Adaptive learning products are one of the hotter trends to hit the academic world lately, largely because of their potential to customize instruction to each student’s capabilities and comprehension. That’s easier said than done, according to a new Dutch study published in the Review of Educational Research and reported by the blog Education by the Numbers.
The adaptive function typically kicks in when a student gives a wrong answer in the assessment portion and tries to help the student understand the correct answer, sometimes simply by flagging an erroneous response and inviting the student to pick another. The idea, apparently, is that the student will immediately understand how they goofed.
“But just the opposite is true,” noted the blog’s post. “Simply marking wrong answers was the worst form of feedback.” Some students using this type of software even got lower scores than students without any sort of feedback at all.
Providing the right answer helped students more, the Dutch researchers found, but an even more effective method was offering an explanation or at least some kind of clue that might steer a student toward the correct answer. However, the study determined it was difficult to customize explanations or hints because students may be misunderstanding the material for different reasons.
The study also discovered that adaptive learning software sometimes jumped in with the correct answer or explanation a little too quickly, before the student had time to digest the lesson. When the topic was “something more complicated, students learned more when the feedback was delayed a bit, perhaps until after the student had answered all the questions,” the blog noted.