Adaptive Learning Webinar Questions and Answers

At our webinar, One Size Fits No One: Tailoring Learning Experiences to Individual Interests, Knowledge, and Skills with Adaptive Learning, John Cleave, SweetRush Senior Learning Engineer, Clare Dygert, Director of Learning Experience and Instructional Design, and Adrián Soto, Director of Immersive Technologies, discussed how to achieve maximum learner engagement without breaking the bank. 

The team also explored the benefits of adaptive learning and shared examples of how it:

  • Reduces the amount of time spent training
  • Deepens the impact of the training
  • Offers insightful data and analytics
  • Enhances the transfer of learning to the job 
  • Creates happier learners!

There was considerable interest in this topic, and the participants had some great questions. Here’s a quick summary along with the team’s responses. (The webinar is available for replay here.)

Q1. In my setting (healthcare), learners know the information (as evidenced in their daily work) but are required to complete annual training as proof of competency. Where does adaptive learning fit in when learners know the content but have to retake it every year? 

Clare: This is a tricky one because what you’re talking about is compliance training. In this situation there isn’t always a way around the requirement. There may be legal reasons why people have to be exposed to the same content or a liability issue for the organization that hires them. Generally speaking, adaptive learning is not a good solution for compliance training. That said, there is a good argument against noncompliance “refresher” style training, and it’s called the “expertise reversal effect.”[1]

Expertise reversal effect suggests instructional methods that are good for low-knowledge learners will actually make things more difficult for high-knowledge learners. It’s important, therefore, to understand the knowledge level of your target audience when designing adaptive learning solutions. You can then give your experienced and knowledgeable learners the opportunity to either go deeper into the content or to skip over the parts they already know. 

John: For me, the single most difficult aspect of adaptive learning isn’t the technology or the instructional design. It’s getting stakeholders and leadership to realize that forcing people through content isn’t going to make them any smarter. When you can convince stakeholders that learning doesn’t happen simply because we show people content, you’ll open the door to a richer dialogue about alternative options—like adaptive learning. 

Q2. How do we build in remediation for learners who are falling behind?

John: A technique that works well for us is to create a core path through the subject matter that everyone needs to see. Then, along the way, present the learners with challenges designed to reveal their knowledge and skill level. These challenges shouldn’t be designed for learners to simply recall the content; instead they should be framed so that learners have to apply what they’ve learned or demonstrate that they understand the concept. If the learners aren’t successful in the challenges, you can direct them to additional content or activities within the learning experience where they can get more help and explore the subject more deeply. Once they achieve a level of mastery, they’ll be returned to the core path to continue the learning journey. 

Clare: To build on this point, it’s important to think about the size of your courses or your units of instruction. The smaller the chunk size, the more flexibility you’ll have to build in adaptive learning. For example, if people are falling behind because they’re not mastering the instruction, you’ll need to identify where in the content they are getting stuck. If the content chunk is small, not only will it be easier to test and assess its efficacy, but it will also be easier to build in more targeted remediation.

Q3. Is it possible to create adaptive eLearning solutions without spending an unmanageable amount of time in development?

Adrián: From my experience working on virtual reality learning solutions, it’s manageable. That said, we are fortunate to have a full complement of team members on each of our projects, including project managers, learning designers, creative directors, developers, and engineers. If we know that we are going to be working on an adaptive learning solution—which does require more effort because we are creating more content—we map out the work in advance and scale up the team as needed. Planning is key. 

Clare: Regardless of your team size, here are some tips for making the development process more manageable.

  1. Repurpose existing assets. To cut down on production time, identify and then direct learners to content that has already been created by Learning and Development or that exists elsewhere within the organization. 
  2. Send learners offline. Another option is to direct people to complete a series of offline tasks such as interviewing someone in the organization to find out more about something. You could also point them to additional research they can complete independently—think articles or white papers. The golden rule here is to plan activities and assess external content to ensure they align with your objectives. 
  3. Chunk out the learning: My final tip is to break your content into smaller chunks and focus each chunk on a specific skill and related knowledge objective. Then, invite learners to practice the skill. If they aren’t able to perform successfully, you can direct them to the accompanying knowledge-based content before trying again. 

John: While there may be more work involved in creating adaptive learning solutions, you must look at the overall gains you achieve by having learners exposed to content that’s relevant to them without having to wade through stuff that isn’t. The gain is well worth the effort. 

