Adapting Well

Integrating a vital learning technology in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Troy Williams

CREDIT Macmillan New Ventures imageOne of the biggest trends in educational technology today is adaptive learning, which uses technology and tools that adjust to a student’s learning needs. By shaping the learning experience to the unique needs of the individual student, the result is a more effective approach to helping each student succeed. Adaptive learning can lead to better student performance—but getting the technology to work with instructors in a way that gives students the chance to achieve deeper and more efficient learning is a challenge in itself.

The technology works with the student to go beyond simply giving right or wrong responses, offering the student further interaction to help them achieve mastery.

No two students learn in the exact same way, which is why adaptive learning technology is such a game changer. These tools can help identify which areas the student needs to spend more time on, and allow them to advance in areas in which they have shown comprehension. The technology works with the student to go beyond simply giving right or wrong responses, offering the student further interaction to help them achieve mastery. Students won’t just be hearing the material—they will truly process the information. In allowing students to progress at the pace they are comfortable with, the learning experience will become more rewarding for them.

Integrating this technology into classrooms can be intimidating and logistically difficult, as the tools need to be seamless in order to ensure that the technology will not get in the way of learning. However, the benefits of adaptive learning technology far outweigh the costs—especially for instructors. This technology allows instructors to focus less on delivering content to the class, giving them the opportunity to support individual students in areas where they need more guidance. What’s more, instructors can use real-time data in order to maximize class performance as a whole. If one particular area is stumping a large percentage of the class, the instructor can step in and offer a lecture on that topic. On the other hand, if the majority of the students are quickly understanding another topic, the instructor can spend more time focusing on another area rather than wasting time on something their students have already mastered.

In order to enhance a classroom without being a burden or interference, adaptive learning tools have to be user-friendly for both students and instructors. It’s essential that these tools quickly and easily adapt to the abilities of each student, but they must also work with the skill levels of the instructors. If an instructor can’t work with the tool, it is no longer beneficial to the classroom. In order to justify the costs associated with these tools, they must also be reusable and offer flexibility, allowing instructors to add, remove, or edit content as needed.

While results are currently limited for this technology, they are also rather impressive. Preliminary findings from Arizona State University’s adaptive learning efforts have shown an 18 percent increase in pass rates along with a 47 percent decrease in student withdrawals. In a controlled study across six public universities, students enrolled in Open Learning Initiative’s introductory statistics course completed the course 25 percent faster than students in a face-to-face version of the course (Newman, 2013).

This technology goes beyond simple learning concepts, offering personalized experiences for complex science and math courses as well. While these tools may seem daunting or irrelevant to an instructor with a lab-heavy course, they can help students feel more at home in the wet lab thanks to virtual lab environments that allow students to mix chemicals, familiarize themselves with the equipment, and even perform experiments. Adaptive learning tools help students feel less overwhelmed by advanced courses, giving them a greater chance of success. In fact, the introduction of online adaptive tutorials in a foundational Engineering Mechanics course at the at the University of New South Wales led to a decline in the drop-out rate from 31 percent down to 14 percent (Newman, 2013).

The introduction of adaptive learning tools to the classroom in no way diminishes the importance of the instructor. As data is gathered, instructors will play a vital role as they interpret the findings and use this new information to tailor their courses to meet the needs of their students. There will be a learning curve as instructors figure out how to integrate the technology with their curriculum, but the payoff will be a more streamlined process for their future students. Adaptive learning tools are here to empower instructors, not to replace them. With time, we will see just how important this educational technology is for the next generation of learners.


Newman, Adam. “Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education.” Tyton Partners. 2013. Retrieved July 28, 2015 from

Troy Williams is President and General Manager of Macmillan New Ventures, where he is responsible for identifying emerging technologies and trends that will have a major impact on student performance and outcomes. Follow @MacmillanNV

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Developing World EdTech

The innovators reinventing education technologies in developing countries. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Anthony Bloome

CREDIT All Children ReadingIn many parts of the United States and other developed countries, technology is becoming embedded into classroom instruction. Teachers are using a diverse range of mobile technologies and educational applications in and outside the traditional classroom that are supporting learning and connecting teachers, students and parents like never before.

