Students play an adaptive learning program on school computers

The Administrator’s Guide to Adaptive Learning Technology: Definition, Implementation, Benefits and Examples

As adaptive learning technology develops and grows in popularity, an increasing number of administrators face challenges when implementing a given program at the school or district level.

For example, teachers must be receptive and trained to properly use an adaptive learning program. Difficulties can occur before even introducing a program, such as finding one that’s appropriate.

To address such challenges, below is a guide to adaptive learning technology that provides implementation strategies. It also includes a definition, benefits, examples and a free download.


If you’re familiar with the definition, feel free to skip this section.

But to ensure you can apply the implementation tips, you must be able to identify adaptive learning technology. That’s because not all education technology delivers adaptive instruction.

Children use adaptive learning technology on tablet computers, with a teacher

Using computers as interactive tools, adaptive learning focuses on changing content for each student. This is done based on the student’s specific learning needs.

A given program will determine the student’s trouble spots through data such as question response time and whether the answers are correct or incorrect.

For example, if a math student struggles to answer grade-level questions about long division, the adaptive learning program will provide scaffolding. The program may also use differentiated instruction principles, delivering content that the student can capably process. For example, it may provide pictographs — instead of word problems — to explain essential division skills.

In a nutshell: Adaptive learning technology provides building blocks customized to each student, helping solve trouble spots.

Implementation Tips for Administrators

To smoothly and effectively implement adaptive learning technology in a school or district, try the below strategies that best apply to you:

1. Conduct a Readiness Assessment

A female administrator uses her computer and a notebook to write a readiness assessment for adaptive learning technology

Completing a readiness assessment will allow you to determine — from a logistical perspective — if a school or district is capable of supporting adaptive learning technology.

Many administrators look to an educational technology consultant to conduct this assessment, but it may be possible to do without one.

Most assessments focus on:

  • Access — Internet access is essential for many adaptive learning programs, meaning a school needs a strong wireless presence or designated computer rooms. Devices don’t necessarily have to be accessible on a one-to-one scale, but they must be able to run the software in question.
  • Budget — Unless the program is free, you must have the budget to support it. Be aware that some software has an initial cost and may even require subsequent payments. What’s more, any new hardware that requires outside help to manage will typically require a greater monetary commitment.
  • Stakeholders  — Based on previous feedback about other technology, you must determine if teachers, parents and students would be receptive to new education software. If you don’t have this information, you may have to collect data through surveys, at meetings or by other methods.

Examining these factors should clarify if implementation is feasible, making it an essential exercise for any administrator looking to introduce adaptive learning technology.

2. Place Emphasis on the Quality of Technology

Children use an adaptive learning technology in a school computer lab

If adaptive learning technology is a viable option, your search for a program should concentrate on quality.

This may seem obvious. But Monica Burns, a leading education technology consultant, says some schools place too much emphasis on student access to learning software — regardless of that software’s quality:

Some schools don’t have a (defined) plan for educational technology integration in general, sometimes just handing out devices. Access is wonderful, but quality of instruction is what’s important … We want to make sure it’s access to quality.

>> Click here to read the entire interview with Monica <<

To determine the quality of an adaptive learning program, you can examine:

  • Usability — The program should be easy for students to use, allowing them to focus on processing and demonstrating knowledge of content.
  • Engagement — Based on the content and how it’s presented, determine if students will enjoy the program. If they don’t like it, they may not be receptive to using it.
  • Student Opinion  — If you’re interested in introducing a videogame that uses adaptive instruction, ask teachers to consult students before you decide. They should know which kinds of games they enjoy, giving you insight into finding one that can engage them.
  • Content Variation — Adaptive learning technology must address a student’s unique trouble spots and build other skills. While using the software, search for different types of content at varying difficulty levels to determine if it’s suitable for a range of students.
  • Curriculum-Alignment — Most solutions advertise which curricula they follow. For others, you may have to inquire about alignment or even test the program. Regardless, teachers should be able to set the software’s content, focusing on specific units or lessons. They can do so to supplement in-class instruction, supporting intervention, enrichment or reinforcement initiatives.

