Authentic Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning has been proven to result in better retention, deeper knowledge, and higher test scores. But what is adaptive learning? Why does it help? And how do you tell the difference between experiences that provide true adaptive learning, and those that just claim to be?

What is adaptive learning?

Adaptive learning harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to customize an educational or training experience according to an individual’s needs, goals, and capabilities.

The hallmarks of adaptive learning include the ability to:

  • Provide personalized experiences
  • Measure and adjust to a learner’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Capture user patterns around engagement, timing, and confidence
  • Exercise flexibility based on variations that occur from person to person, but also those that occur within one individual’s experience

All these elements work together in real time, for a continuously evolving, personalized experience for each learner — in an authentic adaptive learning platform, no two users will experience the program in the same way.

What characterizes an authentic adaptive learning experience?

Effectiveness for complex subjects

Adaptive learning is especially effective for complex subjects like medicine. Medical professionals must be able to synthesize a variety of abstract and concrete information across many related areas. Their daily clinical practice, along with the need to maintain certification and prepare for board exams, demands this skill. For a learning platform to be effective for them, it must have a sophisticated algorithm to manage the learning process, as well as a strong base of interconnected knowledge to draw from.

Individual and intrapersonal adaptability

The first step in creating an authentic adaptive learning experience is ensuring flexibility for differences among learners. Research strongly suggests that classifying learners into types, as educators have tried in the past, is virtually impossible. Therefore, it’s more effective for a platform to discern and follow the complex patterns that learners exhibit, than to build static question banks around learning types that most users won’t consistently adhere to.

To account for person-to-person differences, authentic adaptive learning must first learn about each learner. This is accomplished through a battery of questions, with attention paid not only to answers, but how the learner arrives at each answer. How long did it take? Which formats were most successful? Were answers consistent, or did stability erode over time? How does this learner’s performance compare with that of others in the cohort? What gaps does the learner needs to fill, in order to meet stated goals?

Now, we go a step further, to account for differences one learner might experience over a period of time. For example, a learner might be fresher in the morning vs. the evening. She might be balancing board prep with an especially a busy time in her practice. He might be using the platform to keep up with recent knowledge while waiting for his child to finish soccer practice. Outside circumstances like these can have an effect on cognitive factors such as concentration and confidence, which affect learning.

The confidence question

Confidence must be carefully balanced to have a positive effect on learning: too little, and a learner gives up and loses the motivation to exert effort; too much, and a learner underestimates the work that needs to be done and loses knowledge. That’s why measuring confidence is a key piece of adaptive learning. This can be done through both automated evaluation (through AI) and learner-directed assessment (through self-reflection).

Algorithms gauge confidence through questions, timing, and other factors. However, reflection is also necessary for learners to understand the shortfall between their knowledge and their assessment of that knowledge. An authentic adaptive learning experience will clarify a learner’s strengths and weaknesses so that the learner may understand and correct them.

Authentic adaptive learning: The NEJM Knowledge+ approach

NEJM Knowledge+ combines sophisticated adaptive learning technology with gold-standard content that is specially developed for an adaptive platform, creating an authentic adaptive learning experience that features:

  • Continuous assessment of performance and confidence to build knowledge and guard against memory decay
  • Content that was specifically developed to work with the adaptive learning environment, including board review cases and questions
  • Personalized delivery and pacing, enabling learners to focus on areas that need reinforcement
  • Algorithms that are continually refined and improved to monitor and calculate individual performance over time, creating a richer, more tailored learning experience for each user

Instead of trying to fit learners into a prescribed mold, we have created an authentic adaptive learning platform that molds to our users’ abilities, learning patterns, goals, and needs. This enables physicians to refresh and reinforce basic medical knowledge. In this way, NEJM Knowledge+ does more than just help physicians with board preparation. It meets the goal of adaptive learning: to deliver a powerful, engaging learning experience, which promotes the lifelong development of knowledge that is essential in the ever-changing world of medicine.