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APLU Releases First of its Kind Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware

October 24, 2018

Washington, DC – In an attempt to help universities provide more flexible learning opportunities for an increasingly diverse student body, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today released “A Guide for Implementing Adaptive Courseware: From Planning Through Scaling.” Drawing on the experience of eight public universities in the midst of a multi-year adaptive learning pilot program, the first of its kind guide provides colleges and universities with a roadmap that runs from initial planning all the way through scaling the use of adaptive courseware across a campus.

“While most colleges and universities are aware of the benefits that adaptive learning can offer students and instructors, many institutions are unsure of the process for effectively implementing adaptive courseware on their campus,” said Karen Vignare, Executive Director of APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium (PLC), who oversees the pilot program and helped developed the guidebook. “This guide provides institutions with a step-by-step guide for integrating adaptive courseware on their campus with a wide array of resources and tips for avoiding or minimizing the road bumps along the way. Our hope is that this guide will help more institutions utilize adaptive courseware and move along the implementation learning curve more quickly.”

[View the courseware guidebook here]

Adaptive learning solutions take a data-driven and, in some cases, nonlinear approach to instruction and remediation. These solutions adjust to each learner’s interaction and performance to anticipate the learner’s needs at a specific point in time. Adaptive courseware provides a personalized digital learning experience for each student. It includes instructional content and assessment that is scoped and sequenced to support an entire course. Courses are often delivered in a blended format that includes direction instruction from a professor who is able to tailor his or her own teaching based on student progress data that the adaptive courseware provides.

APLU’s guide, which was created in conjunction with Every Learner Everywhere and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, details six phases colleges and universities should take to successfully launch adaptive courseware on their campus:

  • Phase I: Establish Support – Institutions identify their rational and big goals for an adaptive courseware project, understand the resources needed, and begin building support from institutional stakeholders, including administrators and faculty, who will need to commit time and energy in subsequent steps.
  • Phase II: Discover and Decide – Institutions evaluate both existing internal and potential external resources for successful adaptive courseware implementation. At the end of this phase, institutions select an adaptive courseware product and decide which courses will be used during a pilot.
  • Phase III: Design – An institution’s implementation team designs the adaptive courseware pilot course(s), creates a plan for evaluating its outcome, and solidify agreements with stakeholders who will take part in the pilot. More detailed planning is conducted to help keep the project on track during the following phases.
  • Phase IV: Develop – Institutions develop the pilot course(s) based off the previously created designs. This entails either using an off-the-shelf product, modifying an adaptive courseware product, or building an adaptive course from scratch. Institutions also develop the ecosystem supports and resources needed for a successful pilot and work with instructors so help them understand how their pedagogy will change with the use of adaptive courseware.
  • Phase V: Pilot and Iterate – Instructors teach their course(s) using adaptive courseware in a limited number of sections to allow all stakeholders to evaluate the effects of the changed instructional approach and identify areas for improvement. Schools may then choose to conduct additional cycles of the pilot before preparing to scale.
  • Phase VI: Scale – An institution expands its use of adaptive courseware to its target level based on lessons learned from the pilot and iterate phase. This phase is an extended process that includes creating policies, structures, and cultures that support sustained use of adaptive courseware.

In 2016, APLU launched a grant program with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at accelerating the adoption of adaptive courseware by public universities. This program awarded grant funding and support to eight public universities that agreed to adopt, implement, and scale adaptive courseware to at least 15 percent of their general education course enrollments by the end of the three-year grant period. Grant goals included improving student success in general education courses and, in particular, leveraging adaptive courseware to better support low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students.

Now two years into the grant, the grantee institutions—Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Georgia State University, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University, Portland State University, the University of Louisville, and the University of Mississippi -- refined their approaches to take a transformative learning initiative from an idea, to a pilot, and toward scale. By design, the partner institutions have worked as a cohort on this project, regularly sharing their findings and challenges with one another and the APLU. This has allowed the institutions to learn from each other’s experiences to help accelerate progress toward their scale goals and improve their implementations of adaptive courseware.

“The Adaptive Learning Initiative has helped OSU resource and coordinate course redesign in math and psychology increasing active learning and improving student experience,” said Julie Greenwood, Associate Provost for Transformative Learning at Oregon State University. “Although early results show increases in pass rates, we would have benefitted immensely from an implementation guide such as this.”

The partner institutions began accelerating their use of adaptive courseware as part of the grant program in January 2017. The data reported as of the release of this guide include all semesters through August 31, 2018. Cumulatively, the eight institutions report reaching nearly 75,000 course enrollments in 16 disciplines. Over half of the enrollments reached are in biology, chemistry, math and psychology courses. The institutions report that students’ cost of materials in the sections using adaptive courseware is lower than the cost of materials in non-adaptive sections.

The data on student outcomes, while promising, are limited. APLU has collected 18 months of data, but given a limited number of enrollments during the pilot phase, it is difficult to draw conclusions and cumulative statistics on student success. The institutions are, however, reporting on their individual data and many have very powerful positive statistics about improved course success.

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