Adaptive Learning: 11 Great Tips for School Leaders in 2018

As the popularity of adaptive learning technology booms, a growing number of school leaders face unique challenges when introducing a given adaptive learning program at the school or district level.

For the savvy school admin, questions about adaptive learning technology abound: how should teachers be trained? How much does it cost? And, of course, how should a tool be selected — with the huge variety of games, products, and software vying for your attention?

To address such questions, below is a guide to adaptive learning technology that provides implementation strategies. It also includes a definition, benefits, examples and a downloadable list of implementation tips.

There are four sections in this article. Use this table of contents to jump to any section:

What is adaptive learning?

Adaptive learning discussion

Imagine having access to a qualified personal tutor for every student in your school or district. Imagine this tutor was always on call — prepared to help students anywhere, anytime, and on any problem.

Adaptive learning is making this possibility a reality. A type of educational technology that provides scaffolding customized to each student, adaptive learning helps students solve their unique trouble spots.

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 assistive 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.

Why use adaptive learning?

Adaptive learning technologies

Boasting a number of compelling advantages for school administrators who face low budgets, low student test scores, and huge challenges in the mission to improve results for students and teachers alike, adaptive learning persists as a popular choice among school leadership.

Here are seven specific reasons thousands of school districts are now using adaptive technology:

  • It can perform on a limited budget. With school districts across the United States suffering from budgetary restrictions, a variety of high-usage platforms present cost-effective options — including choices free of charge for educators everywhere
  • It can boost learning outcomes. Research suggesting the use of certain adaptive learning platforms can increase pass rates, lower fail rates, and accelerate student proficiency in subjects such as math and science
  • Students receive individualized instruction, helping them overcome trouble spots and work at an appropriate pace for processing content
  • Students get instant feedback, allowing them to learn which step of the answer process they incorrectly performed
  • Teachers get insight into student needs, informing which topics and skills they should focus on during lessons
  • Teachers have more time for one-on-one instruction, as they can use the adaptive learning program to spend less time lecturing and more time engaging students in the learning process
  • Many technologies use top research and teacher input, ensuring that in-program content is shaped by leading pedagogy

How to implement adaptive learning technology: 11 key tips

Adopting adaptive learning technology can be hard. To smoothly and effectively implement adaptive learning technology in a school or district, try the below strategies — relevant for teachers, administrators, and school leadership in general — most applicable to you:

1. Conduct a readiness assessment

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.

Adaptive learning for admins

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.
DeLoitte’s 2017 survey of digital education found that teachers believe EdTech such as adaptive learning is good for students — but also that schools aren’t well-equipped when it comes to technology use and adoption.

For example, ask yourself and your colleagues the following questions:

  • How ready is the school or district in terms of tech infrastructure and support?
  • How ready is the school or district in terms of teacher training and preparedness?
  • How ready is the school in terms of the learning environment including staff, parent, community, and leadership support?

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

If adaptive learning technology is a viable option, your search for a program should concentrate on quality. Test each adaptive learning technology you’ve flagged as an option.

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 

How to Implement New Educational Technology in the Classroom - Monica Burns

Test each adaptive learning technology you’ve flagged as an option. Look out for: To determine the quality of an adaptive learning program, you can examine:

a) Engagement 💖

Disengagement in schools is a pervasive and persistent problem, frequently topping the list of challenges faced by teachers.

A number of adaptive learning programs predicate their success and value on student engagement. When seeking options for your school or district, pay attention to platforms emphasizing this key topic.

b) Curriculum-alignment 📝

It’s difficult for adaptive learning platforms to make an impact on student learning outcomes unless the content is aligned to your curriculum.

Make sure you choose a platform that is fully curriculum-aligned, levelled for different learning proficiencies and based on a solid educational framework.

c) Usability 💻

 It can be difficult to identify precisely how usable a given adaptive learning technology may be, but it’s critical to choose a platform students and teachers can use easily and efficiently.

Effective adaptive learning platforms pay close attention to ensuring a simple and seamless experience for educators and classmates alike. No matter how effective the program is — if it’s not usable, children — and ultimately, teachers — won’t buy into the platform. Adaptive learning, when done right, should actively engage and even entertain students. 

d) Evidence of impact on student learning outcomes 📈

School administrators across the United States are under pressure to help students achieve positive scores on statewide assessments.

Adaptive learning programs should directly benefit student learning outcomes — and offer compelling evidence to that effect.

Valuable adaptive learning platforms are invested in demonstrating their value, and offer clear and detailed evidence of their effect on student learning outcomes.

e) Programs with online support ⌨

Many adaptive learning programs require teachers or support staff to download and install platforms on individual devices; this can be costly and time-consuming.

Certain programs run purely via the web, using accounts and logins for teachers and students to save all data. If your school has reliable internet access, using a program with online accessibility will drastically simplify the implementation process.

