Building Personalized Learning Experiences through Adaptive Learning Techniques

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

A team of instructional designers received a grant from the eXtension Foundation to evaluate and pilot adaptive learning tools for educational programming. In this session participants will see demonstrations of personalized learning created in D2L LeaP, Articulate Storyline, and Camtasia. Templates will be shared with participants for their own programming.


Gwyn is an Instructional Technology Specialist at Michigan State University. Her role is to provide leadership in developing effective technology enhanced learning experiences for MSU Extension programs. She has over 15 years of experience in higher education focusing on instructional design, creative online technologies, program evaluation, organizational development, faculty training, and project management. Gwyn received her Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Communications and her Master’s Degree in Agriculture and Extension Education from Michigan State University.

Extended Abstract

A team of instructional designers from Michigan State University received a grant from the National eXtension Foundation to evaluate and pilot adaptive learning tools for educational programming. The focus of the grant was to implement adaptive learning techniques into non-credit community-based programming however, a credit course was also included in the pilot. In this session participants will see demonstrations of personalized learning activities developed in D2L LeaP, Articulate Storyline, and Camtasia. Templates and processes will be shared that participants can use within their own programming.

For over 100 years Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) has played an important role in improving the lives of Michigan residents and beyond through the dissemination of quality, science-based educational materials. In order to meet the needs of our communities, many of our programs are offered online through mediums such as web-based articles, online courses, and mobile apps. It is imperative for our organization to respond to our audiences and explore new ways to disseminate knowledge.

As technology improves and is available to more audiences Cooperative Extension Service (CES) programs, such as MSUE, must focus on reaching out to clients in new and creative ways. The MSUE website has received 10 million page views since its launch on April 18, 2012. The site received 1.8 million page views in the first year, 3.64 million in the second year, and 4.48 million with more than a month to go before the three year mark. Search engine rankings make the MSUE web site one of the most visited CES educational sites in the country. Statistics such as this help us understand how people are getting information through technology.

Moving traditional face-to-face programing to an online or blended format is a method often used to reduce expenses and increase our reach to audiences that we may not have previously served. In doing so, CES programming must be responsive to the needs and preferences of online learners and offer high-quality, relevant content. The idea of more and more people accessing content online, and the challenge of low retention rates, leads us to our focus on adaptive learning and offering customized content based on a learner’s needs.

The adaptive learning model suggests a personalized learning path for users based on data and analytics. It is a model suggesting that learners will engage with content in different ways. Adult learning models set forth from educational theorists such as Malcom Knowles suggest that adults prefer to have a choice in the planning of their learning experience.  For example, some participants bring with them prior knowledge and would prefer to focus on content they need to know rather than follow a linear learning process. In another scenario, imagine a tool that presents a participant with suggested learning objects based on the results of a pre-assessment.

Adaptive techniques allow instructors to get a baseline of student knowledge at the beginning of a course/semester, create remediation tools if a student receives a low grade on an assessment, allow students to practice before an exam, and help guide instruction - especially for students that are struggling with specific topics.  According to Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education, published by Tyton Partners, “adaptive  learning promises to make a significant contribution to improving retention, measuring student learning, aiding the achievement of better outcomes, and improving pedagogy.”

The NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition, by the New Media Consortium and Educause Learning Initiative, suggests that adaptive learning technologies are about four years away from widespread use. They indicate that the next step in adaptive learning is developing best practices. The lessons learned from this project will have an influence on future development of online delivery by MSUE and CES through a new set of tools and recommendations for developing customized learning experiences.

The three primary objectives of the project include:

  • Objective 1: Increase knowledge of adaptive learning tools through research and collaboration with leaders in the field of online learning who are investing in adaptive learning tools. Adaptive learning tools will be assessed and ranked based on potential use within CES programming.
  • Objective 2: Design and deliver adaptive learning activities within existing online courses through several selected pilot projects.
  • Objective 3: Evaluate the effectiveness of the adaptive learning activities through online evaluations, retention rates compared to traditional online content, and general course data. Online focus groups will be administered to receive qualitative feedback on the effectiveness of the adaptive learning method.

Initial evaluation results and best practices will be shared in this presentation, through open dialogue, as the pros and cons of each tool are described. Participants will also be able to download resources and templates designed for improving the quality of the courses that were piloted through this project.  

Tyton Partners. (n.d.). Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from