The concept of Adaptive Learning has been around for ages. However, only recently has the technology evolved to the degree that this concept can become scalable. We are at the stage where large groups of users can be taught in a manner that optimally trains EVERY individual learner. We will not be making any technology tool recommendations in this article. Rather, we want to explain what Adaptive Learning is, cover three of the critical concepts behind it, and, finally, get you thinking about the paradigm shifts that you and your organization will need to undertake. Because, without a shift in thinking, Adaptive Learning may never advance beyond a very cool (and rather expensive) pilot.
What Is Adaptive Learning?
A good starting point to Adaptive Learning involves an analogy with a personal tutor, where the tutor is a master in the subject to be taught (think Jedi Master to young Padawan). This tutor is able to identify what the student knows and doesn’t know and teaches and reinforces to the point of eventual mastery. The tutor constantly assesses the student and bases their next teaching assignment on this assessment.
For Adaptive Learning to work at scale, all of these tutor steps need to be automated, and the subject to be taught (objective) needs to be broken down into smaller learning resources (compartmentalized content). The Adaptive Learning system begins with a learner assessment that drives training recommendations/assignments. Throughout this process, the Adaptive Learning system is constantly assessing the learner and adapting the subsequent learning resources in real-time. As a result, each learner’s sequence and pathway through the content is different. Adaptive Learning is deemed complete once the learner has mastered all relevant learning resources.
3 Critical Concepts Behind Adaptive Learning
Noel Burch’s 4 Stages of Competence
Burch devised the 4 Stages of Competence in 1973 to describe the psychological process involved in the progression from incompetence to mastery of a skill.
The 4 Stages of Competence are:
- Unconscious incompetence (ignorance of lack of skill)
- Conscious incompetence (awareness of lack of skill)
- Conscious competence (learning)
- Unconscious competence (mastery)
These stages are central to Adaptive Learning. With Adaptive Learning, data analytics and algorithms are adjusted in real-time to move learners through stages towards mastery with the efficiency of a one-on-one tutor. Adaptive learning also more effectively addresses unconscious incompetence, which is better understood when talking about the next critical concept.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Unconscious incompetence is a serious workplace problem. According to Gallup (2017 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report), employees are 20-40% unconsciously incompetent. This statistic is further supported by the Dunning-Kruger Effect discovered by Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, which states that people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. On top of that, not only do these people fail to recognize their incompetence, but they are also highly confident about their level of competence. Traditional L&D models rely on workers knowing that they have not yet obtained the skill being taught. Adaptive Learning is specifically designed to target and address unconscious incompetence.
Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem
In 1984, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that the average student tutored one-on-one using mastery learning techniques performed two standard deviations better than students who learned via conventional instructional methods. That is, the average tutored student was above 98% of the students in the traditional learning group. While Adaptive Learning may not fully replicate one-on-one in person learning, it does its best to imitate it and is surely more effective for learning than traditional eLearning, which attempts to imitate conventional instructional methods.
Paradigm Shifts to Enable Adaptive Learning
I believe the following paradigm shifts — or shifts of thinking — are necessary for organizations that want to implement and sustain Adaptive Learning:
- We have to move from a completion-based mindset to a competency mastery mindset. The overwhelming majority of our learning systems track progress based on completion, and most learning reports requested by businesses focus on completion rates. However, we now have the tools and technology in the marketplace that can measure competency attainment across the enterprise, and we can manage this in real-time at the individual learner level.
- Focus attention on unconscious incompetence. Luckily, the Adaptive Learning tools can “break the news” gently to each learner via private one-on-one real time assessments, combating the negative business impacts of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
- L&D organizations need to look at and treat content in terms of objectives comprised of multiple learning resources/learning nuggets. This would establish an L&D curriculum of compartmentalized content rather than a curriculum of broad subject-based courses.
- Move from a linear “paper map” based eLearning strategy to a real time “GPS” based Adaptive Learning system.
At LTS, we are a full-service staffing agency focused solely on supporting corporate L&D teams. Learning is all we do, and we do it very well. We have several consultants who have helped create Adaptive Learning strategies and implement an Adaptive Learning tool. For more information about LTS and to discuss it with one of our Adaptive Learning consultants, please contact us today.