Adaptive Learning 101: How Professors and Learning Technology Centers Can Collaborate to Launch a New Adaptive Course

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will present an introduction to Adaptive Learning and share how faculty and instructional support staff at UW-Whitewater implemented a new version of a course using adaptive learning. Efficiency and creativity tips for faculty and instructional designers will be shared as well as challenges.


Dr. Matthew Vick is a professor of science education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has directed/co-directed two grant projects at UW-W: a two-year Wisconsin Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title IIA Improving Teacher Quality Grant entitled "Integrating Science and Literacy Learning with English Proficient and English Language Learners" and a one-year UW System Outreach grant entitled "Collaboratively Implementing the Vision of the Next Generation Science Standards in the Mukwonago Area School District with Pre-service and In-service Teachers". He has published research articles and a book chapter in science education as well as practitioner-based articles. He has presented at the National Science Teachers Association, the Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, and the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers. He has served as department chair for the department of Curriculum and Instruction and interim associate dean of graduate studies.
Nicole is currently the Director of Learning Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she is responsible for providing vision, leadership, guidance and support in the delivery of innovative, high-quality, pedagogically-sound and technology-enhanced instruction. She has extensive experience in leading student success initiatives, facilitating online and blended faculty development, creating communities of practice around online and blended teaching, and evaluating the effectiveness of emerging learning technologies in higher education environments. Additionally, Nicole has taught face-to-face, blended, and online courses around research methods, community problems, and educational psychology at various universities since 2009. Her research interests lie in emerging technology, social processes, faculty development, course design, and the impact of current higher education practices on first-generation college students, with her work having been published in several books and journals, as well as presented nationally.

Extended Abstract


By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Describe the features of adaptive learning.

  2. Describe the results of course design from summer and fall 2018 involving a faculty member and instructional designers from the campus Learning Technology Center.

  3. Identify challenges that occur during the course design process and course implementation.

  4. Explain collaborative strategies between faculty and instructional designers that can lead to successful adaptive learning course launches

Adaptive learning platforms allow for self-paced, flexible, and responsive course design for a diverse variety of students.  Redesigning a course to be an adaptive learning course requires a new mindset and flexibility on the part of the instructor and designers as well as the students.  The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is a traditional comprehensive university in which faculty members design and deliver their courses whether face-to-face, blended, or fully online.  Its Learning Technology Center provides Instructional Design support as requested by faculty. This presentation shares lessons learned from a collaboration between a professor and the instructional design team to pilot an adaptive learning experience using RealizeIt.  The instructor’s course was redesigned and taught as a pilot for the university.

Redesign of the course was facilitated by a voluntary consulting relationship between the professor and an instructional designer as well as with a consultant from RealizeIt.  Reimagining the course began utilizing Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design (also known as UbD or backward design) framework. This process identified what was essential and important in the course which was important when designing the hierarchy of learning nodes.  Identifying the key summative assessment products helped to clarify how the adaptive learning elements could be used as formative assessments to build the knowledge and skills needed for these non-adaptive summative projects and assessments. The UbD framework also helped to clarify what the various learning “chunks” or nodes should be and how they linked to the course level objectives/essential questions.  

Developing banks of assessment questions for use with the adaptive learning framework required new types of thinking from the professor.  While this instructor was used to developing banks of questions that would be randomly selected for use in online courses, designing multiple choice questions with “banks” of correct and incorrect responses allowed for efficiency when creating enough questions to allow for the multiple assessment opportunities used by adaptive learning.

The role of prerequisites in an adaptive learning framework like RealizeIt’s required a lot of rethinking by the professor. Adaptive pre-requisites are not a curricular sequence in term of how an instructor usually thinks about them.  Rather, with the predictive ability of adaptive learning platforms and how instructional materials are selected by the system for students, the instructor has to carefully consider what sets of knowledge and ability show evidence of other types of knowledge and abilities.

Since the professor at UW-Whitewater who was involved in designing the course will also be teaching it, this reduces some of the complexity of courses that are designed by Subject Matter Experts and Instructional Designers but then taught by other instructors.  Nevertheless, the role of the Instructional Designer as a consultant and coach was essential. The Instructional Designer challenged the professor to rethink course organization and requirements in light of the adaptive framework. A shared framework of Understanding by Design helped both the professor and designer communicate and plan the new adaptive course.

Implementation time is, not surprisingly, one of the largest hurdles for converting a course into an adaptive framework.  A dedicated part-time student worker assisted in uploading and quality checking the course in RealizeIt. The Learning Technology Center staff assisted in integrated with the campus’s LMS (Canvas).  The instructor was able to pull large parts of previous course curriculum into the templates from RealizeIt to permit efficiency in the design process. This session will conclude with displays of the analytics from the courses and survey results from students.

Engagement Strategies

Poll Everywhere will be used during the presentation to gather information about the experiences of the session participants.  These responses will provide context for the presentation especially in terms of how their experiences compare and contrast to the case study being shared by the presenters.  Further, open responses on Poll Everywhere will let the audience share their own applications and experiences.

Session Plan (45 minutes)

  1. Overview of Adaptive Learning-Framed by responses from Poll Everywhere (5 minutes)

  2. Context of Learning Technology Center at UW-Whitewater (5 minutes)

  3. Context of the UW-Whitewater course being converted from traditional to adaptive learning (5 minutes)

  4. Process of identifying course nodes and compartmentalizing content (5 minutes)

  5. Strategies for the efficient creation of assessment items for adaptive learning (10 minutes)

  6. Integrating summative (non-adaptive) assessments with the adaptive learning curriculum (5 minutes)

  7. Summary (5 minutes)

  8. Question and Answer (5 minutes)