Back in May, we brought some of the Higher Education leaders in the Educational Technology sector together to discuss CogBooks’ product roadmap and technology strategy. We took this opportunity to talk with three key leaders – Adrian Sannier, Arizona State University, Nick White, Capella University and Kevin Bell, Northeastern University – about their personal experiences of adaptive learning. Each of them gave us valuable insight into the challenges they have overcome and shared key themes that excite them about the future of technology in Higher Education.
Why use adaptive?
Our interviewees share a mutual motivation for using adaptive, which is an advancement of an inclusive educational philosophy within their institutions. They talked of a desire to adapt courses that block students from succeeding in traditionally designed courses. For our interviewees, adaptive learning provides opportunities to engage with students struggling with traditional Higher Education. This is vital for institutions and courses working with under-represented communities – such as female students in the STEM field, first generation minorities and those from a lower socio-economic demographic. All agreed that adaptive provides a platform to elevate students in a way previously impossible.
According to Adrian Sannier, adaptive is part of the process for enabling the shift from an ‘institutional perspective to a student perspective’.
Partnering with CogBooks
When discussing the partnership with CogBooks a range of themes emerged. Our interviewees were reassured by the size of CogBooks, giving confidence in the level of support provided and a chance to build on relationships and trust, so they don’t feel like ‘just one client in a sea of many’.
Another key factor for partnering with CogBooks was the range of experience from a variety of subject backgrounds. Nick White noted that with much of the market dominated by Math platforms, CogBooks range of subjects gave greater scope to develop stronger platforms across a number of areas. This resulted in a more inclusive and individual learning experience.
This chimed with Adrian Sannier who talked of the collaboration of creating content and focusing on the user experience between ASU and CogBooks as a way to avoid ASU ‘simply take the platform ready-made, which is the reality for most educational software today’.
Adaptive Learning & EdTech – The Challenges
Despite the perception that the EdTech market is relatively immature, our Higher Education leaders are confident that opportunities lie ahead. In fact, as Adrian Sannier noted, the opportunity to develop courses alongside companies like CogBooks can work to an advantage for universities whose priorities are pro-active and student focused.
The real challenge begins when those involved in adaptive learning projects within the institutions are not EdTech experts. Interviewees talked of faculty members feeling pressured through lack of understanding or a reluctance to ‘relinquish control’ of their teaching methods.
One interviewee discussed pre-empting challenges with a wide range of training and preparation from the outset, but advised caution even then for things to go awry.
Another challenge was unclear roles of responsibility. It was felt that without clarity in responsibilities the project could suffer from disparate levels of involvement or support at various stages of the build.
Kevin Bell’s response to overcome this challenge is to spend time defining the channels at the beginning. He says that this creates a clear structure and empowers staff involved. Faculty members with a defined role in the project feel a sense of pride and it strengthens individual talent, which creates a team of confident, assured individuals who are willing to collaborate.
Student data as a tool to drive student success and satisfaction
Our interviewees embraced the potential that adaptive data has to drive students’ success.
The benefits to using the data is that it provides a fresh understanding of the topics students find difficult, enabling faculty to intervene where necessary. This means that the analytics empower institutions to become better at supporting students. Arizona State University has used the data as a way to analyze if a student’s major is working to their benefit – with support and counselling available if it’s not.
Through a desire to encourage learners to persist, Northeastern University recognizes the potential for multiple departments using the data. For example – platform designers and content developers working alongside advising and tutorial support to build in indictors to highlight students at risk.
Capella University uses the data to create communication tools like CRM – partnering with the advisors and faculty and examining data points like ‘satisfaction’, ‘re-registration’ and utilizing learner surveys. This enables instructional designers to revise the courses to adapt to the learners’ needs.
The future of Higher Education
Our experts expressed positivity around the future of Higher Education.
Adrian Sannier focused on scale, saying that adaptive technology can ‘level up millions of students which will have a profound effect on the scale on which the technologies are deployed, and a profound effect on how effective they can be’. For Adrian, the future of Higher Education is a place where EdTech legitimizes the creation of courses on a vast and global scale. He used the Prego vs. Ragu pasta sauce analogy to illustrate how adaptive is a way to offer a range of courses. ‘Make eleven different sauces, each of which is someone’s favorite. Don’t just make one sauce that hopes to become the leading brand’.
Kevin is looking for a complete reinvention of the Higher Education system. He wants to see ‘big picture learning, a focus on skills and competencies and the potential for people to move at different paces around a personalized environment, a change in production of content and social interaction’. He calls it ‘open pedagogy’, where the institution doesn’t prescribe the way of learning – the student chooses it.
What’s clear from the discussions is that institutions are shifting priorities to create unique learning experience for students. A clever integration of EdTech into teaching and student services can have a tremendous impact on student success and retention and there are enough examples out there to prove that. By investing time and energy into adding adaptive learning into the process, they are proactively investing in future possibilities whilst reaping the rewards now.