Adaptive learning: The best approaches we've seen so far

There is perhaps no hotter segment in ed tech right now than adaptive learning, which adjusts the learning experience based on a student's progress. It becomes more difficult if they're progressing well, and slows down if they need further instruction. The technology has even attracted funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which assembled a diverse coalition of colleges ranging from the University of Texas at Austin to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. It isn't just colleges, either—adaptive learning is benefiting K-12, as well.

With positive results coming in for many of the companies producing adaptive learning tools, the growth isn't likely to stop soon. So who are some of the key players? Here, in no particular order, are 10 companies and partnerships offering some of the best approaches adaptive learning:


Following its June acquisition of ALEKS Corporation, it was only a matter of time before McGraw-Hill Education debuted an adaptive learning platform of its own. As Education Dive recently reported, that time came at this year's Educause conference. The new product, ALEKS Placement, utilizes open response questions and is touted by McGraw-Hill as the only program that improves placement accuracy, student preparation and learning outcomes. The publisher's e-textbooks, Smartbooks, also feature adaptive learning technology powered by its LearnSmart technology.


Don't count them out because they're all the way in Australia—Smart Sparrow's adaptive e-learning platform is being used as far from home as Arizona State University. The company spun out of the University of New South Wales' Adaptive eLearning Research Group and offers interactive, adaptive quizzes and simulations. One study in a mechanics course at UNSW showed it to reduce failure rates from 31% to 7%, so we can't see it not spreading further at this point.


Based in Dublin, CCKF's reach extends well across the pond to the U.S., where its adaptive technology was deployed earlier this year by for-profit Career Education Corporation in 300 sections of courses ranging from English to math to business management. The move was one of the largest adaptive learning deployments in higher education and saw the technology branded as "intellipath." In a July press release, Career Education touted a higher number of passing grades, fewer withdrawals and higher retention and engagement.


Knewton, which promotes itself as the world's leading adaptive learning company, entered a partnership in August with education publishing giant Pearson. As a result, Pearson's MyLab and Mastering adaptive learning tools now have biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, finance and accounting material in addition to the math, economics, reading and writing tools that debuted last year. The Mastering tool in particular is continuously adaptive, recommending further material based on student progress, instructor guidelines and information gathered from all Knewton students. Cambridge University Press is also a Knewton partner.


ScootPad's application is focused on Common Core Standards for subjects like math, reading and spelling for grades K-5, providing real-time insight to educators. Features vary across its pricing scales, with the $19.99 "Ultra Premium" subscription including assessments, e-books and behavior tracking and reporting. The basic plan, however, is free. ScootPad is available in Apple's App Store, the Google Play Store for Android and the Windows Store, and Kindle and Nook versions are on the way. It's also available through the free, cloud-based learning management system and social network Schoology.


Like Pearson, ed publishing giant Macmillan also formed a partnership with Knewton in May. The enhanced materials resulting from the collaboration are expected to become available in 2015, and they are said to include real-time student recommendations and personalized grammar, vocabulary, exam and supplemental content designed for language learning. The publisher's technology innovation unit, Macmillan New Ventures, also has adaptive learning company PrepU in its portfolio. PrepU's adaptive lessons focus on college biology, nursing and medical, and advanced placement chemistry, U.S. history and psychology.


In September, Desire2Learn acquired Knowillage Systems, makers of the LeaP adaptive learning and analytics engine. LeaP adjusts students' learning paths through natural language processing techniques and analytics that help it figure out where students are struggling with material, and its analytics further assist teachers in providing the right help to address trouble areas.


Publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., announced a partnership in May with adaptive and personalized learning solutions provider Snapwiz. The partnership resulted in a new product, WileyPLUS with ORION, which combined a research-based learning environment with learning, practice and assessment features that can adapt the learning experience to a user's strengths. The product launched in summer and is free to use by students already using WileyPLUS titles in subject areas including Introduction to Business, Introduction to Psychology, Financial Accounting, and Anatomy and Physiology.


An online elementary math program, DreamBox Learning utilizes both adaptive technologies and gamification to helpt students raise their math proficiency. The program has shown positive results against standards including the Common Core, the Mathematics Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the Virginia Mathematic Standards of Living. It is also available as an iPad app.


Grockit is a social learning company that started out as a test-prep platform for students preparing for tests like the GMAT, SAT, ACT and GRE. The personalized prep programs determine how students progress through questions based on how they are answering questions. It also supports group study, video, live instructor access and some game elements. Math and English test-prep programs for grades 7-12 are also available.


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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Technology Online Learning