Adaptive learning is a fascinating concept. In theory, the environment in which we function learns from our activity (strengths/weaknesses, test results, interactions). After the environment “knows us” as learners, it adapts to respond to our actions. Instead of one-way, same content for all, the system provides personalized content reflective of our true learning needs. It’s a great concept…and one that I imagine we will see soon. Currently, it’s prohibitive. Few organizations (and likely not public education) can afford an implementation of this level. The task of creating an intelligent agent capable of reacting to learner competence and providing personalized content/instruction/interaction, is simply too expensive for anyone but select research institutions and corporations.
It appears that we will have to wait before technology provides the adaptable learning experience we crave as educators. Adaptability is something that we as educators can readily provide to our learners through simple, social tools currently available. It’s unfortunate that our current approach to curriculum design (in both K-12 and higher education sectors) is structured to eliminate personalization. Obviously a teacher in the classroom has the ability to take existing content (i.e. text book or curriculum) and present it in light of current events or recent developments. But this isn’t the same as personalizing to each learner. It’s simply updating the curriculum. Personalization requires adapting curriculum to each individual learner…adaptability is a dance between learner, educator, and content. Adaptation/personalization is time-intensive – a teacher in K-12 with 25-30 learners will be unable to provide the level of attention required by each learner. Curriculum and time are antagonists to my own idealism of education and learning.
If technology is not able to provide affordable adaptability, and educators are constrained by design and time, what is the option? I see a very simple solution – social technologies like blogs, wikis, and RSS. Hold the skepticism for a bit. I’m an idealist…but not utopian. I don’t think blogs will fix all that ails education today. Blogs, like wikis, have many limitations (but that’s another post). They do, however, enable a personal experience for learners. They do allow educators to adapt to a greater degree than most classroom environments. Consider a class with 30 learners – all bloggging. An RSS feed aggregates their combined voices. As the teacher, I am able to see how they are/aren’t “getting the content”. Their knowledge needs will most certainly not be fully met by the work of the instructional designer. As I hear the aggregate voices of learners, I will recognize large-scale knowledge gaps…and be able to fill them by providing supplementary resources. Instead of a canned course on Macbeth, I’m able to provide a course that adapts to learners needs based on how I see them interacting and learning.
Additional value is provided in the ability for learners to teach each other. Reading the opinions of 30 classmates is a far richer learning ecology than hearing the opinion of one teacher. The learner is the teacher is the learner.
This is obviously a very simple way to add some adaptability into a course, but at least it’s a start. We need to start having this important discussion. We have many resources available that can create a richer learning experience. We don’t need to rely on learning management systems as our primary learning tool. We can start the learning experience by focusing on connections first and content second. Our most limiting challenge is our existing views of learning. I think I’m going to make a New Year’s resolution to spend 2006 being discontent with existing approaches to learning…and to stop accepting notions of learning that have little to do with the instructors and even less to do with learners. We can do better. We have the tools for change. Do we have the vision?
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you are creating a more personalized learning environment…and how you’re creating adaptive learning.