The Business Case for Adaptive Learning: Applications Across Industries

McGraw-Hill Education explores how adaptive learning uses neuroscience theories to deliver an
efficient, effective, engaging experience to every learner

By Christina Yu and Geoff Broderick, McGraw-Hill Learning Science Platforms

These days, we can listen to personalized music on the radio, order transit on demand and watch online streams customized to our preferences. Our entertainment and e-commerce experiences are now hyper-optimized. The question then becomes: how can we optimize learning?

McGraw-Hill Education Learning Science Platforms apply artificial intelligence to learning to unlock human potential. The platforms transform static content into dynamically personalized experiences, adapting content to behavior and performance in real time. The result is more efficient, effective and engaging learning.

Several neuroscience theories are embedded in the algorithms that power the personalized learning paths taken on the platforms. Here are some examples.

Metacognitive Theory

People learn best when they know their strengths and weaknesses. As learners move through content, the platform captures data concerning accuracy, confidence, time and more. The platform then assesses this data and delivers content that helps each learner increase accuracy and improve awareness. Learners then walk away knowing what they know.

Leaders are those who have confidence, quickly seem to know what to do and how to do it, and can step up, frame a situation and set context for others. But what about unlocking everyone’s potential? It starts by demystifying the relationship between confidence and mastery, showing us what we know when we know it, pointing out our weaknesses and highlighting the path to erasing our knowledge gaps.

Take, for example, a director in hospitality reviewing state and local laws relating to their business. Any policy misunderstanding may result in a lack of compliance and possible sanctions or fines from regulatory agencies, which will affect the organization economically. Or consider a health care organization, where training can mean the difference between life and death. Guessing test answers isn’t an option for these professionals. If a course is administered to 3,000 nurses and most answer a significant question correctly, but 80 percent guessed without confidence, do they really understand the concept? What are the ramifications if thousands can’t confidently apply what they’ve learned to their patients?

Here’s another angle of the confidence problem: take a junior professional at a media tech company who spends time at work feeling uncertain and self-conscious. If that individual scores well on mastery — but low on awareness — becoming more strengths-aware may increase her confidence and willingness to take initiative on the job, perhaps even mentoring others who are weak in those same areas. There are 360-degree benefits in this case for both employees and managers.

Bottom line: awareness is an important component of knowledge. The more self-aware the learner is, the better it is for everyone.

Theory of Deliberate Practice

Understanding where we are weakest helps us focus our practice. To address this, the platform continuously adjusts content to focus on individual weaknesses, ensuring that time is used efficiently and effectively.

Possible applications of this theory are numerous. Take, for example, an industrial manufacturing company whose employees perform specialized tasks in often dangerous environments. Such employees must use their training time optimally with focus and intensity. Both employee and organization benefit when training focuses on aggressively remediating weaknesses, rather than mindlessly reviewing strengths.

Theory of Fun for Game Design

Learners are most engaged when challenged, but not too challenged. The platform puts this concept into action by keeping each learner in an optimal zone of challenge. If too many questions are answered wrong in a row, for instance, the platform will serve up a question that provides a quick win and builds the learner’s confidence.

This is a meaningful concept for all learners — who doesn’t get frustrated when challenges are overwhelming? However, it means something different depending on the employee’s level. Line-level retail workers may stay more engaged when gamification is applied to learning — allowing them to challenge themselves without feeling overwhelmed.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (Spaced Repetition)

To truly learn something, learners need to commit it to long-term memory. The best time to do so is just before learners are about to forget. Incorporating this concept, the platform uses data to predict when someone is most likely to lose a concept from short-term memory and recharges it, so that the learner commits it to long-term memory.

Senior executives, for example, may feel they already possess mastery over their fields, possibly underestimating the level of continuous learning and reinforcement required to stay at peak performance. The stress of managing alongside formidable peers only compounds the challenge, especially when profit and loss responsibilities are at stake. Repetition of concepts at key intervals combats memory decay.

Ultimately, the concept of formative assessment — assessment that occurs during learning, rather than afterward — lies at the heart of adaptive learning, expresses no judgment and encourages flow and present orientation. Employees at all levels are then free to learn and fail in a safe environment conductive to real growth.

Want to see adaptive learning in action? Write to me at Christina.Yu@mheducation.com.

McGraw-Hill Education Learning Science Platforms apply artificial intelligence to learning through adaptive technology. The platforms transform otherwise static content into personalized experiences that adapt in real-time to each learner’s behavior and performance. Every moment is optimized, so that the right content is presented at the right time for each learner. Greater learning efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement are the immediate results, improved training ROI and organizational performance the ultimate results.
Learners focus on challenging areas, fight memory decay, and move knowledge from short to long-term memory, all while remaining engaged. The technology is based on educational theory and cognitive science that explores memory, metacognition, and the personalized delivery of concepts.