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How do adaptive learning programs differ from textbooks?

Adaptive LearningDo you remember the weight of textbooks in your backpack as you walked to school (or ran for the bus) each day? For decades, teachers in America have relied upon these heavy educational materials as a means of aiding instruction. With the technology boom of the 1990s, suddenly computers were thrown into the mix, as students were taught how to type and conduct research using the Internet.

Still, textbooks remain a staple of K-12 classrooms, and must be replaced every few years as history progresses, new planets are discovered (or demoted – sorry Pluto), and there are new innovations in math and science. Many textbook publishers have started to make the switch from paper to electronics, developing e-books that can be accessed online or via portable tablets. Still, for many education advocates, this isn’t doing enough to personalize learning for students.

Today, technology is helping education take another giant leap forward with the advent of adaptive learning programs. Unlike the paper textbooks of the past – or even the e-books of the present – this software is able to, well, adapt, to the learning style and abilities of each individual student. Needless to say, adaptive learning differs from traditional textbooks instruction in some pretty significant ways:

Constant assessment
Traditional textbook designs present information, then end each chapter with questions that students can answer to test what they have learned, and how much of it they retained. If teachers want to assess student progress, they have to develop tests and quizzes of their own. Adaptive learning programs differ in that they are constantly assessing students as they learn new material, and change the approach to instruction accordingly. These systems analyze student data in real-time as they solve problems and make decisions, assessing the situation to determine the optimal route of instruction.

Data delivery
The real-time assessments occurring when students use adaptive learning technology also means that teachers have access to relevant data right away. This differs from the use of textbooks in that educators can know whether or not students are truly “getting it” before they even take the final test or standardized exam. With adaptive learning programs, teachers can learn about student progress and give extra help to those who are struggling, rather than waiting until the end of the unit only to find out that they weren’t understanding the material after all.

Interactive support
Textbooks tend to be pretty static. Students read them at home, complete the assigned questions (and occasionally copy answers available in the back of the book), and turn in their work. If they have questions, they have to wait until they have a chance to ask the teacher. Information is not updated or adjusted unless school districts purchase new textbooks. In contrast, adaptive learning software is dynamic – it provides interactive support for students as they solve problems. This means that the computer program emulates a tutor, prompting students to rethink strategies and come to answers on their own, rather than just telling them how an expert would approach the problem. In this way, students receive personalized support throughout the learning process.

Was this article helpful to you? Check out our related white paper, How Adaptive Learning Technology Helps ALL Students Excel in Math.

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