Adaptive learning finally comes of age…

Adaptive learning

On 1st March 2000 Personnel Today published details of the ground-breaking TEST adaptive learning project. They quoted a much younger me, (with bigger glasses and much more hair) saying that adaptive learning “is a resource for the future”.

After 20 long years that ambition is finally coming to pass. The spiral of time and technology has finally come full circle and adaptive learning is in the news again!

Personnel Today was reporting the outcome of a £1.25m EU-funded project involving three organisations from the UK and three from Italy that first kicked off in January 1998. The outcome was a highly adaptable multi-media program, designed to provide electricians with training on the European CENELEC wiring regulations.

Sadly the AI technology of 2000 was really not up to the task and TEST never fulfilled its early promise. Dr Keith Brown and his team at the department of computing and electrical engineering at Heriot Watt University struggled to make the AI engine behave as it should, guiding learners through the paths we had designed into our multimedia programme on the basis of the learners alleged VAK ‘learning styles’ preferences.

The TEST project also highlighted the large cost and effort involved in authoring multiple alternate branching paths along which learners could be shunted by the AI. Given the high cost and the intangible benefits arising from catering to someone’s learning styles, I initially hard to see how the technology would develop from there.

However the concept of adaptive learning really excited me in 2000 and it still does today. I have been tracking developments very closely ever since.

It is perfectly reasonable for learners to expect online learning that reflects their competence level and their true learning needs. Since they are learning alone and compromises are unnecessary for other participants – why is this an unreasonable expectation for them to have?

Equally – why should learners be forced to interact with content that tries to teach what they already know, repeatedly endlessly for years-on-end as part of mandatory compliance e-Learning?

Twenty years later…

However almost two decades later, as this recent Forbes article describes, adaptive learning technology is at long last coming of age. True adaptive learning platforms are now capable of personalising content and accelerating progress to match the learners level of competence.

As Ulrik Juul Christensen points out, computer-based adaptive learning can now be used to teach large groups of workers across an organisation using a personalised approach that captures each persons existing knowledge and skills as well as gaps.

Adaptive learning can also build new competencies and reinforce learning to reinforce retention, making it an efficient and cost-effective solution for employers struggling with how to reskill and upskill employees for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The adaptive learning technology my colleagues and I were struggling with in 2000 has gradually grown up, made it through its awkward teenage years and is finally ready for the world of work!

The technology is finally mature and commercially available to major employers in the UK and Europe. There are some technical complexities, but these solutions can usually be implemented in a matter of months.

Bespoke adaptive courses that offer learners and their employers very significant long-term benefits cost just 15-20 per cent more than conventional monolithic e-Learning courses.

If you are currently considering making investments in digital courseware or in new digital learning platforms then it makes absolute sense to consider going adaptive now.

Retro-fitting adaption to static courses is unlikely to be economic, so it is important to make the right choices for the future.

I am happy to offer clients advice on adaptive learning via Learning Accelerators. Just as I did when working at VEGA Skillchange, twenty long years ago….

A report in Management Skills & Development Magazine from March 2000
Please don’t dial the number shown above – VEGA Skillchange is long-gone!