Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Education needs to adapt – this time it’s personal

I'm back

Well it's been a while since I posted to this blog. I'm planning to get back into the habit of capturing what I think are important stories, technologies and trends that will impact how we learn and how we improve the design of learning experiences, both online, offline and in between. And by "in between" I refer to what is going to be a powerful merging of virtual and real environments. As always, this will be felt first in how we entertain ourselves - in the world of film and games primarily - but it has huge implications for education and training too. But more on that another time.

A focus on efficacy

The major change for me this year has been to dive into the exciting world of adaptive learning, working with CogBooks, a pioneer in the field. The potential for using algorithmic machine learning to deliver a personalised learning experience for each individual is finally being realised. I've long been interested in how technology can impact efficacy and it has often fallen short. But with adaptive technology we can finally deliver what I clumsily call (for now) a Continuously Improving Learning System. Students can receive immediate, pertinent guidance tailored to their needs, together with targeted feedback from teachers and tutors based on the students' learning behaviour. Equally, educators can review course content based on learners actual patterns of use and uncover areas for improvement and extension that will better support overall outcomes for students going forward.

I've written a separate blog piece for Nesta on the topic which is reproduced below and on the CogBooks blog too, for good measure.

Most importantly, please do let me know what you think will be the impact of adaptive learning. There are many views on how best to harness this technology to best effect. So please do share them.


Education needs to adapt – this time it’s personal

As technology continues to influence the pace of change across nearly all sectors and avenues of life it brings with it the challenge of how to stay productive. How can you ensure your learning and training keeps up with this level of change? Fortunately, we now know much more about the learning process and how best to support people to acquire knowledge and skills.

In recent years it’s become clear that optimising learning to meet individual personal needs, and freeing educators from the constraints they face, is vital.

At CogBooks, we work with education partners in both the US and UK to deliver adaptive learning that allows students to work at their own pace and to the depth they need. By gathering valuable feedback and insights on how learners engage with activities and content, we can ensure they receive timely and targeted support. This keeps them confident and motivated, which in turn reduces dropout rates and maximises achievement. Analytics on how a student has behaved or reacted can also help pinpoint ways teachers can improve their courses for future students.

The move to an evidence-based model, designed to deliver a personalised learning experience at scale, will transform how we educate and train. Yet, unlocking this transformation will require a deeper embrace of technology to fundamentally re-shape our education practices.

This is not wishful thinking. We are already seeing this rapid and disruptive innovation cycle in other sectors (for example retailing, health, entertainment, technology to name a few) and it is now coming to education.

And this goes beyond the current generation of MOOC online course, most of which have garnered a lot of attention in reaching large audiences, but are just at the very beginning of identifying how to successfully sustain engagement and deliver a genuinely personalised learning experience. We need an inclusive approach that uses technology to catalyse the efforts of both faculty and learners together to bring about a real step change in outcomes.

We are already seeing movement towards this deeper goal. In the US, CogBooks is working in collaboration with Arizona State University and NBC Learn, funded by the Gates Foundation, as part of a $20 million initiative to develop Next Generation Courseware. Based on mastery learning principles and learning science the aim is to improve the postsecondary success of more than 1 million low-income students by 2018.
In the UK, the publication earlier this year of the Further Education Technology Action Group (FELTAG)report called for the inclusion of a 10% online component in every publicly-funded learning programme from 2015/16, with incentives to increase this to 50% by 2017/2018. This is an opportunity to apply technology that supports better learning outcomes first, moving beyond the simple replacement of existing offline learning activities.

Elsewhere we are already seeing the adoption of adaptive learning methods gathering pace. Educational publishers are revisiting their textbooks and associated learning products to move from a largely static, linear experience, to create stimulating adaptive versions that respond to students specific needs. For example, the awarding body and examination board, OCR, has taken the full curriculum of GCSE Computer Science and created an adaptive learning course. This enables students to work through course materials at their own pace and receive automated support when they need extra help. At the same time, teachers can track the exact progress and capabilities of each student and target the most appropriate support for their class.

Elsewhere, universities are redesigning their own course content to offer a more blended and flexible experience for students on their degree programmes. This is a real opportunity to offer new non-campus based learners access to alternative qualifications from a quality higher education institution. This can help bridge the gap in expectations between employers and education providers regarding graduate readiness for the workplace. Increasingly we are seeing a demand for education that focuses on skills that can be applied more readily and directly when moving into employment.

Looking forward, this is an exciting opportunity for educators at all levels to design new and innovative learning experiences that can meet the accelerating demands of the world around us.


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