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Monday, February 11, 2013

Interview with Brad Parkins, McGraw-Hill: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Adaptive learning is expanding and being incorporated in a constantly increasing number of higher education applications. Welcome to an interview with Brad Parkins, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, where McGraw-Hill LearnSmart s a new offering designed for a personal experience. 

What is your name and relation to elearning?
I’m Brad Parkins, director of digital product marketing at McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

How would you define adaptive learning, given today's use of technology?
Adaptive learning is a method of education that seeks to personalize learning by using sophisticated technology to continually assess students’ knowledge, skill and confidence levels and design study paths that are specifically targeted to help each student improve in the areas where they need to the most.

Adaptive learning systems don’t just pay attention to whether or not you answered a question correctly or incorrectly. McGraw-Hill LearnSmart, for example, also weighs factors like how long it took you to answer the question, which incorrect answer you chose (if indeed you answered incorrectly), and your level of confidence in answering the question. That last part is key—for students to improve in areas where they have weaknesses, they have to know where those areas are. Students often get into trouble when they think that they know something but actually don’t.  [it’s the system that based on a number of factors it identifies what they know and they don’t know]

What are the benefits of adaptive learning?
By allowing students to focus their study time on the topics and concepts that are most challenging to them, adaptive learning has been shown to help students study more efficiently, develop greater proficiency and—most importantly— earn better grades. That’s part of the magic of adaptive learning.

Adaptive learning also benefits instructors: By better preparing students for class, adaptive learning enables instructors to spend more time delving into advanced concepts and engaging students in high-level discussion.

How do you use adaptive learning? Which are the primary fields of study that you believe are most amenable to adaptive learning?
In an adaptive learning environment, students use their outside-of-class study time to review course materials and answer questions that assess their knowledge and skill levels. Students can work in adaptive learning systems on their desktop or laptop or on their mobile device. We’ve designed the adaptive products in our LearnSmart Advantage suite so that students can use them on their phones or tablets even while offline and have their progress be automatically uploaded into the system the next time they come online.

Beginning this spring, we’re offering our adaptive learning products in more than 90 course areas, from American government to organic chemistry to Spanish. I really think that adaptive learning works in just about every area of study.

How do you motivate learners who may feel anxiety about being assessed online? Can adaptive learning help?
That’s a good question. In the vast majority of cases, schools or instructors decide to use adaptive learning systems in their course as a way of providing students with a more intelligent, more efficient way of preparing themselves, both for in-class discussions and more formal assessments. With all of the products in our LearnSmart Advantage suite, we’ve tried to take the stress out of assessment.

What makes some adaptive learning solutions better than others?
A few things come to mind, but probably the biggest differentiator is the amount of student data that’s been entered into the system. As students answer more questions within an adaptive learning system, the system becomes more familiar with student learning patterns and becomes better able to assess each student’s knowledge and skills to provide personalized study recommendations. In 2012, we reached two important milestones with LearnSmart: 1 million student users and 1 billion questions answered. We’re not excited about these numbers just because they’re big—we’re excited about them because they really speak to our ability to adapt to students’ individual learning needs and improve student performance.

What are the next steps for adaptive learning?
2012 was the breakout year for adaptive learning, but in 2013, I think we're going to see personalized learning through adaptive technology truly come into its own. By the end of the year, we’re expecting to see adaptive learning systems will be in use at every higher education institution across the country.

Where will adaptive learning go next? Already we’re seeing it move beyond the realm of course study tools into new areas of the student learning experience. Adaptive e-books, adaptive virtual labs – these are things that we’ve been waiting on for a long time, and they’re finally here. Personally, I can’t wait to see how tools like these start to improve the performance of students around the world. I truly believe we’re onto something big here.


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Susan Smith Nash
Susan Smith Nash

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