Implementing Adaptive Learning: Multiple Perspectives from Practitioners, Leadership and Researchers

Concurrent Session 2
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Brief Abstract

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is strategically implementing adaptive learning to improve student success. In this session, panelists, including academic administrators, educational researchers, faculty members, and instructional designers, will share lessons learned from a two-year pilot adaptive learning initiative at UCF and discuss implementation strategies in higher educational institutions. 


Dr. Baiyun Chen is an Instructional Designer at the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. She leads the Personalized Adaptive Learning team, designs and delivers faculty professional development programs, and teaches graduate courses on Instructional Systems Design. Her research interests focus on using instructional strategies in online and blended teaching and learning, professional development for teaching online, and application of emerging technologies in education. On related topics of online instruction, she has published 19 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and delivered more than 50 presentations at international and local conferences and events. She has also served as the Co-Managing Editor of the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. In 2016 and 2017, Dr. Chen co-facilitated BlendKit, a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Becoming a Blended Learning Designer. As an Online Learning Consortium Institute faculty, she has designed, developed and taught the Blended Learning Mastery Series: Research into Practice.
Thomas Cavanagh, Ph.D. is Vice Provost for Digital Learning at the University of Central Florida. In this role he oversees all classroom technology and the distance learning strategy, policies, and practices of one of the nation’s largest universities, serving 68,000 students, where online learning represents more than 47% of the university's annual credit hours. In his career, Tom has administered e-learning development for both academic (public and private) and industrial (Fortune 500, government/military) audiences. He has been recognized with a number of awards including the WCET Richard Jonsen Award, the USDLA Outstanding Leadership Award, and been named an Online Learning Consortium Fellow. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and serves on a number of national advisory boards. He is also an award-winning author of several mystery novels.
Charles Dziuban is Director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where has been a faculty member since 1970 teaching research design and statistics and is the founding director of the university’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Since 1996, he has directed the impact evaluation of UCF’s distributed learning initiative examining student and faculty outcomes as well as gauging the impact of online, blended and lecture capture courses on the university. Chuck has published in numerous journals including Multivariate Behavioral Research, The Psychological Bulletin, Educational and Psychological Measurement, the American Education Research Journal, the Phi Delta Kappan, the Internet in Higher Education, the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, and the Sloan-C View. His methods for determining psychometric adequacy have been featured in both the SPSS and the SAS packages. He has received funding from several government and industrial agencies including the Ford Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In 2000, Chuck was named UCF’s first ever Pegasus Professor for extraordinary research, teaching, and service and in 2005 received the honor of Professor Emeritus. In 2005, he received the Sloan Consortium award for Most Outstanding Achievement in Online Learning by an Individual. In 2007 he was appointed to the National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy Policy Council. In 2010, Chuck was named an inaugural Sloan-C Fellow. In 2012 the University of Central Florida initiated the Chuck D. Dziuban Award for Excellence in Online Teaching for UCF faculty members in honor of Chuck’s impact on the field of online teaching and learning. In 2017 Chuck received UCF’s inaugural Collective Excellence award for his work strengthening the university’s impact with the Tangelo Park Program and assumed the position of University Representative to the Rosen Foundation Tangelo Park and Parramore programs.
Patsy Moskal is the Director of the Digital Learning Impact Evaluation in the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where she evaluates the impact of technology-enhanced learning and serves as the liaison for faculty scholarship of teaching and learning. In 2011 Dr. Moskal was named an OLC Fellow in recognition of her groundbreaking work in the assessment of the impact and efficacy of online and blended learning. She has written and co-authored numerous works on blended and online learning and is a frequent presenter on these topics. Patsy's co-authored book--Conducting Research in Online and Blended Learning: New Pedagogical Frontiers--with Dziuban, Picciano, and Graham, was published in August 2015. She currently serves on the OLC Board of Directors.
Corrinne Stull is an Instructional Designer at the University of Central Florida's Center for Distributed Learning (CDL). Corrinne holds a B.A. in Digital Media with a focus on Web Design and previously worked in web development. Her interest in combining technology and education to design and create online learning experiences led her to pursue an M.A. in Instructional Design & Technology, focusing on Instructional Systems. In her current role, Corrinne specializes in personalized adaptive learning software and strategies. Other research interests include online course accessibility, active learning strategies, quality in online courses, and the use of OER materials. Additionally, Corrinne is the coordinator of CDL's Faculty Seminars in Online Teaching, standalone seminars offered periodically for collegial dialogue around best practices in online teaching.
Jessica Tojo is an Instructional Designer at the University of Central Florida’s Center for Distributed Learning (CDL). Jessica earned a B.S. degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Central Florida in 2007 and taught elementary school for eight years. Her interest to enhance learning through the integration of technology led her to pursue an M.A. in Educational Technology which she received from UCF in 2011. Her research interests include personalized adaptive learning, the use of OER materials, and accessibility.