Look for these criteria when testing adaptive learning technologies, helping you find an option that delivers effective instruction.

3. Incorporate Teacher Input in Your Search

Teachers hold a meeting to discuss adaptive learning technology

Rather than choosing new technology largely on your own, using input from teachers should help you find a solution they’re eager to use.

To use teacher input in your search, consider:

  • Running a survey — If teachers haven’t expressed interest or an opinion about education technology, conduct a survey. Ask about recommendations, qualities they value and how often they would use a potential program. You can do this as part of a meeting or by sending a survey with a tool such as Google Forms.
  • Inviting them to the demo — Whether you ask for a demonstration or the company offers one, invite teachers who would be using the given technology. By giving them a first-hand look, they’ll develop opinions about it. You’ll learn if the technology’s worthwhile as a result.

These approaches should help you identify a program that meets teacher needs, allowing them to effectively use the option you propose.

4. Encourage Teachers to Join Online Communities

A woman looks at her tablet, about to launch adaptive learning software

Online communities, both general and specific to your software, can further support teachers and act as a knowledge base.

They can be especially helpful when you’re not around to answer questions. You may even find them useful for your own work, should you face certain issues.

As the majority of technology companies look to offer resources across the Internet, you can find their communities on:

  • Forums, either run by the company or third parties
  • Supports pages, listed on the company’s website
  • Large education communities, such as TES
  • Social media platforms, such as Facebook

These websites and online groups should familiarize teachers with a given adaptive learning technology, helping them gain a better understanding of its features.

5. Keep All Stakeholders Informed

As well as teachers, parents and students can be your new technology’s staunchest advocates or detractors. Openly communicating with them — focusing on the program’s purpose and benefits — can move them toward the former.

At points during the implementation process and subsequent use of the adaptive learning technology, consider:

  • Sending an introductory email to teachers — Introduce the software to teachers by sending an email that outlines the program. It should include useful resources to further explain and demonstrate its benefits and capabilities.
  • Sending letters home — To inform parents about your plan to introduce new technology into the classroom, send a letter home with kids. Not only does this act as an update, but it can open the door to parent participation in student learning. Here is a letter Prodigy gives to admins and teachers who sign up for our math game.
  • Updating other stakeholders — If there are major changes to the use of education technology, think about informing students and parents. You may also decide to notify them if there are improvements in student performance due to the technology.

Following these approaches should ensure open communication between you and stakeholders.

6. Support Teachers by Working with the Principal or Other Leader

To further ensure teachers correctly use new technology, work with a school’s principal or other leader to provide resources and professional development time.

For example, you can use staff meetings and other gatherings to give continuous support and development.

And to make sure teachers use and understand each important product feature, see if your adaptive learning company offers the following professional development opportunities after implementation:

  • Multimedia support information — Many adaptive learning companies have comprehensive support pages on their websites. These may include videos, webinars and other material you can share with teachers on an ongoing basis.
  • Targeted training — As well as general demos, some adaptive learning products will deliver online or in-person training about how to use a specific function or apply the software to meet a certain goal. For example, the training team may explain how to use the software for enrichment.

Being responsive to teacher requests will also help smooth the implementation process. Quickly answer straightforward questions, and offer to meet with teachers to tackle complex ones. In this respect, you may want to prioritize software-related professional development requests.

If you don’t work together in these ways, you may demonstrate an unenthusiastic commitment to the initiative.

