Personalized Learning vs. Adaptive Learning

Imagine you wanted to take a road trip from San Diego to San Francisco, about 500 miles. Before setting off, you want to know how long it will take and the best way to go. You open your Waze app and the GPS locates you, highlighting several routes. You choose one and get going. Along the way, your Waze app reroutes you several times to avoid traffic or accidents and even helps you locate gas or food. Your trip ends up following a few dozen different, unexpected directions, rather than just a straight line, like on a paper map. AL personalized learning is like your journey to San Francisco, while the Waze app is like adaptive learning, in that it makes adjustments to your route based on where you’re at, to get you to your destination in the most efficient way possible.

What is Adaptive Learning?

Adaptive learning is a technology-based educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching and training devices which provide individual learning programs to learners based on data which is gathered throughout the training/learning process. Adaptive learning takes learning to the next level by providing training and content that’s optimized for each individual learner based upon their results.

What about what I want? That’s customized learning.

Customized learning is about what you want, while adaptive learning is about what you need. You can have both in a personalized learning experience.

Customized learning allows you the freedom to custom-tailor your learning experience so it becomes more meaningful to you, because it’s what you want, like choosing the route to take to San Francisco. It’s one component of personalized learning. Personalized learning is a continuous learning journey that can constantly optimize, by means of adaptive learning technology, for you and your specific learning goals. Adaptive learning technology focuses on your individual learning destination and makes intelligent adjustments for you based on where you’re at and what you need, whether you know it or not, determining those needs via data analytics and responsive and adaptive design. By pairing adaptive capabilities with real-life metrics, it’s possible to create a personal learning experience for everyone.

Customization v Personalization

You come across customization every day, by setting preferences in an app or downloading music and creating a playlist. You also stumble upon personalization constantly, by launching an app and skimming through suggestions the app gives for content, or when you organically search for something and ads pop up in the results for random stuff you left in an e-commerce shopping cart three days ago. The difference: customization is done by you, while personalization is done for you.

Three Reasons Why Adaptive Learning Works

  1.     Adaptive learning co-creates experiences with you by suggesting learning paths that will resonate with you the most, making the whole experience personal and meaningful.
  2.     Adaptive learning is more efficient. It only teaches you what you don’t know and doesn’t waste time by teaching you what you do know.
  3.     Adaptive learning is effective. It starts with what you struggle with and repeats the material throughout the learning until you’ve mastered the concept.

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How Adaptive Learning Works: One-on-one Learning

An American psychologist, called Benjamin Bloom, set out to determine the most efficient and effective way for people to learn things. Bloom named three ways students receive instruction: Conventional teaching, or classic lecture style, where students listen and are tested on the material; Mastery learning, when the students are tested on the lecture, given feedback on the tests and then tested until they’ve mastered the subject; and Tutoring, where students are tested first, receive specific feedback and instruction and then tested again until they master the subject. The results: students in the tutoring group scored two grades higher than conventional students and outperformed them by 98%. Students in the mastery group scored one grade higher than the conventional students and outperformed them by 84%.

The results signified that students who receive personal, one-on-one instruction master the subject matter considerably more than students in a conventional, one-size-fits-all learning environment. That’s nice, but who can afford a tutor for every single employee? Intelligent technology, Bloom felt, could solve that problem by working just like a tutor. Adaptive learning technology works similarly to a tutor, in that it personalizes your learning experience.

Exposing What You Think You Know, or Unconscious Incompetence  

The idea that you need to prove your mettle through a test, as part of the learning process, might feel like an insult to your individuality and belief in personal freedom. Let’s reframe it: being told where you’re proficient and where you’re lacking isn’t a punishment: It’s a reward. Instead of clicking through irrelevant material, eyes glazed over and daydreaming about your sandwich in the lunchroom fridge, you’re instead directed straight to your areas of weakness.

A serious issue many organizations run into is unconscious incompetence. Unconscious incompetence means that you think you know something, but you really don’t. When a learner enters a training slightly resentful, because he thinks he already knows the material, he won’t receive or learn anything in this state. Adaptive learning addresses unconscious incompetence at any point in a training.

ELMs Challenge: Google asked us to produce a programmatic advertising course. They told our team that their employees thought they knew everything. Our goal was to catch them at not knowing in a nice way, so as to open their minds up to learning. Using adaptive learning technology, ELM created a very difficult, but fun pre-test before each module. When they learned that they didn’t know, they were motivated to learn. Adaptive learning got us straight to the point by seeing their skills in action through course scoring and personalized learning simulations. It sought out weak spots and applied extra effort in areas in which they might be faltering, acknowledging their individuality and applauding their successes in order to motivate them.

Practice, Practice, Repeat: Sticky Learning

And now it’s time to cite the oft-misunderstood and misquoted 10,000-hour rule: After 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at a cognitive task, anyone can develop world-class skills. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, one axiom has proved true throughout the ages: practice makes perfect. If you practice something over and over, eventually it sticks. That is why adaptive learning technology works as well as it does. Once it determines a gap in your learning, it repeats that point over and over throughout the training until it’s satisfied that you know it.

Back to Personalized Learning and More Stickiness

A more pessimistic researcher found that when you learn something, the more time that goes by that you don’t use that knowledge, the more likely you are to forget it. In a corporate classroom, we know that 70% of people forget what they learn within 72 hours.

The solution to this is all the other tools employed in a personalized learning experience, which doesn’t just happen digitally. Personalized learning is built upon a blended learning model, which means that it encompasses a variety of techniques to make a learning meaningful and sticky.

At ELM, we might suggest an eLearning on the outset, followed by a webinar with a Q&A. Then another eLearning, followed by an experienced live class. Personalized learning does not exclude other delivery modes, it is a blended learning experience that includes AL technology, customized learning, adaptive learning, gamification, microlearning and many other modalities.

Adaptive Learning Technology

Thanks to modern adaptive technology, learners are becoming more and more self-aware.  From the type of music Pandora plays to the products being shown on Amazon’s homepage, information and media have become highly personalized. Better than any personality test, adaptive technology doesn’t just highlight what a learner already knows: it highlights what he needs to know to advance. By equipping your LMS with adaptive capabilities, it’s not a learner’s words that determine the training path, but his or her actions.