25 Things to Know About Adaptive Learning

A student wearing headphones and working on a laptop.

Every student is different, which means some students will have a harder time with some concepts over others. In a language classroom, for example, one student might struggle with pronouns while mastering commas. The peer sitting next to them might struggle with comma use while mastering active versus passive voice. How can a teacher allocate their time to help each student overcome their weaknesses? This is where adaptive learning comes in. 

Adaptive learning is a teaching method that allows students to focus on materials they are struggling with at their own pace. Students can take as long as they need to relearn concepts and approach them in different ways. Once a basic concept is mastered, the student can move on to additional ideas or lessons. 

Adaptive learning is a powerful tool in the modern classroom. Learn more about what it means to provide adaptive learning to students and why this teaching method is so important. 


What is Adaptive Learning? 

Adaptive learning allows for differentiation in what students review. Students can reinforce material they were exposed to in the classroom and explore new concepts ahead of their peers.

  1. Adaptive learning can increase the pass rate for students. When Arizona State University and Colorado Technical University invested in adaptive learning tools, their exam pass rate increased by 18 and 27 percent respectively. [eLearningNews
  2. This form of learning can also reduce withdrawal rates from certain classes. For Arizona State University, adaptive learning reduced the withdrawal rate in math courses by 47 percent. [eLearningNews]
  3. Adaptive learning allows students to become more self-directed because they can start to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. This sets them up for future learning success. [Every Learner Everywhere]
  4. Students report lower levels of stress when participating in an adaptive learning environment. This is because they feel confident in the current material before they move on to new concepts. [Educational Technology]
  5. Increased use of AI technology makes it easier for teachers to apply adaptive learning models to their classrooms. These tools can better identify strengths and weaknesses in students to provide relevant lessons and activities based on their needs. [Google]

Student in online learning


Adaptive Learning and Differentiation Go Together

Adaptive learning is effective because it allows for differentiation. Each student learns something new and at an appropriate pace. 

  1. Differentiated instruction is essential for teachers who want to cater to different learning styles. It allows educators to create inclusive learning environments. [Splash Learn]
  2. Teachers are increasingly moving away from “one size fits all” teaching styles, noting that one size actually fits none. Additionally, teachers are moving toward more active assignments as opposed to passive learning environments. [Emerging EdTech]
  3.  Differentiated instruction helps students of all abilities, from gifted and advanced students to those with learning disabilities. This is because the materials are relevant to their needs and capabilities. [Lets Go Learn]

By implementing differentiated learning processes, fewer students will slip through the gaps because they don’t fit the expected mold of the average learner. 


The Pandemic Exacerbated Learning Gaps

The need for adaptive learning is higher than ever as families try to recover from remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators are facing increasing large classrooms because of a teacher shortage and have to teach students at vastly different learning levels. Adaptive learning can help students catch up without leaving their more advanced peers bored. 

  1. Average test scores from 2019 to 2021 have dropped significantly. In math, test scores were 0.20-0.27 standard deviations (SDs) lower on average. In reading, test scores were 0.09-0.18 SDs lower. Researchers have found this drop is significantly higher than other learning disruptions. For example, Hurricane Katrina only resulted in a 0.17 SD deviation drop in math scores for New Orleans evacuees. [Brookings]
  2. Racial and economic disparities mean some students are farther behind than others. In some communities, students returned to the classroom in 2021 a full year behind their peers in reading, math, and other subjects. [New York Times]
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic will be devastating to students. In the United States, experts estimate that 1.7 to 3.3 million eighth to 12th graders may drop out of school because of the pandemic. [McKinsey and Co.]
  4. Teachers are still learning where their students experience gaps in learning. One teacher shared how 10 percent of students on average would normally fall below the expected national standard. Since the pandemic, that percentage has increased to 30 percent. [Nature

Post-Pandemic, Adaptive Learning Can Increase Equity

Even without the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic changing today’s schools, teachers would likely still benefit from adaptive learning. This classroom style allows for greater equity with different learners. 

