Can Adaptive Learning Help Non-traditional Students and Extend Access?
It’s no secret that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed and continues to do so — up 39 percent for public institutions between 2003 and 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many students work at least part-time jobs and still have active loans. Some of those students have families to support, which makes it difficult to schedule time for class and homework. And then there are those who’ve given it their all but still struggle academically. Unsurprisingly, many of these students don’t make it through college at all.
Adaptive learning — interactive technology that adjusts the educational experience to accommodate individuals — can’t fix all of these problems, but it can do much to help. Thanks to the flexibility of online learning, the cost-savings of using software instead of textbooks, and the ability of the technology to meet students where they are, access to higher education can potentially be extended to more student populations.
Because adaptive learning tools are cloud-based, students have more flexibility with their schedules, which allows them to maintain other commitments like work or raising families.
These tools help bring down costs, too. While textbooks have to be purchased, sold, and repurchased every semester, adaptive learning costs are subscription-based and built in to the cost of tuition.
And for those students who struggle academically, adaptive learning technology helps guide them through coursework at a pace that’s comfortable yet still challenging, and in terms the students can understand.
National Louis University’s new work with non-traditional students
Leading the way in extending adaptive learning to more students is National Louis University. Their program, dubbed HP3, was designed specifically to give Chicago-area students access to education with the hope of increasing the number of completed bachelor’s degrees.
“We wanted quality options for students who have traditionally struggled in academic settings,” says Aarti Dhupelia, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at NLU, in a recently-published case study.
The program uses a flipped classroom approach and includes some face-to-face class time twice a week. The rest of the coursework is done through Acrobatiq’s adaptive learning software.
HP3 is a two-year program that puts students on track for a four-year degree. Students who successfully complete the two-year HP3 program are able to move directly into the second half of their college careers, confident they have the education needed to see their degree through to the end.
HP3 costs less than half of what it would cost for traditional tuition at the same school. Without stacks of textbooks to buy, and without the overhead of classroom teaching, HP3 contains costs significantly so that affordability doesn’t shut out the people for whom the program was designed.
Student reception and success
Not only has adaptive learning software made education more accessible, it has done so with positive results. According to Dhupelia, most students are either on track or steadily improving, and that’s after only a single semester.
Dhupelia also expects the students to return next semester, which suggests a lower attrition rate. This, she hopes, will result in more diplomas four years from now.
The most surprising part? Students seem to like the online software better than using textbooks. Those who previously struggled now show a greater interest in their studies, which is a major indicator of student outcomes.
The advantage of adaptation
Affordability and flexible schedules are certainly important factors for many students considering higher education today. But when it comes to adaptive learning technology, the greatest advantage is the ability to meet students where they are.
When an entire class is given the same assignment from the same textbook, it’s hard to tell where struggling students are falling off. Teachers can sit with students individually to dig deeper, but the demands on educators today make that sort of facetime difficult to schedule.
With adaptive learning, the courseware itself helps to determine where a student is having trouble. It can slow down or speed up a lesson, allowing students to work at their own pace without sacrificing comprehension.
Adaptive learning is a major step in providing educational opportunities to marginalized students from all different backgrounds. Through cost-efficiency, course flexibility, and adaptability, this technology opens wide the gates of higher education for all people to march through. Not only does it offer a pathway to a bachelor’s degree, but the students also seem to be more engaged and more successful.
If adaptive learning technology continues on this trajectory, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who have external barriers to higher education can be given a chance to follow their passions and explore their dreams. That alone is reason enough for us — all of us — to give this technology our undivided attention.
J.G.C Wise is a freelance writer specializing in higher education and healthcare practices.