptive Learning Case Studies That Show When and How It Is Effective

One benefit of collaborating with colleges, universities, and research partners on adaptive learning pilot projects since 2019 is that a number of useful insights begin to accumulate. For example, peer institutions can begin to see what interventions have had an impact, the role of instructional design professionals, what faculty development supports matter the most, and how implementation of digital learning software can vary by academic discipline. The latest publication from Achieving the Dream, an Every Learner Everywhere network partner, summarizes lessons such as these from a set of 11 case studies on how institutions redesigned gateway courses to implement adaptive learning courseware with a goal of closing equity gaps for their students. Collectively, these adaptive learning case studies show when and how the technology has the potential to improve success rates for Black, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander, poverty-affected, and first-generation students.

A summary report on the 11 case studies, Adaptive Courseware: New Models to Support Student Learning, represents the work of hundreds of faculty, staff, and administrators in over 25 different courses serving more than 7,500 students throughout pilot projects at seven institutions:

  • Amarillo College
  • Broward College
  • Cuyahoga Community College
  • Houston Community College
  • Indian River State College
  • Lorain County Community College
  • Miami Dade College

Those seven institutions are featured in individual case studies that summarize data from the pilot projects, the opportunity gap the institution was trying to address, the approach used, and lessons learned so far. Many describe a mix of institutional-level reforms and changes to classroom practices. The pilot projects examined in the case studies cover a range of teaching and learning modalities, from fully in person to fully remote. The case studies are based on interviews with that institution’s leaders, faculty, instructional designers, developers, technology specialists, and students.

Below is a sampling of lessons that can be found in the adaptive learning case studies about specific institutions:

1. Corequisite courses allows students to set the pace

Faculty at Amarillo College led efforts to implement adaptive courseware into redesigns of introductory math, English, and chemistry courses that also included corequisite courses.

The college worked with adaptive publishers to develop new courseware focused on adult learners and GED requirements, which has been an underserved part of the digital courseware market.

Not all the students in the pilot project used adaptive courseware. Faculty identified those who were struggling with particular concepts and needed to work at their own pace. In the GED sections especially, faculty introduced adaptive courseware for students who were potentially disengaged from the classroom work and wanted to progress through the program more quickly.

Read the Amarillo College adaptive learning case study

2. Tutors use adaptive courseware to support faculty, students

Broward College developed structured support through the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning, which provided professional development and curriculum expertise for faculty redesigning courses to use adaptive learning.

Students, meanwhile, were supported by tutors in the college’s Academic Success Centers. Students who went to the center for help worked with tutors who used adaptive courseware that reinforced learning practices they could use later.

Read the Broward College adaptive learning case study

3. Faculty take the lead in implementing adaptive courseware

Faculty at Cuyahoga Community College led efforts to implement and then scale adaptive courseware in gateway courses in more than a half-dozen disciplines. The institution supported faculty efforts by creating a collaborative learning community and providing other resources, and faculty continue to take the lead in scaling adaptive courseware within their disciplines.

Administrative support included release time and service credits focused on learning communities; collaboration with instructional designers, technologists, and staff from two college offices; a staff-developed guide listing adaptive courseware products by discipline; and a dedicated Blackboard site for collaboration. Faculty successfully used the adaptive courseware as a communication tool that allowed them to offer more frequent one-on-one guidance and targeted feedback.

Read the Cuyahoga Community College adaptive learning case study

4. Tackling complex concepts becomes easier

Faculty at Houston Community College (HCC) led efforts to implement adaptive courseware in introductory mathematics and economics courses and created tutoring programs to support both students and faculty. Faculty reported that courseware implementation led them to take deeper looks at pedagogy and data to promote student success.

Students and educators agreed that students were better able to break down complex concepts with the help of adaptive courseware, while onboarding modules built into the class framework helped students prepare better for adaptive work. Faculty were able to select courseware that best met their objectives. Anecdotally, students who took classes where adaptive courseware was used fared better academically than those who did not.

Read the Houston Community College adaptive learning case study

5. Using adaptive courseware to support a flipped classroom model

Adaptive courseware played a role in helping students adjust to the move to online learning at Indian River State College in Florida during the pandemic, particularly in math, sciences, and English. In response to a statewide push for reform in developmental education, the school also implemented a flipped classroom model, relying on adaptive courseware to provide corequisite practice, guide peer tutoring, and help students prepare for in-class discussion.

After requiring adaptive study as a prerequisite to quizzes, one math instructor saw pass rates jump by 20 percent. An English composition course using adaptive learning saw a significant drop in failing grades and withdrawals. That course was redesigned to include the use of adaptive courseware beginning in the fall of 2020.

Read the Indian River State College adaptive learning case study.

6. Using adaptive courseware for concurrent developmental math support

Historically, students at Lorain County Community College who placed directly into statistics tended to fare well in the course. But that wasn’t the case for students who were required to take a developmental math course first. It seems the course wasn’t effective preparation for statistics.

As part of a redesign of the gateway statistics course, faculty created a complementary developmental unit students took concurrently. They also added adaptive courseware that allowed students to practice concepts outside of the classroom to better prepare them for in class discussion.

As a result of the changes, the same number of students completed the new gateway statistics course in the fall of 2019 as had during the entire previous year. By the fall of 2020 nearly all 30 sections of the gateway statistics course were using adaptive courseware, giving administrators the opportunity to measure the impact at scale.

Read the Lorain County Community College adaptive learning case study.

7. Adaptive courseware creates consistency

Math faculty at Miami Dade College integrated adaptive courseware into a redesign of a gateway algebra course to create consistency in learning objectives, syllabi, daily lecture notes, and homework for students for every section. Creating common course objectives and lecture notes ensured students learned the same core competencies that would help them in subsequent math classes, no matter the modality or instructor.

The redesign also benefited adjunct professors of the gateway course who were presented with all the materials needed to teach it. Faculty also shared with students the notes created in the redesign of the course, which helped the students connect concepts with activities and assessments.

Read the Miami Dade College adaptive learning case study

Download Adaptive Courseware: New Models to Support Student Learning