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Best Practices on Adaptive Learning: How to Reduce Study Time by 30%


Wed Oct 04 2023

Best Practices on Adaptive Learning: How to Reduce Study Time by 30%

Did you know that you can help learners finish their courses 33 percent faster by implementing adaptivity into your training? Learners maintain similar learning results, satisfaction, and self-efficacy compared to traditional e-learning. How about that for a proposition?

As a learning innovator, I’m always looking for opportunities to make a difference. What innovation will help you improve your training? Adaptive learning could be one of those opportunities. Together with my colleague Ger Driesen, we recently conducted a study with Karin Linden and Sara Swier of BSL on the results of adaptive learning compared to traditional learning. I believe there’s still much to learn about this approach, and many more training providers and learners can benefit from it. First, let’s explore our definition of adaptive learning and our research voyage.


Adaptive Learning Is an Approach to Personalized Learning

Adaptive learning collects data from every learner in an online learning platform. It measures individual characteristics of learners, like preexisting knowledge and skills. An adaptive engine adapts itself to the learner’s knowledge. So, when a learner answers questions about a set of objectives, they score or deduct points from their objective. This all happens in their learning journey within the online learning platform.

When the learner scores 100 percent on that objective, they won’t see more activities related to that question. If the learner shows they already have that specific knowledge, the course will become shorter. If someone needs more practice, the course will provide the learner with more options to practice.

A Short Recap: The Research Study

Using adaptive learning as a didactical concept, we took off on our research voyage. Our route was classic—take two groups and get them on the same learning journey, but one as normal e-learning and the other the adaptive version. Data was extracted from the platform to compare various elements of the target groups, and we would examine knowledge and skills as well as time-to-competence and self-efficacy.

The task of shaping the research design and performing the analysis fell into the trusty and neutral hands of Dr. Derk-Jan Nijman, senior researcher at the HAN University of Applied Sciences.

This all came together during the execution with the healthcare professionals. Hundreds of learners went through the linear learning journey. Another couple hundred finished the adaptive journey.


What Did We Get Out of It?

This entire voyage led to some great outcomes. After Derk-Jan analyzed all the data, we concluded that both groups performed equally well on learning results. They both grew from a 70 percent score to 90 percent after finishing their learning path. Next to that, their satisfaction with the course and self-efficacy was also fairly equal.

The big win? Time-to-competence! It took the adaptive learners 30 percent less time to complete the journey and achieve the same results. This was a great result and can be replicated in many other learning opportunities.

Adaptivity Forever and Always! Right..?

Before you decide to implement adaptive learning for all your learning products, let’s take a step back. Although adaptivity sounds interesting for all kinds of training, it will suit some learning solutions better than others. Adaptive learning is most promising when you have:

  • A large target group of learners

  • Much variety in your learning, related to preexisting knowledge, skills, and experience

  • Clear standards of what “good” or “capable” looks like

  • Expertise available on writing good learning objectives

The Steps You Can Take

Do you meet the four criteria to make adaptive learning a success? Then it’s time to start designing the adaptive course. Keep these essential things in mind to become successful:

Take your time. It will take some time to define a concept, learning objectives, and questions. But it will pay off in the end. Plan your time wisely.


Have clear and specific learning objectives. For example, in a photography course, “taking good pictures” is too broad. Instead, use objectives like “composition techniques” or “editing skills.” Test the specificity of your objective by considering how much information you need to describe it.

Create multiple questions per learning objective. This is important to test how well your learners master the content and what the optimal follow-up is for them.

Create enough activities per learning objective. It’s also a good idea to create different activities so that everyone can find something they like to do. That way, nobody gets bored or feels like they’re doing the same thing repeatedly.

There you have it—our criteria, tips, and tricks to make your adaptive implementation a great success. I am convinced that adaptivity not only works to the advantage of learners but also for training providers to gain a competitive advantage by serving learners and clients better.

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