Meanwhile, across many developing countries, classrooms are stuck in an educational limbo, relying on out-of-date textbooks – if any at all – and limited human, financial, and infrastructural resources to support education and enable teachers to make their subjects come alive to their students.

Credit-card sized computers, eBook integrated curriculums, and cost-effective apps that provide original, level-appropriate, interactive and animated content in mother tongue languages are but a few of the innovations.

But there is huge potential to leverage low-cost, developing country-appropriate adaptations of these increasingly commonplace technologies and applications to accelerate early grade literacy. That’s why All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development seeks to leverage science and technology to create and apply scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade children in the most underserved communities around the world.

Through a series of grant and prize competitionsAll Children Reading – a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government – takes a competitive approach to finding these innovative, low-cost and scalable solutions.

Credit-card sized computers, eBook integrated curriculums, and cost-effective apps that provide original, level-appropriate, interactive and animated content in mother tongue languages are but a few of the innovations implemented by 46 All Children Reading grantees and 17 prize finalists and winners that help boost children’s literacy around the world.

In Cambodia, World Education, Inc. and local partner Kampuchean Action for Primary Education created a Total Reading Approach for Children, integrating tablets for reading, literacy benchmarks linked to the national curriculum and a rapid response system to address student reading difficulties.  It includes encouraging parents to read at home, the first Khmer mLearning app developed for primary grade students, literacy coaches and other resources.

Little Thinking Minds in Jordan created an interactive digital literacy program for learning Arabic. Geared toward early grade children, Little Thinking Minds is developing original, leveled content in Arabic, disseminated through DVDs, CDs, digital books and mobile applications for use on Android and iPhone. It was started by Arab mothers for Arab children – so it reflects Arab culture and emphasizes positive role models for girls.

In Ghana, Open Learning Exchange installs Basic e-Learning Libraries (BeLLs) that sit on Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer. These BeLLs include up to two terabytes of educational software and multimedia materials that can be customized and updated to meet the specific needs of rural Ghanaian schools. The computer, requiring just 12 volts of power, can be powered off-grid and can be used with or without Internet connectivity. At a cost of $1 per student per year, initial testing showed a 13 percent increase in overall literacy skills of students.

In regions where transportation and technical infrastructure may be lacking, mobile, energy-efficient, and low-cost technologies like these can offer individualized and learner-oriented solutions for parents and teachers. An analysis of All Children Reading innovations from Round 1 of its competition reveals that more than 575,000 children and 18,000 teachers from more than 20 countries have benefited from innovations like these.

This is important. Why? Because literacy unlocks human potential and is the cornerstone of development. It leads to better health, better employment opportunities, and safer and more stable societies. Just by ensuring children know how to read by the time they’ve left primary school, 171 million young people could be lifted out of poverty.

To get involved or if you have an idea how technology can be further leveraged to impact children’s literacy in developing countries, join us at or on Twitter.

Anthony Bloome is a Senior Education Technology Specialist at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Learn more about USAID competitions.

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Trends | Venture Capitalists and EdTech

CREDIT youngStartUp ventures imageMore than 500 VCs, corporate VCs, angel investors, investment bankers and CEOs of early stage and emerging growth companies will soon gather at the prestigious New England Venture Summit being held on December 9th, 2015 at the Hilton in Boston Dedham. Whether you’re a startup seeking capital and exposure, or an investor seeking new deals, The New England Venture Summit presented by youngStartup Ventures – is one event you won’t want to miss. A highly productive full-day venture conference, the summit is dedicated to showcasing VCs, Corporate VCs and angel investors committed to funding early stage and emerging companies. Featuring a distinguished line up of more than 80 Investors as speakers and judges, there will be presentations by more than 80 companies seeking funding, and high-level networking opportunities. EdTech Digest is pleased to announce its sponsorship and invite you to attend. Special discount. Use discount code “edtechdigest” and receive $100 off the current rate. A partial list of VCs confirmed to speak can be seen here. To register now and receive the special discount use the following link and enter discount code “edtechdigest” by December 25th at midnight:  This conference will be attended by the best people in the industry. Register early to avoid disappointment.