Extended Abstract

Presentation Description & Goals

Panelists will share lessons learned from a two-year pilot adaptive learning initiative at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The goals of the panel session are to:

  1. Discuss the rationale for integrating adaptive learning technologies in higher education

  2. Reflect on the benefits of such an initiative for students, faculty, and the university

  3. Share implementation procedures and challenges

  4. Recommend key strategies that have been developed or have evolved from the initiative

The session will be moderated by: Baiyun Chen, Ph.D., PAL Team Lead, Center for Distributed Learning (CDL). The panel members for this session include various stakeholders, including academic administrators, educational researchers, faculty members, and instructional designers. Depending on availability, the following panelists will present:

  • Thomas Cavanagh, Ph.D., Associate Vice President, CDL

  • Charles Dziuban, Ph.D., Director, Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness (RITE)

  • Patsy Moskal, Ph.D., Associate Director, RITE

  • Debbie Hahs-Vaughn, Ph.D., Professor, College of Education and Human Performance

  • Craig Tidwell, Ph.D., Instructor, Bachelor of Applied Science Program

  • Marwan Shaban, Ph.D., Instructor, Bachelor of Applied Science Program

  • Debbie Kirkley, M.A. Personalized Adaptive Learning (PAL) Instructional Designer, CDL

  • Corrinne Stull, M.A., PAL Instructional Designer, CDL

  • Jessica Tojo, M.A., PAL Instructional Designer, CDL

This is a highly interactive session. The moderator will facilitate four rounds of discussion regarding rationale, benefits, challenges, and strategies. Each participant will have access to an editable Google Doc with presentation content and resources and can add questions, ideas, suggestions and additional resources throughout the session. The participants will have access to the resources after the session for their own reference.


The University of Central Florida (UCF) is a metropolitan research university that includes 12 colleges and offers over 200 degree programs. Currently UCF is the largest university by enrollment in Florida and one of the largest universities in the nature with over 64,000 students with representation from all 50 states and 152 countries. UCF is strategically implementing adaptive learning to improve student success in large-enrollment gateway courses and courses that have traditionally had unacceptably high levels of D and F grades and course withdrawals (DFW).


The initiative is a collaborative effort among students, faculty members, instructional designers, IT staff, senior administrators, and vendors. First, our selection of a primary adaptive learning platform involved in-depth analyses of adaptive products from multiple vendors by academic administrators, faculty members, and both instructional design and IT staff. After we decided to select RealizeIT as our adaptive learning platform, with the assistance of the vendor, we piloted two courses in the fall 2014: Nursing undergraduate pathophysiology and General Psychology. To date, we have built and tested courses that included Psychology, College Algebra, Pathophysiology (Nursing), Statistics for Educational Data, Professional Administrative Writing (Public Administration), Computer and Network Security (BAS), Local Area Network Technology (BAS), and Applied Systems Analysis (BAS). Courses have been taught in fully online (W), blended (M), and face-to-face (P) modalities, as well as at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. After more than two years of pilot work with adaptive learning, we are reasonably confident about how faculty and students respond to teaching and learning in an educational environment that is personalized and adaptive. Student success has been positive and the team has begun publishing results in peer-reviewed outlets.

Designing and developing effective adaptive learning courses is not without challenges. One faculty member compared the effort to writing a textbook. Although the platform can ingest content from existing sources, organizing it into the learning map and developing assessments can be time-consuming. To alleviate this burden on the faculty, UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning hired instructional designers, adaptive course developers and graduate teaching assistants to reduce the workload on faculty. The Center for Distributed Learning engages academic departments and colleges in our adaptive learning efforts, rather than individual faculty members, in order to ensure departmental buy-in and a longer-term return from investments in adaptive course development.

In the last two years, we have built 17 adaptive learning courses, 44 section, which impacted over 2,000 students. At the end of each semester, we surveyed students regarding their reactions to the adaptive learning interface and their experiences in the adaptive learning environment. Students have been positive regarding the system and how the approach influences their learning, with the majority indicating that they would take more adaptive learning courses if given the chance.

The participating faculty members were optimistic about using adaptive learning. The faculty members’ consensus was that adaptive learning is best suited for courses that have a hierarchical structure—where there are interdependent learning and skill requirements. They pointed out that adaptive learning platforms should be considered an instructional tool and that effective use of that tool is the primary consideration. Such platforms can be used for the entire course or in conjunction with other technologies, such as the mainstream Learning Management System. These faculty members expressed the opinion that adaptive learning is the future of higher education.

Panelists will share findings from our pilot research in the session. Overall, personalized adaptive learning has had successes with our early pilot courses. We have learned the strengths and limitation of the adaptive systems. Faculty members and instructional designers are working collaboratively to complete another five courses in the next three semesters. We are aiming to scale adaptive learning in large-enrollment gateway courses and expand our support to faculty members using various adaptive learning system, such as ALEKS and LearnSmart from McGraw-Hill. The Center for Distributed Learning (CDL) is committed to providing pedagogical and technical resources to assist faculty to successfully integrate adaptive system that fits best with their teaching.