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When Adaptive Learning Fails to Adapt

What makes adaptive learning a powerful tool in the classroom?

Is it the use of animation AND life-like graphics to grab the students attention?


How about the use of tokens and points to reward on task behavior?


Or maybe it is the leveled approach to teaching individualized instruction so that students are working in their zone of proximal development?


It could be all of these things or none of them at all.

There is an assumption that if we make a product appealing to students then they will be interested and that will gain their attention so learning can occur.  That might be true at least for a little while, but any parent who has purchased a toy for their child may surely see the toy resides deep in the toy box.  The novelty of a new toy has faded much like the online tool that the child is using.

When an approach to learning relies on tokens this might engage the learner in completing the activity.  But an accumulation of tokens is not a true measure of what a child has learned.


I just watched my son breeze through an online activity just so he could acquire the tokens for completion which has inspired this post.

When my son took his quiz at the end of the chapter and guessed randomly from the possibility of choices it made me realize although adaptive learning may hold much promise if it is not carefully monitored, evaluated and assessed it will fail to adapt to the child’s ability and the child will continue to move forward.

Adaptive learning must do more than just adapt (or in this case move forward) it must give the students an opportunity to create, manipulate and apply learning in a new context.  Interactivity must go beyond pointing and clicking, listening and viewing.  It must require the student to reflect on their learning,  apply knowledge in a meaningful context and demonstrate understanding in multiple ways.

If the “sage on the stage” is now a computer screen we are failing short at making adaptive learning a way to engage all learners.


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


One thought on “When Adaptive Learning Fails to Adapt

  1. Reblogged this on Teacher Prep Tech and commented:

    What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of computer based instruction? Does a blended learning approach work in your school site or is it a space to zone out and decompress from learning?


    Posted by Dr. Dickenson | January 23, 2016, 6:12 pm

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