Adaptive Learning: Customize Your Students’ Learning Journey

Written by JC Gonzalez

Adaptive learning is changing the way learners of all ages master new skills and concepts. The term refers to teaching each student based on their individual unique abilities. Students as young as kindergarten receive adaptive learning through tablets and applications. But is adaptive learning the future of education? 

To answer this question, we’ll first define adaptive learning and look at its different forms. We’ll then review the benefits and drawbacks of adaptive learning and assess if it can help close the skills gap that seems to grow each year.

What Is Adaptive Learning? 

Adaptive learning, like so many other educational concepts, predates the digital age. It is the ability to teach students at different speeds, with methods that work specifically for them. When a professor meets with one or two students to work on specific tasks, that’s adaptive teaching. 

The classic example of adaptive learning in the physical world is tutoring. By getting a tutor, that student is now on a learning path unique to them with the goal of achieving the same grades as the other students in their class. Unfortunately, not everyone can hire a tutor. And when universities like UC San Diego, Texas A&M, and Ohio State, each average more than 50 students per class, professors need a better way to deliver a one-to-one experience.

The adaptive learning model includes the exchange of data gathered from student participation in order to create a unique learning path
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Adaptive learning technology captures individual performance and adapts lessons to each student. Learners can use a phone or tablet to get support for concepts they are currently learning. 

Students who already understand a subject get advanced content to keep them challenged. Meanwhile, students who struggle take a step back and learn in simpler ways to reach mastery. 

Young students learn through adaptive learning applications like Khan Academy. Adult learners may use applications like Alta by Knewton through their school or organization. 

Organizations can also adapt to their learners. Edstutia, for example, records immersive sessions for students to access as needed.

Types of Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning is not one thing. It consists of four types we break down next. 

Adaptive learning begins with open communication and collaboration between instructors and students
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Communication and Collaboration

This refers to the more classic way of implementing adaptivity into learning. You can break up students into smaller groups with similar needs. You can also work with individual students to challenge or support them. 

Edstutia’s learners enjoy direct feedback to their responses. These sessions take place in an immersive environment and empower students to grow. 

Adaptive Content

Adaptive content writes a unique path at the beginning based on the student’s abilities. This could be a learning plan put together by a tutor based on the student’s difficulties or goals. It can also be a plan put together by software to get the student to a desired skill level.

Adaptive Sequencing

Adaptive sequencing takes content one level further. It begins with the data on the student but it learns through each question or problem the student encounters. As the student demonstrates an understanding of the project, the problems get more challenging. 

A linear path forces students through a pattern they may not all need where adaptive learning creates a path based on the skills of each learner
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The program also recognizes struggles and can present the information in more basic terms. It also takes a step back to cover basic material.

Adaptive Assessment

Adaptive assessment refers to tailoring an exam to the learning style of each participant. Where some students may thrive with multiple choice questions, others may prefer to write answers to word problems. 

The content in the test is also based on what the student has demonstrated is their mastery of the content. When the assessment is over, the student continues along their unique learning path. 

Of course, another form of adaptive learning is to throw out testing altogether. Edstutia modules don’t use tests and instead focus on imparting knowledge through regular practice, simulations, and active discussions. 

Benefits of Adaptive Learning

The benefits of adaptive learning affect both learners and instructors. Learners gain confidence and lessen stress. Instructors get real-time data and knowledge of where their students stand. Let’s break these down. 

Higher Confidence

Students receive positive reinforcement as they improve their skills through adaptive tech. By the time they understand the subject matter, students have more confidence in their skill set. 

Reaching mastery in a subject is the result of increased knowledge and confidence
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A study by the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University shows that students taking tests after using adaptive learning software performed up to 22% better. Their comfort level with the material leads to another benefit, lower stress. 

Lower Stress

It may be no surprise to read that 88% of college students report being under stress. We think of college students as young adults in various phases of life who may have to juggle more than just their school workload. 

A survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California found that 43% of middle and high school students suffered panic or anxiety attacks. The CDC also reports anxiety in children 3 to 17 is increasing. 

Adaptive learning has been known to lessen the stress levels of learners. While students remain in a class setting, adaptive learning first puts them in competition with themselves. Only after they’ve achieved a level of parity with others, are they made to feel like they are in a competition with the rest of the class. 

Adaptive learning has been known to decrease stress among students
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Teaches Responsibility

Adaptive learning requires students to take time outside of class to learn. As a result, it teaches them to be responsible for their own learning. In fact, students who use adaptive tech perform better in higher levels of education where they receive more autonomy. 