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Happy Learners

Discovering the secret ingredient for student motivation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vinod Lobo

CREDIT Learning Upgrade studentsWhat motivates a student to spend more than 20 hours completing a rigorous online curriculum both inside and outside of class? Teachers strive to motivate students, but how can they use technology to further motive even the hardest to reach students to not only complete rigorous work, but do it in a way that students approach the work with joy and a sense of accomplishment?

I found an unexpected answer to these questions during my recent visit to a school not unlike many others across the country, one with a high at-risk student population that

Its educators and leadership created a rare, elusive, almost magical atmosphere where students are self-motivated to learn with technology.

struggled to motivate these kids to own their learning and enjoy the fruits of their labors. The students there made significant gains within one school year using an online supplementary program in math and English. The secret ingredient to this school’s approach surprised me: igniting a joy for learning!

Field trip

The school I visited was an urban middle school in San Diego where 88 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 98 percent minority, and 42 percent are English learners. At the end of this past school year, I was invited to join 140 students to celebrate the past year’s accomplishments over pizza.

To kick off the celebration, an English Language Learner and recent immigrant was awarded the grand prize of a tablet computer for her achievements. Tears filled her eyes as she accepted the award, and I will never forget the look of accomplishment and self worth on her face. This one student had spent more than 40 hours completing several online courses at home – on her own time, not just completing them, but also mastering each concept along the way. This student recognized that she had earned this herself, moving step-by-step to climb the ladder of lessons until all were completed. She was no longer a lost new arrival, but rather, a student well on the road to academic success.

As the rest of the recipients were announced, students clapped in between bites of pizza. I thought to myself, all this work for pizza?

A reason to celebrate

Another student had transferred to the school just two months before the party. With a solid plan for success, he used a school-provided netbook at home, working every evening and over weekends so he could catch up with his classmates and join the party. While we walked to his class, student accolades and accomplishments covered the walls. He pointed excitedly to his — proof that he had not only completed the course, but also achieved greater than 95 percent proficiency in each of the math and ELA lessons that were completed.

Suddenly, other students crowded around, excited to share their successes with me —and it hit me: the excitement wasn’t about pizza — these students were proud of what they had done, of what they had learned, and accomplished.

A sixth-grade student completed 6th, 7th, and 8th grade courses despite starting sixth grade below grade level and behind his peers. Through a combination of in-class, after school, and at-home time, this student had completed 60 lessons to over 95 percent proficiency, with roughly 25 hours time-on-task per grade level course to earn his spot at the party. Through a combination of the right amount of support and encouragement from teachers, involvement from school leaders, and completing lessons (from Learning Upgrade) that are chock-full of music, games, song and videos (no more drill and kill!) students surpassed all expectations. They were motivated!

CREDIT Learning UpgradeUnlocking the joy of learning

At that point, I realized that this school was special. Its educators and leadership created a rare, elusive, almost magical atmosphere where students are self-motivated to learn with technology. This school cracked the code on harnessing the joy of learning to motivate their students!

It wasn’t a few slices of pizza they were after. It was recognition, the feeling of achievement and accomplishment, a boost in self-confidence, and the fact that they seized the opportunity to prove that they can “do it”.

For some, this may have been the first time in their lives that they felt confident enough to engage in their learning, let alone succeed. This was written all over the faces of students at the party.

Support from the top

The success at this school started with leadership. In this case, the vice-principal spearheaded the initiative, and encouraged a group of teachers to move forward with their plans to motivate students to achieve greatness. He visited every classroom giving each student the chance to share what he or she was doing and brag about progress being made. Because of his position, students and teachers took his message to heart. He offered praise and reminded every student of the goal, their success, and the prize that awaited them. He took the time to show he cared.

This hands-on approach touched every student in the school with a personal and exciting message: when you achieve this goal, you will be rewarded and recognized for your accomplishments.

Inspiring teachers make motivated students

My visit to these classrooms, talking with students, and a number of teachers was inspirational, to say the least. Teachers made a point to have daily conversations with students about progress, encouraged them to finish, provided support when needed, showed on-screen reports using classroom projectors, and proudly displayed the gold certificates from each student on classroom walls. They created an atmosphere where academic success was encouraged, rewarded and cool!

