Home Learning Outcomes Assessment The Adaptive Paradigm: To Adapt, or not to Adapt?
The Adaptive Paradigm: To Adapt, or not to Adapt?

The Adaptive Paradigm: To Adapt, or not to Adapt?


487016177Dr. Phil Ice, VP of Research and Development at American Public University System

Adaptive learning is a current hot-button topic permeating higher education. In their quest to improve learning outcomes while increasing scalability, countless institutional administrators, program directors, and faculty are trying to determine which of the vast array of adaptive learning offerings may be the online learning equivalent of the Holy Grail.

I am more than a little skeptical of the claims being made by about 99 percent of today’s solution vendors. In many cases, their product offerings are nothing more than new window dressing applied to machine learning. Some other offerings may be of slightly higher quality, but involve such complex backend hard-coding that the cost of building out a new course offering can run up to six or seven figures. That means only one percent of the remaining solutions—currently on the market or under development— appear capable of delivering true adaptive learning, through provisioning individualized experiences and content pathways. My question is, are institutions prepared to accept the ramifications of the technology they have demanded?

Over the last ten centuries, universities were complicit in perpetuating the myth that the professoriate is a fountainhead of absolute knowledge. Granted, there was a great deal of lip service given to the idea of the “guide on the side” replacing the “sage on the stage,” however, all but the most constructivist faculty members tend to have some preconceived notions about the path by which learning will occur. In contrast, the adaptive paradigm suggests that there are multiple pathways that will lead to the same outcome. Accepting that this concept can actually work implies that faculty will actually have to walk the walk with respect to being facilitators, not just pay lip service to the ideal.

From an instructional design perspective, the idea of building out multiple iterations of learning objects that all satisfy the same goal, controverts assumptions of best practices being imbedded in increasingly iterated upon frameworks. And even if designers can be persuaded that constellations of assets are required to provide an adequate base for provisioning adaptive engines, administrators must be convinced that the equally large design and development budgets are justified.

As a final note, educators should make certain that adaptive learning is developed and implemented correctly, or expect a future predicated on promises as opposed to truly functional, meaningful solutions.

Dr. Phil Ice is the VP of Research and Development at American Public University System. His research is focused on the impact of new and emerging technologies on cognition in online learning environments. Work in this area has brought him international recognition in the form of four Online Learning Consortium Effective Practice of the Year Awards (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2013), the AliveTek/DLA Innovation in Online Distance Learning Administration Award, the Adobe Education Leadership Award, the USDLA’s Leadership in Online Learning Award, and induction into the Online Learning Consortium Fellows.





Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.


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