Q4. How do you ensure people have mastered the skills if you give them choices of what to look at?

Clare: The short answer is that it really depends on what the skills are. For soft skills, you could create assessments to evaluate competency. Branching scenarios are one way to do this—learners are placed in a situation and have to choose the correct or most appropriate answer. Alternatively, you could take the assessment outside of the learning to get approval via some sort of observation where they have to demonstrate their competency to someone. 

John: Keep in mind that forcing learners to look at stuff doesn’t ensure mastery. But one way that adaptive learning can help increase mastery is to give learners an assessment, and based on their performance, direct them to learnings and resources that will address their skill gaps. 

Q5. How do I create reliable pre-assessments to direct people to different learning paths? In my experience, people often overestimate their abilities. 

Clare: Pre-assessments are typically designed to get a pulse on what people already know and can do, so that we can put them on the right path. When learners overestimate their abilities, they can end up on the wrong path, and their learning experience will be affected. 

A best practice we use is to include questions about people’s confidence in their knowledge or abilities. This additional metric helps to differentiate between people who know what they know and those who know what they don’t know.

We’ve found that pairing these questions with some sort of test or assessment early in the learning experience offers an instant reality check. A person who identifies as being very confident in a task will get a surprise if they do badly in the assessment. This experience should make the learner more open to learning—and the learning itself becomes more sticky as a result.

Adrián: We see this in virtual reality-based solutions often. People grab the headset and controller and think they will pick it up straight away—they are highly confident in their abilities. When they discover that they can’t control the device, their expectations—about their own competency and what they need to learn—shifts.

Q6. You have shown the outcomes and benefits of adaptive learning, could you share an example of how you build a small activity with adaptive learning? Maybe a video to share later would help?

John: This is a great question! We love the idea of creating a video and will put it on our “to do” list! In the meantime, there are some simple things you can do to incorporate adaptive learning into your learning solutions: 

  • Build a core set of slides in your authoring tool of choice and then build a separate set that you can link to if learners want a deeper dive.
  • Make videos or content optional to view. Decide which pieces of content are required and which pieces can be skipped based on what you know about the learners and the desired outcomes. Most authoring tools allow you to choose whether to make the content mandatory—learners have to view or click through all of the content on-screen—or optional. 
  • Add optional links for learners who want to explore the content at a deeper level. This is a great example of adaptive learning—people will click the link if they want but know that they don’t have to.

Q7: How might we use adaptive learning for second language training? And how could we integrate crowdsourced content?

Clare: If you’re going to crowdsource content, you’ll need to establish and communicate standards about what you’re looking for your crowd to do. You’ll also need to be explicit about the format you need the content in so that it will fit in seamlessly with your learning design. 

For the adaptive learning piece, a good place to start is to identify the types of errors that people commonly make when learning a second language—these mistakes may be specific to learning a language or to the language itself—and design remediation or additional practice activities for each one.

John: Duolingo and other language apps are already doing this. The programs notice where learners are struggling and then provide alternative practice activities to strengthen their skills in those areas of weakness. 

Q8. I work within a university on a vocational course, and we have to use the university’s LMS/CMS, which doesn’t seem to support adaptive learning. How do we develop adaptive learning experiences? Is there a way around it?

John: When you’re working with an authoring tool like WordPress, for example, my advice is to put in links—don’t cram your content into one long string of HTML. Decide what content your learners might want to look at versus what they have to look at and then create links. Use a billboard approach to incentivize people to click on the links and get creative with your descriptions. Instead of the standard “Click here for more resources,” tell them what they will get by clicking on the resource. For example, “Hey, want to learn how to use a lathe? Click here!” Give learners a clear idea about what to expect when they move to a different learning space. 

Thanks again for your great questions! If you want to listen back to the webinar recording, you can find it here

If you haven’t already done so, download your copy of John’s eBook Hats Off to Adaptive Learning and take a deeper dive into adaptive learning and its many benefits to learners and organizations alike. The book is also filled with adaptive learning techniques and examples to help you personalize your training programs.

Finally, if you’d like to geek out with the team and continue the adaptive learning conversation, or if you have a question you don’t see answered here, they would LOVE to hear from you. You can reach out to them here: John Cleave, Clare Dygert, and Adrián Soto.

Happy adapting!