Increasing Student Achievement with Adaptive Learning Technology


The concept of adaptive learning has been with us for a long time. The idea that interactive technology could function as an electronic tutor, helping students acquire knowledge and deepen understanding—at their own pace —has been the basis of a number of adaptive approaches to instruction.

In a typical classroom, teachers might use a diagnostic assessment to determine a course of instruction for the class. Students would be evaluated at regular intervals, and the teacher would provide any remediation or intervention as needed. Based on the results of subsequent assessments, the teacher would adapt and individualize instruction to achieve particular learning outcomes. Even though parts of this process could be automated, most often it is a manual process that relies on the teacher’s ability to meet the needs of all her students after separate efforts to assess, analyze, and instruct.

Now, emerging educational technology is proving that personalized student assessment and instruction can be successfully delivered on an ongoing basis, aligned with learning standards and desired outcomes. This is particularly important in K-12 education, where ensuring high achievement for all students requires that schools deliver more personalized and differentiated learning to each unique student. A byproduct of this process is that students assume responsibility for their own progress toward individualized learning goals. Interactive technology can support individualized progress while also increasing student engagement and motivating students to grow and persist. At the same time, adaptive learning algorithms can be churning student response data and automatically informing and adjusting a course of instruction to advance each student along an individualized learning pathway.

As Tech & Learning editors investigated this emerging technology, they felt it was an opportune moment to conduct the first K-12 survey on the use of adaptive learning technology. Tech & Learning subscribers were emailed an invitation to participate in the survey earlier this fall. More than 3,000 educators responded, providing a well-rounded sample of the Tech & Learning audience. This paper reports on the results of the survey, documenting what was revealed about how educators are using adaptive learning software and systems, the most important benefits, the challenges to implementation, and the future promise for student achievement.