Moreover, the widespread availability and adoption of electronic devices at home coupled with increasing interest from teachers, parents, and students in at-home learning emphasizes the power to help students continue to learn outside of the classroom.

f) 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.

3. Low budget? Consider online programs

Many adaptive learning programs require teachers or support staff to download and install platforms on individual devices; this can be costly and time-consuming.

Certain programs run purely via the web, using accounts and logins for teachers and students to save all data. If your school has reliable internet access, using a program with online accessibility will drastically simplify the implementation process.

Moreover, the widespread availability and adoption of electronic devices at home — coupled with increasing interest from teachers, parents, and students in at-home learning — emphasizes the power to help students continue to learn outside of the classroom.

4. Choose a program with a support team

It’s frustrating to commit to a learning tool only to have teachers neglect or reject it.

The solution that’s missing is often a customer success team that is truly invested in making teachers want to use the tool.

Implementation is hard, and schools’ infrastructural and staff needs can vary greatly — so it helps to pick a platform capable of providing ongoing technical and developmental support to your teachers and school admins.

5. 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.

6. Build a leadership group 

Four in ten teachers say their school is “behind the curve” when it comes to technology adoption and implementation. But many of those teachers want to help expedite that adoption.

Identify the people who will get on board right away, and those who won’t. Sometimes technology efforts can be blocked by teachers who are hesitant to use new tools, are poorly trained, or just simply aren’t comfortable with the technology.

A leadership group will help champion the cause, and increase the uptake of adaptive learning technology in your school or district.

7. Make your school a safe environment to learn

Start with your leadership group. Get them adapted, and then let others see what they’re doing. Use professional development sessions and hands-on tutorials.

Use your leaders as in-house trainers to work with those who are slower to adapt. Communicate your ultimate goal — to make learning easier for students and teachers — and be sure to foster an environment that allows for mistakes; trial and error is often a normal part of implementing a new learning technology.

Communicating this openly will build a platform for dialogue between teachers, admins, parents, and students. 

8. Encourage teachers not to give up

Work at their own pace, certainly; give up, no.

Encourage teachers to actively involve their students.

They can be powerful role models by turning to students and saying, “I don’t know the answer, but I’m going to try.” This not only gets teachers working with the technology hands-on, but it preps students in how to succeed, too.

Team up with other school admins to encourage teachers and to provide ongoing support and professional development opportunities. You can do so by answering technology-related questions as effectively as possible.

9. Incorporate teacher input in your search

 Run a survey to gather teachers’ opinions and interests when it comes to education technology. You should also involve them in any demos offered by a company whose technology you may potentially use.

Moreover, involving teachers in the process will help empower them, and ultimately achieve greater buy-in when you do follow through with your choice. 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.

10. Encourage teachers to join online communities

There are websites and online groups that can help teachers familiarize themselves with a given adaptive learning program. These include Facebook pages and large education communities such as TES.

Online communities give teachers the chance to ask questions and to interact with — and learn from — instructors in similar situations. 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.

11. 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.

5 Adaptive learning technology examples

Prodigy

A free, curriculum-aligned math game that adjusts content to accommodate different learning styles and tackle trouble spots.

Prodigy Math Game is a fantasy-based web and app game that covers skills learned in Grades 1 through 8. With 30 million users — including more than 800,000 school teachers and admins — Prodigy is the fastest-growing educational math game in the world.

A study comparing the academic results of hundreds of Texas schools suggests schools using Prodigy saw 75% more students reach “pass” levels, 40% more students reach the highest levels, and double the average score improvement in contrast to schools not using the platform.

Students playing Prodigy on tablets
Students playing Prodigy on tablets

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.

In another study across five Texas school districts and hundreds of schools, we observed encouraging improvements in math outcomes on standardized testing.

ClassK12

A tablet and smartphone app that offers math and grammar lessons up to the grade 6 common core level. Content is built to help students prepare for standardized tests such as SBAC and PARCC. The platform’s offerings include K-6 math, grade 1-5 grammar, and United States geography.

OLI

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, which uses adaptive learning principles to build online versions on offline courses. The initiative claims its aim is to “combine open, high-quality courses, continuous feedback, and research to improve learning and transform higher education.”

iKnow!

 A mobile app that teaches east Asian languages, allowing users to receive adaptive lessons based on the learning goals they set.

iKnow - Adaptive Learning Technology for Asian Languages

ALEKS

 McGraw-Hill’s adaptive math, science and business web course system, which largely targets high school and university students.

Final Thoughts on Adaptive Learning

If you’re about to implement new adaptive learning tech, it’s normal to be overwhelmed by the size of the task. Follow the strategies and keep the above information in mind to simplify the process, and to help educate teachers and leadership that you can all get behind the same goal — one that adaptive learning supports: making students love learning.

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.

Downloadable List of implementation tips

Click here to download the list of activities ideas to print and keep at your desk.

Marcus Guido

Marcus is Prodigy's product marketer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *