In a recent case study, Dr. Erik Moody, an assistant professor of psychology at Marist College, explains how he incorporates adaptive learning into his classes to improve student outcomes. In the last three years, Moody has tested and adjusted different uses of the Acrobatiq platform in his Introduction to Psychology course to help his students learn and better retain information.
More importantly, he’s designed his course so that the members of his class — many of whom are freshmen — develop good study habits and begin to think critically about their own learning.
Based on three years of work to optimize his use of adaptive learning, Moody considers the following four tactics integral to his students’ continued growth and success:
1. Encourage students to think about how they learn
Expose students to the learning science behind your teaching strategies. Moody introduces his methods in the first class — discussing, for example, how adaptive learning customizes each student’s learning experience based on his or her performance — which gets students thinking about their own learning and study habits.
He’s found that students are more likely to embrace new study skills if they understand the underlying context. This approach works particularly well for Moody, who teaches psychology and memory, but all classes can benefit from transparency and metacognition. Giving students this information up front helps them to be active participants in their own learning.
“It’s important for students to buy into the approach,” says Moody. “The fact is, this is going to require them to change the way they prepare for a course and study.”
2. Help students understand new technology
Student buy-in also extends to the technology used in class. Prepare students for technology-enabled learning by explaining how the chosen platform works and how it will help them become better learners.
Moody spends a portion of his first class making sure his students understand Acrobatiq and adaptive learning. Getting them to buy into a new learning approach increases its chance of success, but it’s also practical. If students understand a new platform going into a course, they’ll be less frustrated when they attempt to use the platform at home.
3. Combine data with peer pressure to motivate students
Create transparency about how the class as a whole and individual students are doing. Showing students how their performance compares to their peers motivates, spurs engagement, and helps them better understand the relative outcome of their efforts.
Moody has experimented with this in his class, allowing students to compare themselves to their peers’ performance on assessments. After each quiz, he plots every student’s grade on a frequency distribution chart and shares it with the class. The charts are anonymous, but students know how they performed on the quiz and can see where on the chart their grade falls.
“They are naturally comparing themselves to the people in that classroom, not to a big group of people they don’t feel connected to,” says Moody. “And if they’re in the bottom half of this distribution, whatever they’re doing isn’t working.”
4. Use data to keep tabs on student progress — and intervene, if necessary
Use data from online activities and quizzes to monitor in real time who might be at risk and intervene early.
Moody, who continues to be interested in developing an early alert system to identify struggling students, does this on a small scale in his own classes. He pulls students aside when he sees they aren’t doing well in his course and points them to resources that will help them change their own habits and improve their outcomes.
Moody offers an intervention as soon as he notices a lack of progress; changing a student’s trajectory early in a course is important if a student is to recover from a poor start.
“We know an engaging intervention works,” says Moody. “Most institutions have the resources on campus to help students through tutoring centers, math centers, and science centers. The problem is they can’t connect students with the resources they already have.”
For a more complete exploration of Moody’s findings about learning, retention, and adaptive technology, download our case study, Optimizing Learning: How a Psychology Professor Uses Adaptive Learning to Help Students Improve Retention.
A.J. O’Connell is a freelance journalist specializing in education reporting and a former college journalism teacher.