Analytics, Algorithms, and Aptitude – Adaptive Learning is a Big Opportunity for Education

Analytics, Algorithms, and Aptitude – Adaptive Learning is a Big Opportunity for Education


I love Pandora (and Spotify, and iTunes radio). All of them respond to my listening history to introduce me to new music by new artists while rolling in familiar songs that I still love. They do this by converging hard data and personal taste. It’s really fun and the commercial use is obvious (people who bought this, also bought that. . .) but the potential for serious outcomes geared to the greater good is enormous.

Darwin spoke of survival of the fittest with his theory of evolution built around one’s ability to adapt. Today we talk about grit and resilience as major differentiators in student success. We know that one’s ability to land on one’s feet in times of change separates those that thrive from the rest of the pack. We also know that teaching these fuzzy attributes is difficult and demands coaching, modelling, trial and error, the opportunity to fail, trust, and faith – outcomes we don’t usually find on a course syllabus.

We also know that different people learn in different ways at different speeds – and that those modalities are also fuzzy and inconsistent depending on a multitude of factors. Yet, for the most part, our schools are still structured around rigid schedules with lock-step learning routines often shaped by textbooks instead of people. Differentiated teaching is tough. One teacher responding to all the variables associated with course content, school culture, and classroom behavior can be overwhelming on a good day. One of the best things to come out of the digital disruption is adaptive e-Learning platforms.

Dreambox Learning, one of the stars of this innovative space, has wonderful information about the benefits of adaptive learning. Other key players include: Knewton (in partnership with Pearson, Cambridge University Press, and Macmillan), Smart Sparrow, Desire2Learn, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Money is an object, particularly for struggling school systems. But these models are very scalable and still very new. I hope with time and a more substantial track record, we can get these tools in every teacher’s hand so that every student can realize their super power to learn. It’s about more than opportunity, it’s about survival of the fittest.

The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health

The Quantified Self – Hack your way to better health







We are fortunate to live at a time when technology is enabling the exploration of solutions because of expanded connectivity. Digital technologies connect us to each other and to information at an ever increasing rate. One of the interesting fields that is gaining quick traction in this space is called the Quantified Self Movement. It is essentially self-knowledge through self-tracking.

This is not new. Benjamin Franklin famously tracked 13 personal virtues in a daily journal to push himself toward moral perfection. Not sure how well that worked, but our curiosity and capacity for self-scrutiny remains intact. If anything, our house of mirrors has gained momentum with new gadgets that make data collection cheaper and more convenient.

Big data and wearable tech allow us to quantify biometrics we never knew existed. Want to know your insulin or cortisol levels, or sequence your DNA, or learn what microbial cells inhabit your body? There’s an app for that. Apple’s app store’s medical category has more than 13,000 individual apps for download. The mobile health industry is estimated to be worth $400 million by 2016, according to ABI Research. Last year, mobile users downloaded 247 million health-related apps, according to market research company Research2Guidance.

Pew Research points out that about 69% of US adults track at least one health metric. Here are some of the more popular tools in use today:

  1. Want to lose weight? Keep a food log. Use MyFitnessPal, pen and paper, or just take a picture. Tracking your food intake will lead to interesting insights about your diet and health. A 2008 study also showed that the act of tracking food further facilitates weight loss.
  2. Searching for happiness? Track your mood. AskMeEvery tracks your mood for 3 months and might add insight to your personal and professional barometer readings. Other good apps include MercuryApp and TrackYourHappiness. We often are not mindful of our changing moods or the factors that affect them. Tracking them daily keeps us self-aware.
  3. Need to move more? Track your activity. There are tons of great tools including Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Basis, Omron, Moves, and more. Your iPhone can also track your activity.

Why do people go to the trouble of tracking health data for themselves or for loved ones? Some say they get results:

  • 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
  • 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.

Track your way to health and happiness? Beats wasting time looking at cute kitten videos on uTube . . .

Domains of Learning, Events of Instruction, and Hierarchical Analysis: What Does an Instructional Designer Do Anyway?

Domains of Learning, Events of Instruction, and Hierarchical Analysis: What Does an Instructional Designer Do Anyway?

I am frequently asked by curious friends and colleagues what my job involves. Most people are interested in better understanding the concept of designing courses as a separate practice from teaching or having expertise in a content area.  Others kind of look away as if I am some confusing accessory item at a theme party to be quickly and quietly ditched on the nearest table.

Have no fear, I’m here to help!

At its core, Instructional Design is the practice of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.” The process consists broadly of determining the current state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some informed methodologies to assist in the transition.

The history of a systems based approach to Instructional Design began in the 1940s and was primarily focused on evaluating, sorting, and training soldiers during WW II. Behavioral scientists and academics, like B.F. Skinner and Benjamin Bloom added influential data to the field in the 50s and 60s. We got a better handle on how people learn but identified the need for better assessment tools in the 70s – in part because training in the military and industry had little room for error.  The idea of differentiated learning and teaching was spawned in part out of what these new assessment tools told us about the relationships between skill acquisition and learning styles.

The introduction of the personal computer in the 80s changed the landscape of teaching and learning forever but we have moved far beyond its initial use as a container for “drill and skill” exercises. The advent of the World Wide Web in the 90s combined with a new emphasis on the individual learner’s authentic experience (as opposed to strict content mastery) opened up the possibility for more interactive and complex relationships between the content and the student and has had huge ramifications for the role of the teacher.

The 21st century is seeing an explosion of internet and online learning. The growth of a global economy, social network sites, sophisticated simulations, and mobile technologies support a full range of educational options from entry level skill development, opportunities to “level up” for professional advancement, and life-long learning from the comfort of your post-retirement armchair.

What is a teacher to do with all of these changes in the learning landscape? Fortunately, most school systems have support for using the bright and shiny but sometimes complicated tools in the classroom – whether that room be on campus or “in the cloud”. With the growth of eLearning, a lot of Instructional Design today is focused on connecting the right delivery system (audio, video, interactive gaming, chat rooms, the list grows weekly), with the course outcomes.

We still begin with the end in mind. Good teaching continues to focus on identifying clear learning objectives or competencies, understanding how to measure those gains, and compiling instructional materials to support that acquisition in an interactive and engaging way that is accessible and supports student success.

In the eLearning world, courses primarily take two forms, asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous means “not occurring at the same time”, Synchronous means “occurring at the same time”. Classes are increasing hybrid in nature where students meet virtually to do group work, or complete online assignments “out of class” and meet together at a set time to share results and explore concepts together in more depth.

A good Instructional Designer can help a teacher take content-heavy power point slides or long-used lectures and turn them into an engaging, interactive eLearning experiences. I offer many resources and tools on my blog roll and have compiled a checklist and rubric for course development thanks to the help of the folks at Quality Matters, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, and UNC’s Center for Faculty Excellence. There are many, many resources available to guide you in either developing a new online class, revamping an existing on-campus class with exciting digital tools, flipping your classroom, or morphing your content into a hybrid delivery.

As Richard Bland College expands its student population, whether for transfer to a four-year school, in support of 21st c. workforce readiness, as part of our dual enrollment program, or for professional development, I am here to help. Beginning with the end in mind, we can find the right digital tools to deliver content in support of learning outcomes. It’s an exciting time to be in education.