Strategies to Scale Adaptive Course Design

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Creating adaptive learning courses requires disruption of traditional learning and teaching models as well securing a variety of resources - tools, staff, content, etc.  Attendees will learn strategies employed by The American Women's College at Bay Path University to address these challenges while rapidly scaling implementation.


Jeremy is the Deputy Chief of Academic and Administrative Technology at The American Women's College at Bay Path University. In this role, he provides leadership of course design, faculty development and training, user support, data and analytics, and institutional research in the furtherance of innovations that contain the price of education and scale positive educational outcomes. Jeremy's career has been devoted to improving access to high quality education in positions in technology management, instructional design and technology, and public education. He earned his BS in history and social science education from Central Connecticut State University and his MS in educational technology from Eastern Connecticut State University. Currently, Jeremy is a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary leadership at Creighton University.

Extended Abstract

One of the great challenges in the field of education is what Bloom (1984) termed the two-sigma problem.  Namely, students who received one-on-one tutoring within a mastery learning framework achieve learning outcomes two standard deviations above those who learn in a control (traditional, "sage on the stage," i.e.) environment.  Adaptive learning offers the alluring promise to resolve Bloom's dilemma once and for all by personalizing educational experiences, requiring mastery to unlock future learning, and facilitating highly intentional instructor interventions through the availability of analytics.    

Given this promise, what is holding back widespread adoption of adaptive learning platforms?  For one, the roles of learners, faculty, and instructional designers stand to be disrupted at fundamental levels.  The student must be prepared to own her learning process, to be prepared to diagnose her difficulties, to engage metacognitive and reflective practice, and to embrace this empowerment.  Such a degree of student-centricity can be disarming even for the most constructivist of educators.  Faculty of adaptive courses tend to the tutor or coach role, engaging a student when she struggles to master concepts independently, when she is excelling and needs to be challenged, or when a group of students is exhibiting unexpected learning outcomes.  Instructional designers must support this shift while also learning the new language of adaptive learning design.  Barriers that result from such changes can seem insurmountable to newcomers or daunting to those in pilots. 

The American Women’s College (TAWC) has engaged a variety of strategies to support these shifts at scale.  As a matter of practicality, stakeholders need to be taught about adaptive learning.  This begins with onboarding where students and all manner of employees are introduced to the concepts behind adaptive learning, the institutional lexicon, and role expectations.  This required redesigned orientation experiences for students and brand new training courses for subject matter experts (SMEs) and faculty members.  Designated mentors within the academic team provide ongoing supports, as does a virtual learning community of practice for faculty.  All stakeholder groups need to be bought into adaptive learning, as well.  Burke (2014) proposes a variety of strategies to achieve this level of organizational change that we put to use at TAWC.  Rather than focus on beliefs and attitudes, for example, we attempted to change culture first by reinforcing behaviors among faculty, SMEs, and instructional designers that would support success in adaptive learning.  We encouraged exploration in the system, question asking, professional development, and similar approaches.  Further, leadership and strategy were aligned behind the vision of expanding access to adaptive learning.  Conveying this commitment came in the form of organization-wide meetings and smaller breakout groups.  The result of operational and strategic decisions was higher commitment to embracing adaptive learning.

Another impediment to scaling the adoption of an adaptive system is likely to be the resource intensiveness of course design.  One of the basic premises of adaptive is that multiple pathways and content types are necessary in order to personalize learning for a single concept or competency.  Multiplying this burden across the dozens (hundreds?) of skills, abilities, and discrete pieces of knowledge contained within a single course explodes a traditional model of faculty member as the sole SME who will secure content.  TAWC has sought to engage a variety of resources to address this impediment to scale.  OER partners and content curation services are especially critical in this regard as traditional publishers have been slow to embrace the possibility of sharing content outside of their proprietary systems.  Partnership management and vendor negotiation are the skills of the day.  Even with content in hand, SMEs are still needed to design the pathways, craft formative assessments, and match curated content to concepts and competencies.  TAWC has tackled these expanded needs with a team of SMEs comprised of members who have differentiated roles and individual areas of expertise.

These and other strategies for scaling adaptive learning will be discussed in greater detail during this session.  Attendees should leave with a framework that can succeed in various environments.        



Bloom, B.  (1984).  The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring.  Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-16.

Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and Practice (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.