What Is Adaptive Learning Technology? (3 Key Things To Know)

Adaptive learning technology helps teachers to do more for students by keeping them engaged with personalized and immediate feedback.  However, adaptive learning can vary quite a bit in how it works and how it is used.

So, what is adaptive learning technology?  Adaptive learning technology uses algorithms or AI (artificial intelligence) to offer customized education to each student based on individual needs. Adaptive learning allows students to work at their own pace. It also saves time by keeping students engaged and learning at an optimized level.

Of course, adaptive learning can benefit students in grades K through 12 and beyond.  Adaptive learning technologies help students to learn science, math, reading, English, and other subjects.

In this article, we’ll talk about adaptive learning technology and how it can help both teachers and students.  We’ll also look at some examples of these technologies and how they work.

Let’s get started.

What Is Adaptive Learning Technology?

Adaptive learning (or adaptive teaching) uses algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence) to provide customized education to each student, based on individual needs and progress.

artificial intelligence
Adaptive learning technology uses algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence) to help students learn more in less time by keeping them engaged in their lessons with individualized feedback and instruction.

These customized learning solutions can adjust the following:

  • Resources – providing the tools and using the teaching methods that help a student to learn best.
  • Knowledge – finding subjects where students need to improve and helping to fill knowledge gaps.
  • Difficulty – determining what level of challenge a student can currently handle and adapting the questions accordingly.
  • Speed – matching the pace of learning to the student’s needs and schedule.

Adaptive learning can provide written explanations, video lectures, learning activities (homework and projects), and assessments (quizzes and tests) to optimize learning.

Adaptive learning software can identify subject areas where students are weak and help them to review the necessary material before proceeding to other lessons.  It can provide easier or harder questions, based on how the student is progressing.

Adaptive learning can also speed up or slow down the pace of learning to keep the optimal level of challenge (not so easy that it is boring, but not so hard that it is frustrating or discouraging).

How Does Adaptive Learning Work?

Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence to provide an optimized and tailored learning experience for each student.

For example, a learning assessment (quiz or test) may itself be adaptive.  If a student does every question quickly and correctly, the adaptive learning system will begin to ask harder questions.

multiple choice test
An adaptive learning system will respond to a student’s progress on a test. If the student is struggling, the questions will get a little easier until the student improves.

If the student is working slowly and making mistakes, the adaptive learning system will slow the pace and ask easier questions.  Once the student improves, the questions will become harder.

Is Adaptive Learning Artificial Intelligence?

Some adaptive learning systems may use artificial intelligence, but not all of them do.  Some adaptive learning systems use algorithms to adapt learning to the proper difficulty for a student.

artificial intelligence 2
Some adaptive learning systems use algorithms to decide which questions to ask students and how difficult the questions should be.

For example, questions may be categorized into subject areas (linear equations, quadratic equations, etc.) and difficulty level (on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 is easy and 10 is the most difficult).

If the student cannot answer any questions on linear equations above difficulty level 5, then the system might ask questions at difficulty level 5 or 6.  Once the student improves, the system might start to ask questions at level 6 or 7.

Eventually, the student will master linear equations and the system will move on to quadratic equations.  This type of adaptive learning is not really using artificial intelligence, but instead is following a series of programmed steps.

An adaptive learning system that uses artificial intelligence can learn much more about the student.

For example, the system might find out that the student:

  • makes more arithmetic mistakes after an hour of study (due to fatigue or boredom).
  • learns more from video lectures than from textbook reading (based on quiz results after each learning method).
  • has more difficulty with word problems than with graphing problems (based on question type and percentage correct for each).

So, the system could adapt by having the student start with an hour of problems involving calculations (since he will make more arithmetic mistakes after the first hour).

Next, the system could have the student learn definitions and concept by watching video lectures (which he will learn more from than reading a textbook).

Finally, the system could ask the student word problems that involve graphing (to help the student use something he is good at to learn and improve on something he is not yet good at).

reading learning library
Part of adaptive learning is making the best use of a student’s time to study and work on problems.

Does Adaptive Learning Work?

