Ed tech tools like adaptive learning software can help personalize the path and pace for students as they master material, and educators can further support these goals by working with administrators to ensure tech resources are clearly linked to the curriculum and thoroughly vetted before they’re put in front of learners.
Sarah Radcliffe, director of Future-Ready Learning with the School District of Altoona in Wisconsin, is a proponent of doing extensive research with the educators and students using these tools before writing a purchase order. She encourages schools and districts to think about what they want the tool to do and the criteria that's important to them.
“I think the selection of the tool isn’t the important part of implementation. We bring stakeholders together, teachers who will be using it, along with curricula and technology folks, and talk about what we want the software to do first," said Radcliffe, a board member of The Consortium for School Networking, a professional organization of K-12 ed tech leaders.
While adaptive learning tools can bring fun elements into learning, Radcliffe said there are tasks educators will want to do before green-lighting a new software program for students. A key one is setting aside time each week to use the learning tool with classes. “Otherwise you’re not going to see gains for students,” she said.
Another is examining whether the software leans heavily on gamification, which is the use of game-like elements such as winning or losing.
“I would watch for whether the gamification is emphasized more than the learning, where you can collect coins and play a game,” she said. “If the games take more time than learning, that’s a red flag.”
To truly ensure adaptive learning software helps students, those managing the tools need support. That’s why Radcliffe believes educators need to know how they’re going to use adaptive learning software with classes or have the skills to manage the tool once it’s in the classroom.
She said that one-time training — typically offered by software providers — is not always sufficient to embed every detail a teacher will need. She encourages teachers to ask vendors about free training options, but also said schools and districts should ensure there is ongoing support for educators.
“After that one-time training, it’s hard to know everything for the year,” Radcliffe said. “You then want to have coaches to assist them.”