Adaptive learning can help students learn English, but few schools are using it


Digital and adaptive learning tools are increasingly being used to tailor curricula to students’ individual needs — and educators say it’s especially beneficial to students who are learning English as a non-native language. The problem, however, is that few schools have actually implemented adaptive learning programs.

That’s according to a recent report from McGraw-Hill Education, which found that while 87 percent of educators think adaptive learning is effective for English learners (EL), only 44 percent of schools use it for EL instruction.

Through adaptive learning, a program will assess a student’s progress in order to curate an individual instructional plan to fit his or her needs. Lisa Carmona, senior vice president of McGraw-Hill Education’s pre-K-12 product portfolio, said the approach is especially useful for EL.

“Adaptive learning is particularly relevant to English learners because English learners have the double load of learning both another language and learning school content simultaneously,” Carmona told EdScoop. “[Teachers] can use adaptive solutions to separate those challenges that EL students have with content and concept mastery. You have to separate that from the challenges that the students might be having with learning English.”

Accessibility to technology is among the primary challenges impeding schools from adopting and implementing adaptive learning programs, Carmona said.

“Adaptive learning is emerging,” she said. “It is still coming into full use in K-12 schools, and there are challenges that schools face with implementing adaptive learning technology, not the least of which include bandwidth, infrastructure [and] hardware.”

But Carmona is optimistic that increased access to technology and broadband in schools will help close the divide between demand and supply of adaptive learning in EL instruction.

“We’re at a tipping point as a country in bringing that technology into students’ hands,” she said.

Carmona said another hurdle is professional development for teachers. Many teachers still aren’t familiar with what adaptive learning is, how it works and how it can benefit students, especially English language learners, she said. “Teachers need to understand how to implement these technologies well and how to monitor student performance.”

The McGraw-Hill Education study found that 61 percent of educators see textbooks as effective in EL learning and 67 percent see printed workbooks as effective. Those numbers are lower than those recorded for adaptive learning, yet schools tend to rely on printed material more.

“The legacy and historical use of print has been really challenging for teachers working with English learners,” Carmona said.