The largest study to date of adaptive-learning software found that results have been modest at best. Nearly 20,000 college students and 300 instructors using the most popular learning software on the market participated in the research, conducted by SRI International for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2013-15.
Students were no more likely to pass a course using adaptive-learning tools than in a traditional classroom. Researchers also found that the software by itself isn’t enough and that universities didn’t do a good job of making sure the technology being used actually worked.
The study indicated that the tools functioned better when the instructor used the same language utilized in the software during face-to-face instruction and when student usage was monitored closely. Learning results also improved when the course was redesigned around the software.
“I wouldn’t characterize our report as cynical, just cautious,” Barbara Means, director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International, said in an article in The Hechinger Report. Means was also quick to point out that more and better technology has come to market since the study started in 2013. “It shouldn’t be regarded as though this is the last word. It’s just a very early snapshot.”