One potential benefit to digital learning technologies in higher education is that they can address specific needs in different academic disciplines, according to a series of case studies on adaptive learning.
Achieving the Dream, a partner in the Every Learner Everywhere network, developed four discipline-specific case studies, along with seven other case studies profiling individual community colleges that were part of the Lighthouse institutions with adaptive learning pilot projects starting in 2019. The case studies examined projects that sought to close equity gaps in gateway courses for minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation students.
Faculty across the seven institutions reported strong evidence of the technology’s potential, including increased student engagement and efficacy, improved test scores, and greater understanding of complex subject matter. A summary report on the 11 total case studies, Adaptive Courseware: New Models to Support Student Learning, examines the work of hundreds of faculty, staff, and administrators in over 25 different courses serving more than 7,500 students.
A previous article highlights some of the findings from the institutional-level adaptive learning case studies. Below are highlights from the case studies on specific academic disciplines.
1. Adaptive learning technology helps outside the classroom
Several of the Lighthouse institutions implemented adaptive courseware in gateway math courses. Their experience suggests that adaptive courseware has benefits across all ability levels. The technology was often used to provide guided practice outside of the classroom setting.
Adaptive courseware also provided needed corequisite and/or basic skills support, particularly at institutions that had eliminated developmental education courses as part of state-level or institutional reforms. Some extended their use of the technology to higher-level math courses based on the experiences of students in introductory courses.
2. Adaptive courseware creates culturally relevant curriculum
Three colleges participating in the Every Learner initiative focused on gateway business and social science courses that often require students to master complex concepts through lengthy readings.
Adaptive courseware provided students regular checkpoints as they made their way through complex topics, assessing their understanding and reinforcing each concept. Automated messages notified students when they scored below a pre-set level on an assessment, encouraging them to seek help.
Adaptive courseware also ensured the material was up to date, which was particularly useful in accounting and tax classes where knowledge of current practice and law are critical.
3. Comprehensive mastery through review and gated progress
Science studies often depend on complex, multi-step processes to observe and understand a concept. Guided learning provided by adaptive courseware gave students the ability to more easily work at their own pace, engage with instructors as needed, and undertake corequisite work in areas that needed further development.
Three colleges participating in the Every Learner initiative focused on gateway science courses and found that students who used adaptive learning tools were able to apply key critical thinking strategies to their work more easily. The courseware requires students to demonstrate an understanding of each concept before moving on to the next. Faculty were better able to track student progress and identify those who needed additional support.
One student noted, “In routine courseware, you can skip a part, and if it’s not on the exam, you can get away with it. With adaptive courseware, there’s no way to get away with it. I gained a more comprehensive understanding of things.”
4. Corequisite courses reinforce daily work
Three focused on gateway English courses. Faculty selected adaptive courseware that focused on discrete skills that build reading comprehension, reasoning, and basic writing, and they used it to redesign English classes for adult GED and English-language learners. The courseware was used in corequisite work held immediately after class, where students practiced the skills discussed that day. The courseware allowed instructors to focus class time on developing writing skills while shifting attention on grammar outside of class. It quickly identified challenges a student was encountering, allowing instructors to tailor support.
One instructor noted a decrease in the number of students failing the course, and attributed it to the use of adaptive courseware. One institution is working with a developer to create more adaptive products that focus on GED programs. Another rebuilt its introductory English courses so that all sections are now using adaptive learning.Download Adaptive courseware: New Models to Support Student Learning