SRI Study:  Mixed Results for Adaptive Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

SRI issued a report earlier this year on adaptive learning based on a series of research projects at 14 colleges/universities.  The results at best are mixed.  Here are some key findings:


  • Some adaptive courseware implementations (4 of the 15 with a data set adequate for analysis) resulted in slightly higher average course grades, but the majority had no discernible impact on grades.
  • Overall, in the 16 grantee-provided data sets appropriate for estimating courseware impacts on course completion, the odds of successfully completing a course were not affected by the use of adaptive courseware.
  • Only seven controlled side-by-side comparisons of scores on common learning assessments were available; the average impact of adaptability for these seven was modest but significantly positive.

Michael Feldstein has a good summary in today’s issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The researchers do a good job of teasing out some of the variables that may make incremental but real differences on educational impact. That by itself makes the study worth reading.

More generally, the study does provide a reality check on the role of the learning sciences in the craft of education. We are learning more about how people learn all the time. But we are still at the basic research level, and we face daunting methodological challenges.

Professors should be encouraged to develop a basic level of educational-research literacy so that they can factor research into their professional judgment of which approaches to use in their teaching. But at the end of the day, that research is unlikely to yield any simple educational-technology prescriptions that will produce drastic across-the-board gains.

Improving education is not like eradicating polio. Educational research is more likely to be useful as a tool for helping faculty members become more-skilled practitioners than it is as a way of finding a miracle cure.”


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