It Takes a Village to Bring Adaptive Technology to Scale

It Takes a Village to Bring Adaptive Technology to Scale


Colorado Technical University (CTU) began the adoption of adaptive-learning courses in late 2012. We have just over 100 courses using our proprietary adaptive technology (called intellipath), 400 faculty trained to use the technology, and approximately 55,000 students who have used it in CTU courses. Why did we embark upon this venture? How did we do it? These are two common questions I am asked when discussing our experiences with adaptive courses at CTU. The needs of our students and faculty and the benefits of adaptive learning-enhanced courses drive our continued investment in and commitment to adaptive learning.

What benefits do effective adaptive learning–enhanced courses offer students?

Student feedback from every survey submitted tells us that students benefit from using adaptive technology.

  • Increased control and engagement: Students report that they can move quickly through what they know and focus on what they do not know, so they are not left behind or forced to repeat work. Plus they report adaptive courses are “more fun” than non-adaptive courses.
  • Higher confidence: Our students report in course-end evaluations that they feel good when they master subject areas that they have struggled with in the past; adaptive learning helps them gain confidence in showing what they know and proactively addressing what they don’t understand.
  • Improved results: Students can see improvement in their grades and revisit the adaptive content until they master the topic, helping with performance and degree-completion rates.

What training do you need for an effective adaptive-technology implementation at a large scale?

Initial training of faculty, administrators and advisors is critical. At CTU we learned, however, that ongoing training is equally important.

  • Faculty: Training and follow-up measures are key. We train faculty specifically for the technology in a one-week, self-paced training program that occurs right before they begin teaching. Then we follow up with faculty once they are actively in the course and teaching students. This follow-up is a critical check-in point because positive faculty engagement with the technology is integral to student success with the technology.
  • Program chairs: It is essential for program chairs to understand the technology as well so that they can support and answer questions effectively. We provide training and support for program chairs, such as focused additional training, administrative reports and dashboards. It is critical to keep reports and dashboards easy to understand and manage for these faculty and administrative user groups.
  • Student advisors and admissions counselors: Student academic and admissions advisors are trained on various adaptive learning tools as well. Students get frustrated when they contact university staff for support but the staff isn’t familiar with the technology and unable to provide assistance with confidence and competence. If the advisors understand the capabilities of the technology and become familiar with the student experience, they can help manage student expectations and understanding of how the technology integrates with our academic programming.

What data do we have to support our work?

The graph below depicts the launch and implementation of courses as well as the student population from 2012 to 2015, highlighting another very important point about our adaptive implementation. CTU used a very deliberate process of piloting courses prior to expanding to a broader group of students to ensure that courses are working for students and for faculty.

Implementation of Adaptive Learning

Academics review the data from each course after each session to ensure that we are keenly aware of student and faculty experiences in all of our adaptive courses. Here are a few data points that affirm our successful implementation of adaptive technology. Data indicates a consistent increase in pass rates over the first two years of using intellipath in a number of courses:

  • College Math had an 84 percent average pass rate—a 10 percent increase.
  • Algebra for Business showed similar gains, and the Data Driven Statistics retention rate increased from 90 percent to 96 percent.
  • From 2013 to 2016, the average pass rate for 14 undergraduate accounting courses went from 74 percent to 83 percent.

Reflecting on CTU’s Experience

As with any technology implementation in higher education, a lack of attention to any critical detail can derail a university’s best intentions and efforts. We know that adaptive implementation is work and takes a good bit of our time and focus in CTU academics. However, the student feedback, student performance, faculty engagement and support continue to fuel our positive experiences and commitment to adaptive technology in the classroom.

As our academic leaders continue to refine our current cadre of courses with adaptive technology, CTU also is in the planning stages of additional implementation initiatives, including courses in nursing and computer science. During a recent visit from Niki Bray, a fellow with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies, a number of our academic and student affairs colleagues spoke to her about their experiences with adaptive learning. After a number of conversations, Niki observed that CTU had created a culture of support for adaptive learning. We were gratified to receive this confirmation that our large-scale implementation created a village of students and faculty embracing adaptive technology.

Connie Johnson (@DrConnieJohnson) is the Chief Academic Officer and Provost at Colorado Technical University, working with both online and ground degree programs.

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