A good adaptive learning system can help educators to provide individualized help to all students at once, rather than just a single student.

An adaptive learning system can also allow adult students to learn on their own schedule.  For instance, students who work while pursuing a GED or college degree may need to learn when they can, rather than on a set schedule.

Adaptive learning can also help students to stay engaged by keeping them in the “flow” state for a longer duration when studying.  In a flow state, you are engaged in a task that is challenging but still within your capabilities (that is, you are “in the zone”).

reading writing
Adaptive learning helps students to stay in the “flow” state for a longer time when working. This increases engagement, improves learning, and saves time in the long run.

As with most learning, you will get more out of adaptive learning if you put in the effort to “train” the system by spending time working on assignments.

Benefits Of Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning has many benefits for students, including:

  • Individualized Learning – instead of a “one size fits all” approach, adaptive learning can present the resources that students will learn best from.  The system will help students to focus on what they need to learn or improve, rather than going through material they already know how to do for the sake of busywork.
  • Time Savings – students won’t need to spend so much time studying, thanks to individualized instruction that optimizes their time spent studying.  More time spent learning in the engaged “flow state” means less time wasted on material that is too easy (since it is a basic review for the student) or too hard (since the student is unprepared, due to gaps in knowledge).
  • Flexible Scheduling – an adaptive learning system is ready whenever the student has time to learn.  An adaptive learning system does not sleep, so the student can read, watch lectures, do homework, and take assessments in the morning, afternoon, or at midnight.  Students can also take a break and resume learning for days or weeks after a family, medical, or work situation.
  • Improved Student Retention – all of the benefits above lead to improved student retention.  When the work is not too easy and not too hard, students are less likely to become bored or discouraged and drop out.  The time savings and flexible scheduling means that even busy professionals can eventually achieve their educational goals.
Adaptive learning provides individualized learning, which can save time for students. It also allows them to work on their own schedule, which ultimately improves retention rates for schools and colleges.

Adaptive Learning Platforms

Some well-known adaptive learning platforms include:

  • CK-12 Foundation – this free adaptive learning platform is suitable for students in K through 12 (ages 5 to 18).  CK-12 uses an AI tutor called Flexi and allows students to read, watch videos, do simulations, or answer questions to learn in the most efficient way possible.
  • DoodleLearning – this adaptive learning platform has a free trial and is suitable for students up to age 13.  DoodleLearning improves Math and English skills by using an adaptive algorithm called Proxima to give each student a personalized learning program.
  • DreamBox – this adaptive learning software helps elementary and middle school students to fill gaps in their math knowledge.  DreamBox helps teachers to find out which students are falling behind and keeps advanced students interested.
  • Eduten – this adaptive AI-based platform is suitable for math students aged 5 to 16.  It helps teachers to improve education by motivating students to learn.
  • Knewton – this company uses data to help higher education instructors improve teaching and learning for students.  For example, Knewton provides insight into how students interact with certain lessons, activities, and instructional material to see whether it is engaging and effective.
  • Learning By Questions – this classroom app is suitable for students aged 5 to 16.  Learning By Questions provides questions sets for students and gives instant feedback.  It also allows individualized support for each student.
  • Lexia Learning – this company provides literacy assessments and improvement for students in K through 12.  Lexia Learning can provide instructions in Spanish, Mandarin, and other languages for English learners.
  • MathSpace – this company caters to math students ages 8 to 18.  MathSpace uses technology to give students step-by-step instructions to help them find out where they went wrong so that they can improve right away.
  • Reading Unlocked – this company caters to students ages 5 to 7.  Reading Unlocked improves reading confidence and boasts an adaptive phonics programs that moves at the right pace for each student.
  • Smart Sparrow – this company attempts to create an in-person learning experience online.  Smart Sparrow helps teachers to plan lessons and guide students.

You can find out more about some of these adaptive learning platforms (and others) from EdTech Impact.


Now you know what adaptive learning technology is and what it is used for.  You also know some of the benefits of this method of instruction and how it can save time and improve outcomes for students at all levels.

You might also like to read my article on microlearning.

If you would like to hire a math tutor, check out this article first.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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