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Adaptive Learning

June 9, 2020

Access to technology and a vast amount of information on a multi-screen basis have reduced the attention span of current generations. We now look for immediately available and ideally tailored content. Every feed on social media is different from one person to the other. Every Spotify listing is different for each user. None of our Netflix accounts look the same. We are free to choose our preferences of content whether it is in terms of friends, music or series, and we increasingly receive content suggestions based on our search history and even on the behavior of the audience we’re connected to. How many times have we bought something online, and we have then seen ads related to it in our searches? Could we imagine a world of social media, music and series without being able to customize these platforms to match our preferences? I’m afraid it is too late.

However, the education scenario still looks quite similar from student to student within a same classroom. What if instead of conforming ourselves with generic content for all participants, we were to give the freedom to students to decide from which institutions they’d prefer to receive content suggestions adapted to them and to professors to be the shapers of that individualized experiential shift while orchestrating collaboration? My point here is that we should be able to personalize the learning experience, by identifying at a glance i) the students’ strengths and weaknesses and suggesting pathways for specialization or improvement, ii) the relevant content for each individual student thanks to the use of predictive analytics. All the above within a safe environment in the classroom. Introverts might prefer an online format where they can participate anonymously, while extroverts might look for an in-person experience where they can have more interactions and make their voice count more. Some might prefer to learn pieces of content about several topics, others might want to learn a lot about a specific subject. Many may choose to study full time, others may prefer to work while studying. Everyone has different mindsets, preferences and plans for their future, but they all have one thing in common: they want freedom to choose, they want to be able to customize their own education and be the co-creators of their own learning path. That’s when adaptive learning comes into play.

Today’s professionals are willing or compelled to switch careers several times in their working lives, and subsequently re-skill and up-skill to meet the standards of their new employment. People want to increase their chances of having access to a broader job market and more rewarding opportunities. Retirement age is pushed further from decade to decade, but so is life expectancy. As time goes by, we’re increasingly expected to work late into our age and most probably not constantly in the same company as it was the case for past generations, but we will have to change our employer and our job functions. Higher education institutions and schools were previously asked to provide students with the tools that would serve them for a lifetime. That’s no longer the case. Today we all need to keep updating our competencies and capacities throughout our whole life. The role of education is essential. People increasingly expect faster achievements in their academic career, as a consequence of a fast-changing working environment. That doesn’t mean that degrees are about to disappear, but they might look very different in years to come. Professionals would rather get a quick certification than spend many years of their life studying to obtain a degree that might not fit their and the market needs by the time they graduate. Hence, what can schools and universities do to foster this new environment and embrace innovation?

Students crave for flexibility, they want to shape their own study and future wherever and whenever it’s most convenient for them. In marketing terms, education is usually a one-shot product. That means that a student usually buys only once from the institution he decides to pursue his degree at. But what if we change this paradigm and encourage re-learning at the same institution we chose for our initial degree? This would mean that universities would need to serve the needs of the same student at different stages of his/her life. What would encourage a student to come back to his alma mater for further education? That’s when breaking the traditional education model into Lego pieces becomes interesting. What if Higher Ed institutions would give their students the possibility to trace a tailor-made academic path? When we buy a Lego package it usually comes with a specific design we’re supposed to construct as our end goal. Some people might like to put straight together the structure. But others might prefer to build first the different elements that would then be assembled together to create the whole design. Let’s push the Lego idea even further. What prevents us from using the pieces to create other shapes than the one that appears on the cover of the Lego box? Now, let’s be aware of some challenges this approach might face. Some content might have to be delivered in the IKEA way, i.e. some prerequisites may apply before being able to move forward in the construction process. For those elements where the order of the factors does alter the product, we should either keep them in a degree-seeking format, or bring Super Mario’s gamification techniques to advance as we develop the skills required.

In any case, universities need to increasingly integrate the “and/or” variables into their offering if they want to remain competitive. Schools should become agile enough to provide students with different learning styles and content adapted to their specific needs at a given moment in time. We should transition from a one-shot education model to a space of continuous learning and re-learning. Developing a flexible portfolio of skills and qualifications can be of great use when guaranteeing adequate preparation of alumni, in addition to giving more credibility and trustworthiness to the school. There is an enormous opportunity for educators to own this renovated trail, offering an adaptive learning scheme that can be customized and enriched throughout the student’s learning process.

At NEO Academy, we believe that schools can embrace new educational paths based not only on traditional degrees, but also on a set of content capsules that can be customized according to the students’ needs. Just like a phone subscription, where you can add data and minutes to your monthly plan, or even go unlimited, educators should be able to offer students a personalized learning process that can satisfy each of them at a specific point in time, whether they need or want to aggregate additional skills or knowledge to their value.

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