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Every Learner Everywhere
Achieving the Dream

Building Your Adaptive Learning Implementation Dream Team

When it comes to implementing adaptive learning, every college’s needs are different. But an engaged cross-functional team committed to the initiative’s success is essential.

As Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at Achieving the Dream, Dr. Ruanda Garth-McCullough has worked with community colleges across the U.S. to implement their adaptive learning programs. She provided consultation and training as part of Every Learner Everywhere’s pilot year with Lighthouse Institutions (the first colleges and universities served by the network and that are producing insight and data about implementing digital technologies).

When Garth-McCullough and her colleagues begin work with a college, they first help them to organize a cross-functional team that will develop and execute an action plan. Every team is different, because every project and institution is different.

“This work isn’t achievable unless it takes into account the different campus contexts and cultures,” says Garth-McCullough.

Here are three essential principles Garth-McCullough recommends to institutions for creating their own cross-functional teams to support an adaptive learning initiative.

1. Understand how adaptive is already being used

On every site visit, Garth-McCullough expects to find “random acts of adaptive.”

For example, at one college that she was helping to “start” using adaptive learning, an art history teacher was already using adaptive courseware. Getting that instructor involved inspired administrators to consider other use cases in addition to the math classes they had assumed their adaptive learning initiative would be limited to.

In another case, Garth-McCullough had been told the math department had been using adaptive courseware for years, only to find that even though the faculty used the software, they didn’t use the adaptive features.

Who you need to invite to the table depends on whether your initiative will be campus wide, interdisciplinary but with a limited number of courses, or focused on a single department or course. Naturally, each of those approaches will involve different faculty, but also different academic advisors and academic support programs.

Surveying faculty to understand ways faculty are already using adaptive in the classroom helps ensure you get the full depth of experience people might bring to the table. “The range of discipline and content areas using adaptive courseware that a college isn’t aware of can be a surprise,” says Garth-McCullough.

2. Consider every place students go for support

Along with inviting participating faculty and department deans and chairs, Garth-McCullough recommends drawing broadly from administration, faculty developers, instructional designers, institutional research representatives, and student services personnel.

The last group, student services, is one that colleges often don’t think to bring to the table, says Garth-McCullough. But they are a critical touchpoint along a student’s learning journey, and it’s important they understand the software students are using. “It’s really beneficial for students to have continuity across their supports,” she says.

For example, one college Garth-McCullough worked with invited their tutoring service staff to be part of the team. That way, the administrators were able to get feedback on how students were actually using the software from the staff members the students were reaching out to for help.

Adjunct faculty are another important group that needs to be invited to the table. Garth-McCullough notes that “because adjunct faculty teach over 50 percent of community college courses, they are essential to student success.” Their participation creates a lot of potential for an institution to roll out adaptive courseware in an effective way.

3. Invite interest rather than mandating participation

One challenge many institutions face is getting buy-in from faculty, who often have busy schedules. Originally, Garth-McCullough’s team at Achieving the Dream thought the best way to implement adaptive learning was to start with the course that needed it most, judging by things like the biggest equity gaps or the highest enrollment.

Experience now tells Garth-McCullough, however, that targeting courses with high equity gaps and the largest enrollment is not enough. To be effective, you also have to find the faculty who are most interested or possibly already using adaptive courseware in their own classrooms. “You have to develop some wins and gain traction,” she says.

In another “random act of adaptive,” Garth-McCullough was consulting with a college that discovered part-way through that a faculty member had been using adaptive courseware for almost five years in her microeconomics course. She had deep experience analyzing data from the courseware and redesigning her course.

Once they brought that economics instructor to the table, the work changed tone. It went from “must do” to “get to do,” because she inspired other faculty to see the ways adaptive can be used to achieve learning goals.

“It’s easier for faculty to develop interest when they see a peer is doing something, versus a mandate,” says Garth-McCullough. That’s one of the best ways to help get buy-in from faculty who may seem skeptical at first.

Adaptive learning is a team effort

As you build the cross-functional team, remember that every step of a successful adaptive learning implementation should be a team effort, from choosing the courseware and designing the courses to learning how to use it in the classroom.

“If each faculty member is doing this individually, you’re reinventing the wheel when they come up against the same issues,” says Garth-McCullough. “A team-based approach will help faculty navigate it.”

In an upcoming article, we’ll talk with Garth-McCullough about how to structure faculty support as you implement adaptive learning at your institution.

Learn more with our Guide For Implementing Adaptive Courseware.