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Adaptive Learning in the Classroom

Adaptive Learning in the Classroom

Author: Joshua Arbogast

By the end of this tutorial you will be able to...

  • Explain the theory of constructivism and the cognitive flexibility theory with regard to adaptive learning within the context of teaching.
  • Analyze the teacher’s role in adaptive learning and investigated adaptive learning management systems.
  • Reflect on the use of adaptive learning with different populations of students: students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who are gifted/talented.
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What is constructivism?

Learning is constructed through experiences and prior knowledge. Students would not be able to learn how to drive by relying on a theoretical approach, but through active engagement in the process. I learned how to navigate through my hometown by riding in the car with my parents, however, I would often realize the small details, got lost, and improved by figuring out the correct route through trial and error.

Benefits of Constructivism

  • Engaging
  • Learning through UNDERSTANDING, not memorization
  • Application to the real world
  • Students take ownership of the learning
  • Collaborative skills

Constructivism in the Adaptive Classroom

In an adaptive learning classroom, constructivism is used to completely individualize learning based on the skill and needs of the student. When students experience the information the are reintroduced to the information several times during the course of the class, also known as a "spiral curriculum." When students learn new information they take that information and go deeper by engaging with applying that knowledge to the world.

What is cognitive flexibility theory?

Theory that humans can adapt to a variety of learning situations. I teach government and it is most interesting to have students look at supreme court cases and see how different justices interpret a phrase in the Constitution, these learning situations can show how different people see a situation. Design thinking, often used in the field of engineering, can offer ways to look at problems from a variety of angles. Being able to cooperatively work with a group to improve on a machine or manipulate that machine to complete its job more efficiently is exactly what the cognitive flexibility theory tries to achieve.

Benefits to Cognitive Flexibility Theory

  • Improved cognitive structures and executive functions (Boyer-Mehall)
  • Students take ownership of knowledge
  • Enhanced cognitive organization
  • Improved information retrieval

Source: Tutorial 1.1.3.

Cognitive Flexibility Theory in the Classroom

In a cognitively flexible classroom, the students learn through examples within the context of the content. By teaching students about political philosophies they can begin to extrapolate how they pertain to modern political systems.

Source: Tutorial 1.1.5.

Adaptive Learning Management Systems

Smart Sparrow

  • Teacher created classes
  • Curated content can be imported (lessons, pedagogical techniques)
  • Advantage - Creation of interactive lessons (drag and drop)
  • Disadvantage - Not a stand-alone LMS, must integrate into existing LMS; Platform may be too complex for a casual user
  • Paid


  • Teacher created classes
  • Advantages - Gamification; easy format to create lessons and navigate
  • Disadvantages - Few features at the free level
  • Freemium

Khan Academy

  • Curated lessons with a focus on math from basic arithmetic to advanced calculus 
  • Advantages - Lessons are created by professionals; Gamified system
  • Disadvantage - One method of teaching (video)
  • Free


  • Teacher created classes or browse from the public courses available
  • Advantages - The model can be truly adaptive through use of the mastery paths features
  • Disadvantages - Format is traditional
  • Freemium


Make the Connection

Stop and reflection on the following: 

How can adaptive learning be used with students with an Individualized Learning Plan? English Language Learners? Gifted students?