On the day of the party, these teachers walked proudly into the library with their students. They were a team, working together, like a coach and players going up to claim their hard-earned trophy.

Enjoy motivating and instilling a joy for learning in your students

It takes work by leadership and educators alike to create the joy of learning in students using a tech-based curriculum. The reward is the magic atmosphere where students are motivated to complete rigorous individualized lessons on their own. The smile on the face of a student as he or she shares recent accomplishments truly says it all. Every student can be motivated to achieve great things by adding some joy to their world of learning.

Vinod Lobo is the founder and CEO of Learning Upgrade, which publishes online courses to teach math and reading through songs, video, and games. In 1998, he brought together educators, musicians, artists and programmers to produce innovative, engaging lessons designed to support struggling students in reading and math. Through the incorporation of song, video, games and educational research, Learning Upgrade has helped over 1 million students find a new path to learning success. Follow him @learningupgrade

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A Terrific Friend

How technology can inspire a joy of reading.

by Victor Rivero

CREDIT myONIn The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says a good book is one that, when you’re done reading it, “you wish the author … was a terrific friend of yours, and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

That’s an apt description of the pleasure we get from discovering a good book. There’s nothing quite like the joy of connecting deeply with a story: Losing yourself in the plot or the characters, or feeling like you’ve been transported to a different time or place.

Reading sparks the imagination. It opens up entirely new and different worlds for students. And it’s a gateway to success not just in school, but in life as well.

Developing a personal connection to a book, an author, a character, or a series can awaken the joy of reading for a child—and technology can help make that connection for students.

Reading nourishes the spirit and calms the mind, and it’s a respite from the hectic pace that life throws at us. Technology is a key contributor to this frantic pace, but ironically, technology also makes reading more accessible to students.

A key challenge for educators is helping students find the books that inspire them, books that mark the perfect intersection of a child’s interests and abilities. Technology can help with this task. It also makes books more available to students, giving them thousands of titles to choose from with just a few taps on a computer screen—and the kinds of text supports that can open doors for struggling readers.

Consider the example of two young sisters: Malia, age 8, and Maya, age 4 (pictured, above).

Although Malia was a good student, she didn’t really enjoy reading. “I wouldn’t call her a reluctant reader, but she only read if she had to,” says her mother, Amy.

But that all changed when she began reading in a personalized literacy environment (see myON) which recommends appropriate titles for students based on their personal interests and reading level.

Malia loves sports, and through this digital reading environment, she discovered the “Girl Sports” series of books by Jake Maddox. According to Amy, these short chapter books completely captivated her—and one book in particular, Storm Surfer, inspired her to take up surfing.

“She started surfing last year, and now she is surfing for the Western Surfing Association (and is) on tour for their U10 team,” Amy says.

Finding books that she was passionate about has unlocked the joy of reading for Malia, Amy says, and “that has spiraled into her wanting to explore other series.” She is now reading everything from comic books to nonfiction books about science and engineering.

For Maya, who is just learning to read, an interactive digital platform is a perfect match for her natural curiosity.

“She loves that she is able to hear the words spoken aloud and can watch as they are highlighted,” Amy says. And this level of engagement is instilling a joy of reading in Maya at a very young age.

Maya traces the words on the screen with her finger as she listens to her favorite books, which include books about the Disney movie Frozen and anything that has to do with singing.

“She’s interacting, laughing, smiling, and enjoying it,” Amy says. “She’ll even ask if she can have her device to read when we’re at a surfing contest or a soccer event. We bought an inexpensive Android device for her, so if it breaks, that’s okay—and every night we download a few of her favorite books to the device. She knows how to access them, and we do literally read them wherever we go.”

In The Catcher in the Rye, there is more to Holden Caulfield’s quote. After describing how he feels when he has read a good book, he adds: “That doesn’t happen much, though.”

During his own school experience, Holden hasn’t been introduced to many books that have inspired him. But, because of personal literacy tools, it’s a very different story for students like Maya and Malia.

Developing a personal connection to a book, an author, a character, or a series can awaken the joy of reading for a child—and technology can help make that connection for students, starting them on a lifetime journey of discovery and reflection.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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