  1. School segregation is still a reality for most learners. More than half of schoolchildren in America are in “racially concentrated districts” where more than 75 percent of the population is either white or nonwhite. There are also significant disparities by income, which can increase education gaps. [New York Times]
  2. The number of English learners in school continues to rise as America becomes increasingly diverse. From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of ELs in schools increased from 9.2 percent to 10.4 percent – or 0.6 million students. [National Center for Education Statistics]
  3. Girls and nonwhite students are disproportionately more likely to have undiagnosed ADHD/ADD symptoms. Symptoms show up differently for girls and are often mistaken for personality traits. Black children are 70 percent less likely to receive an ADHD/ADD diagnosis compared to their white peers. [SJU Hawk News]  
  4. Autism diagnoses are improving, but there is still work to be done. In 2000, one in 150 children received an autism diagnosis. Today, one in 44 children receive autism diagnoses and treatment. [CDC
  5. Nationally, 60 percent of students with autism spend all or part of their day in a general education classroom. However, only nine percent of general education teachers have training in teaching students with autism. [US Riverside News]

These statistics highlight how the same classroom can have students from different backgrounds and with various learning needs. 


Adaptive Lessons Also Accommodate Different Learning Styles

Even if you have students who are all on the same level in one classroom, they likely learn in different ways. This means some lessons will resonate with a few students, but not others.

  1. The concept of different learning styles has been accepted since 334 BC by Aristotle, who noticed that, “every child possessed specific talents and skills.” By adapting learning to these skills, students could learn faster and have an easier time engaging with materials. [Western Governors University
  2. There are seven accepted different styles of learning:
  • Visual (pictures and video imagery)
  • Aural (sound and music)
  • Verbal (reading and writing)
  • Physical (kinesthetic learners who learn with hands-on activities) 
  • Logical (critical thinking and explanations for understanding) 
  • Social (learning with peers)
  • Solitary (self-study and exploration) 

Different learning styles can be used at different times and for various projects. Students have different strengths and weaknesses in each style. [Public School Review]

  1. Teachers often favor certain learning styles over others. Some stick with verbal and aural teaching through the textbook while others focus on logical instruction. Students that don’t learn through these methods are less likely to be considered smart or have their talents recognized. [Public School Review]

Technology Makes Adaptive Learning Easier for Teachers

It’s impossible for teachers to develop individualized lesson plans for each student based on their needs – there isn’t enough time in the day for any educator to do so. Instead, technology (in the form of games, apps, and online assessments) can evaluate student needs and provide content to help them learn. 

  1. Around three-fourths (75 percent) of people under the age of 18 play video games weekly. Nearly half of all gamers are female. [The 74
  2. Eighty percent of learners said they would be more productive if learning was like a game. Seventy percent of teachers saw an increase in engagement when using educational video games. [Top Hat]
  3. Online games move quickly, which means students have to pay attention in order to keep up. This can keep engagement rates high as students pay attention so they can complete online quests and challenges. [Teach Starter
  4. Classroom games aren’t just for young students. The University of Oklahoma developed a calculus game to help students master advanced math concepts. Similar calculus learning games have been developed by Texas A&M University. [Texas A&M Today]
  5. Researchers have identified what makes an educational game useful. Three key traits include:
  • The game gives players agency to choose how they play or their goals for the game. 
  • The games spark curiosity and make students wonder how things work.

They provide “hard fun” which means there are appropriate challenge levels for each student that plays the game.  [Usable Knowledge]

Technology makes adaptive learning a win-win for both teachers and students. Teachers can keep students engaged while students play games and have fun – all while learning. 


eSpark is Proud to Embrace Adaptive Learning

At eSpark, we believe that adaptive learning is the key to student success. Our games and quests allow students to take control of their education in a fun and meaningful way. Students take formative assessments so the system knows what they need to focus on. Each quest is challenging but appropriate for the needs of the student. Our system allows teachers to help students fill in gaps in instruction, so more students can master key concepts to succeed. 

Try eSpark today and see how it can change your classroom experience. 

Ready to see student-centered learning in action?