Exploring the Iceberg

Why selective adaptive learning meets the needs of students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jefferson Flanders

CREDIT MindEdge iceberg imageMy company has employed the metaphor of an iceberg as a way to frame its approach to online adaptive learning for colleges and universities.

The top of the iceberg—the “above-the-waterline” content—includes the core content of a typical introductory college course. Many students will master this content without needing additional instruction. Adaptive learning content is placed “below-the-waterline” and is triggered by diagnostic assessments embedded within the course.

We believe that students will benefit not only from the flexibility and ease-of-use of adaptive learning but also from its selectivity.

The focus is on those common “pain points” where students often encounter learning difficulties. A sophisticated software engine guides students through additional layers of content instruction, which includes games, interactive video, and additional testing.

When we designed the adaptive learning program, we envisioned that this iceberg approach would selectively deliver additional learning content only to those students who needed it. This belief has been validated by the initial responses of students in our Composition One course, an introductory college writing course. Some 60 percent of nearly 7,500 composition students have made use of the adaptive learning feature. Of those students who needed extra help, some 37 percent accessed adaptive learning for one pain point topic, and 50 percent turned to it for two to five pain point topics.

As the following chart demonstrates, many students needed help only on a few pain point topics, but very few accessed all of the 22 that are available (either because they passed the trigger diagnostic assessments or elected not to make use of the additional extra help). Each of the 22 topics points had some students access them, and some triggered more usage than others.

CREDIT MindEdge graphThe pain point topics for Composition One had been established through the insights of experienced instructors and supplemented by review of academic research and by an ongoing analysis of student performance in exercises and assessments. For Composition One, students can access help for 22 topics, including such common grammatical hang-ups as misplaced modifiers, comma splices, and active and passive voice.

This adaptive learning has been offered to students at three schools: a large, private university, a middle-sized public university, and a large community college. Student and instructor feedback has been positive, with students noting the advantages of on-demand additional help (“I found it very helpful to review punctuation marks because I have forgotten a few rules”) and the iterative support that adaptive learning provides (“I enjoyed the way the courses are created, and how each topic is discussed and then reviewed”).

We will continue to analyze the results of adaptive learning and how it impacts the learning performance of students. We believe that students will benefit not only from the flexibility and ease-of-use of adaptive learning but also from its selectivity—students are presented only with the material they need to master and are not burdened with extraneous content (thereby avoiding cognitive overload).

Jefferson Flanders is President and CEO for MindEdge, Inc., an educational content provider of online training and courseware to colleges, universities, associations and corporations. Jefferson is an author and educator with a long-standing interest in how people learn and innovate, and has more than twenty years of experience in media and publishing. Write to: jflanders@mindedge.com


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