The (General) Benefits of Adaptive Learning Technology

A child uses an adaptive learning program on his home computer

Adaptive learning programs vary in terms of purpose and effectiveness, but most deliver these benefits to teachers and students:

  • Students receive individualized instruction — A main goal of adaptive instruction is to accommodate different needs and learning styles. Software does this by adjusting content type and difficulty, constantly analyzing student performance to adjust lesson pace.
  • Students get instant feedback — Programs typically give students feedback as soon as they complete a question. This feedback may be basic — informing them the answer is incorrect — or specific. For example, some programs identify and explain which step of answer process was incorrect.
  • Teachers can get insight into student needs — As many adaptive learning programs generate reports for teachers, they can monitor class performance. Depending on the depth of the reporting features, they can even see which questions a given student answered incorrectly and where she made the mistake.
  • Teachers have more time for individual instruction — Devoting class time to program use, whether on a one-to-one or group scale, should free time for individual or small-group instruction.
  • Many solutions use leading research and teacher input — The content presented in most adaptive learning programs is created by consulting teachers and authoritative education research. As a result, the content is shaped by pedagogy instead of blindly putting questions together.

Examples of Adaptive Learning Technologies

1. Prodigy

Students playing Prodigy on tablets
Students playing Prodigy on tablets

Prodigy is a free online math game that adjusts its questions — in terms of difficulty and type of content — to tackle trouble spots and accommodate different learning styles.

For example, if a player can’t answer a grade-level question, the game will deliver problems to build the specific skill that was not up to par. This approach has increased the rate of students meeting standardized test expectations by more than 11%, according to a study of a 25,000-student district.

Student Prodigy Usage

Prodigy is aligned with CCSS, TEKS, MAFS and Ontario curricula for grades 1 to 8, offering teacher features such as the ability to adjust the focus of questions.

Learn more or request a demo here:

Learn More Request Demo

2. ClassK12

ClassK12 allows teachers to deliver adaptive instruction through a student’s tablet or smartphone.

Offering math and grammar lessons up to 6th grade Common Core standards, ClassK12 is made up of individual mobile apps that students can download. Teachers can then create virtual classrooms, deliver assignments and run reports.

The program adjusts its difficulty level to match student performance, helping build essential skills.

3. OLI

Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) uses adaptive learning principles to build online classes, offering digital versions of offline courses.

The students who take the digital version typically build a better grasp of material, according to a 2008 study. The study found that those in the OLI course took half as much time to learn content, performing the same or better relative to students in the traditional course.

Although the initiative is restricted to Carnegie Mellon and yields results that may only apply to university settings, it demonstrates the potential of adaptive learning technology.

4. iKnow!

iKnow - Adaptive Learning Technology for Asian Languages

iKnow! is a mobile app made in Tokyo, which constantly analyzes user performance to teach east Asian languages to English-speakers.

Individual users — or their teachers — can set learning goals and let the app deliver content targeted to meeting these goals. It will adjust content based on how the student performs, helping her reach the goals at an appropriate speed by slowing down or speeding up difficulty progression.

iKnow! may not be applicable to all schools, but is certainly usable in ones that offer foreign language units or classes.


Created by McGraw-Hill, ALEKS offers adaptive math, science and business web courses beginning at the elementary school level.

But the program is perhaps best suited to high school and university, due to the range of specific courses it covers. For example, it has AP chemistry and MBA financial accounting.

Developed by cognitive scientists and software engineers from the University of California, the program gives a series of questions to assess the user’s knowledge level. It then tailors content to the user. It does so by concentrating on topics he is most ready to learn, before progressing to more challenging concepts.

Downloadable Guide

Click here to download a condensed guide to implementing adaptive learning technology, which you can keep on your desk for quick reference.

Final Thoughts Concerning Adaptive Learning Technology

By following these strategies and keeping the above information in mind, the implementation process should be fraught with fewer difficulties.

And when adaptive learning technology is smoothly introduced into classrooms, it should be easier for students to enjoy the software’s benefits. These benefits may vary, but proponents believe the technology can improve education quality through continuous analysis and customized content.

The results should be clear during lessons and on tests.

>> Learn more about — or request a demo of — Prodigy. It’s a free, adaptive math game that adjusts content to accommodate player troubles spots and learning speeds. Aligned to US and Canadian curricula, it’s loved by more than 800,000 teachers and 30 million students.

Learn More Request Demo

Marcus Guido

Marcus is Prodigy's product marketer.

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