Students Know Their Strengths and Weaknesses

Adaptive learning platforms provide students detailed information on their progress. Learners see how much time they practiced, the areas they practiced, and how they performed in each of those areas. This allows them to break up their time according to their strengths and weaknesses.

Assignments Are Always Available

Instructors enjoy lessons created by the adaptive tech’s AI. You no longer need to spend hours preparing daily homework assignments and grading them by hand. 

Platforms like Knewton are always available to students. Teachers can tell students the material to cover and the application will adapt the lessons to each student. 

Adaptive learning technology is always available in the palm of your hand thanks to our connected devices
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Best of all, there are always more lessons. Rather than assigning a set of pages to complete each day, teachers can ask students to work for a given period of time. They may complete four assignments or ten depending on their comprehension of the subject. 

You See the Data

Adaptive learning platforms collect data each time a student participates. You as the instructor have access to real-time data about each of your student’s performance along with class data. Now you can adapt the daily coursework based on the data. 

In addition to automatically-collected data, you can also have your class complete surveys. Edstutia uses this method to adapt to learners as the session progresses. 

For example, if your class cohort performed well during the first half of the course and is now struggling with a new section, that’s a red flag. What is the sense in moving on to the next part, which builds on the concepts the class is struggling with? 

Adaptive learning generates lots of data that serves as the bridge between learners and their instructors
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Use the data to adjust your course. You can spend more time explaining the new section before moving forward. You may need only one more lecture to get students ready for the next step. 

Increases Productivity

A homework assignment that is the same for everyone poses a problem of productivity. A student with solid understanding may spend ten minutes completing an assignment and stop there. They may actually stunt their growth in the area despite their mastery.

A struggling student may spend up to an hour or more on the same assignment and still feel confused.

Adaptive learning teaches students to be productive in their studies. Students who have mastered a lesson can continue to the next or expand their knowledge. Struggling students can reinforce processes until they make sense to them. 

One benefit of adaptive learning is that learners are no longer passive participants from choosing courses to going on a learning path, they are actively participating
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Makes Independent Learning Active

Adaptive learning technology takes away the passiveness of traditional assignments. Learners follow an engaging path to complete activities or basic simulations

Another form of this is in enabling learners to take an active role in arranging their specialty – a “create your major” approach. Edstutia takes this approach with learners, giving them the ability to choose their program, modules within the program, or even individual projects to complete.  

Adaptive Learning Challenges

The benefits of adaptive learning can convince you that it’s the future of education but there are some challenges that come with the concept and its technology. 

A Device for Every Learner

Teachers at the K-12 level have to worry about getting a tablet in the hands of each of their students. In Oakland, California, only 25% of students had devices at home when the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 began.

The problem doesn’t stop in higher education. According to an Educause survey, “One in 10 college students reported that their primary learning device was not equipped to perform a task required for a course during the previous week.” 

There are also adult learners without immediate access to the right device. They may not be able to take a course to improve their skill set as a result. You won’t see them but it doesn’t mean the problem is not real. 

Equal Access to the Internet

Even if learners have a device, can they count on a network connection to complete their assignments? According to PC Magazine, nearly 28 million homes in the U.S. do not have access to the internet. 

Adaptive learning technology relies on internet bandwidth and many households still do not have internet access.
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Adaptive Learning Doesn’t Explore the Why

While adaptive technology adjusts lessons to work with students at all levels, it doesn’t understand why some students need more help than others. Adaptive learning still requires a dedicated human element. 

It’s up to you to meet with struggling students. You may realize they are in a negative learning environment or lack access to the necessary equipment. They may struggle with the balance between family, work, and personal development. 

Closing the Gap

Studies show the majority of people entering the workforce lack the skills their employers desire. There is a disconnect between education and labor. There is also a disparity among learners. And they all have to enter the workforce and compete for similar roles. Adaptive learning can assist in closing this skills gap across all levels of education.

Adaptive learning in the workforce allows employers to focus training time only on the unique pain points of each employee. Employers can also tweak the career paths of their employees as their skill set evolves. 


Adaptive learning has the potential to change the way education happens at every level of learning. Kids can use it to build their confidence and understand at their own pace. Adults can use it to level the playing field using a system that adjusts to their needs. But to take full advantage of adaptive learning, we must also adapt systems to handle adaptive teaching. 

Adaptive learning relies on technology and forward-thinking instructors. It needs instructors in tune with the evolution of education and learning. The Edstutia Immersive Certification in XR (ICXR) course gives instructors of all levels knowledge of emerging technologies and their benefits.