Adaptive Learning and the Future
Q&A with Dr. Christensen


Dr. Ulrik Juul Christensen, M.D., McGraw-Hill Education Senior Fellow, Digital Learning, is a pioneer in the adaptive learning field. Below, Dr. Christensen shares with us his thoughts on adaptive learning and education today.

Q. What would you say is the most important thing to improve in the education system?
A. Beyond any doubt: Establishing a learning environment that can accommodate the myriad of ways students learn. It continues to surprise us that every time we think that we NOW understand the diversity of how people learn, we get another revelation that it is so much more complex and diverse than we previously thought.

Q. How is adaptive technology changing the education industry?
A. I actually hope that adaptive technology can help enable individualization of the education system in two ways: First, directly through breakthroughs in personalizing and adapting the learning experience for the individual. And second, by helping teachers to be able to spend more of their time on the aspects of learning that truly requires adaptive behavior that no computer system can deliver.

Q. What is the main benefit of adaptive learning for students?
A. An adaptive system can help focus time and attention on what is most needed.

Q. Given the individualized power of adaptive learning, what role does the educator play and how should teaching adapt?
A. You can, as a teacher, get much better insight into where your students’ needs are – both as a group and individually. This is not as much the adaptive nature of the system as it is actually the precision of the ongoing, very granular monitoring of each student’s learning. This both feeds the adaptive engines, as well as the reporting and analysis tools for the teachers.

Q. Of the adaptive technologies you and your team has developed, which is your favorite?
A. It is really hard to say because we have made a number of breakthroughs that I am proud of – it is like choosing between your children! But if you force me to answer, the top candidates are probably AIM (Artificial Intelligence in Math) that allows students to show their work and can help intelligently when a student is struggling, the confidence rating principle that appears as such a simple technology, but really has massive impact on the both retention modeling and development of general metacognitive skills. And, maybe, finally the Kaleidoscopes that will most likely change how concepts can be learned. SmartBook is another one where nobody believed in it until it was almost done – and then we were able to roll it out at scale.

Q. In conceptualizing technology solutions, what mission/motto do you work by?
A. Cut the crap! No technology just for the sake of looking cool or living up to what is expected by investors or customers. If we make stuff that works, we don’t have to waste time and money on all the stuff that doesn’t. Most of the gaming and badging stuff currently belongs within that category!

Q. You’re hosting a webinar for McGraw-Hill Education on Monday, 5/14. Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’ll be covering?
A. It will be a deep dive into how the adaptive technologies work. Many believe that LearnSmart and SmartBook are just memory optimization tools – nothing could be further from the truth. We have built so much learning science into these products you may not necessarily see on the surface. I will cover a lot of that ‘under the hood’ stuff. Also, I will show some unpublished research about how students learn – and elaborate on how we interpret that data.

We’re expecting a full virtual “house” for this informative, free session with Dr. Christensen – so reserve your spot early!!

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