Can adaptive technology accelerate student learning?

Adaptive LearningThe proliferation of technology is bringing some fundamental changes to education. Whether students want to learn a new language or hone their mathematics skills, adaptive learning programs are becoming an increasingly popular method of helping students achieve their academic goals.

A variety of reasons have been cited for the embrace of adaptive learning software by teachers and school and district administrators: It can save money and time, and caters to the interests of a generation of digital natives who have come to expect that technology will be a part of their everyday lives, even when they are at school.

Digital Advocates:
The U.S. Department of Education has been a large advocate of using digital learning tools in classrooms because digital learning can expand course offerings, build 21st century skills, increase student engagement and accelerate learning. Seattle native and DreamBox neighbor The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been a huge supporter of innovations in education, has also espoused the benefits of adaptive learning.

“At its best, adaptive learning blends elements of individualized instruction, peer tutoring, interactive simulations, learning apps that adjust to a user’s skill level, and improved academic instruction,” the foundation wrote in a blog post.

Because adaptive learning technology is relatively new and constantly being refined, there is not a large body of research that can provide data regarding if and how it can truly accelerate student learning over the long run. However, there are a number of school systems that have widely embraced adaptive learning, and they provide interesting cases studies that may be able to provide concrete answers to the question ‘can adaptive learning technology accelerate student learning?’.

RocketshipInside Rocketship Education:
Rocketship Education is a national, non-profit charter school that aims to eliminate the achievement gap among low-income students. The first school opened in 2007, and Rocketship now operates seven schools in the San Francisco Bay area, and plans to open locations in Milwaukee in 2013 and Nashville in 2014.

Rocketship uses a hybrid model of instruction (also known as blended learning) that combines classroom and online learning. Rocketship relies upon adaptive learning software to teach students important foundational math skills, which frees up time for educators to focus their efforts on fostering critical thinking skills in their students.

“We don’t think that technology can teach higher order or critical thinking skills, but what it can do really well is basic skills acquisition and practice,” John Danner, co-founder and CEO of Rocketship Education, said. “DreamBox fills in foundational gaps for our students so teachers can work on the high order thinking and social emotional skills.”

Instead of just integrating technology into curricula, Rocketship has completely transformed the educational structure of its schools. The results have been positive. Rocketship is now the leading public school system for low-income students in California. In addition, 82 percent of its students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math in 2012, which is on-par with the most affluent school districts in the state.

Rocketship also reported that 90 percent of its students who were in the bottom two categories in California (“far below basic” and “below basic”) had progressed to “basic” or above within their first year of attending the charter school and regularly using DreamBox software. So, can adaptive learning software really accelerate student learning? So far, the answer seems to be “yes.”

Related White Paper

21st Century LearningIntelligent adaptive learning is defined as digital learning that immerses students in modular learning environments where every decision a student makes is captured, considered in the context of sound learning theory, and then used to guide the student’s learning experiences, to adjust the student’s path and pace within and between lessons, and to provide formative and summative data to the student’s teacher.