Adaptivity, personalization and MOOCs

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Online learning has come a long way since its fusion in mainstream education. Significant growth in both hardware and software technologies in recent years have now made it a real possibility of removing barriers to education and widening the access for those who are not able to come to a physical campus. More recent advancements have emerged as massive open online course (MOOC) movement, which aims to seek efficiency in educating masses of population at once. While MOOCs are gaining popularity because of their obviously significant potential, current implementations lack the support individual students need to achieve success in the learning process.


Research on adaptivity and personalization directly targets this gap. With adaptivity and personalization, the MOOC-based education does not remain merely a bulk process but transforms into an environment where each individual student matters. Adaptive and personalized learning approaches put the student at the center of learning, contributing to constructivist learning paradigm, while achieving the effectiveness and efficiency that is expected from the 21st century educational system.


One of the breakthroughs in adaptive and personalized learning research is the awareness of the context that guides the learning process. Learning process does not follow a rigid path any more. Instead, content, activities and interaction are customized and configured to the real-time context of the student. Abundance of mobile devices in the society facilitates another cornerstone advancement by enabling location awareness through in-built navigational technologies, and environmental awareness through in-built sensors. Technological advancements are also making it possible to track the behaviour of students, with their explicit permission, and use various learner analytics approaches to align the learning processes with their personal cognitive attributes and capabilities.


Ongoing research in such personalized learning spaces is heading towards creating a seamless integration of learning into every aspect of life, implying immersive, always-on learning that is so naturally infused within the routine work and life situations of the students that the relevance of each and every concept becomes very clear and obvious. The motivation for learning therefore increases tremendously and very little conscious effort is needed to be actively engaged in learning while conducting tasks in everyday life.


Such advanced personalized learning can become so much in tune with individual students that every interaction the individual has with the environment and every bit of information that individual comes into contact can be taken into account so as to meaningfully support personalization during the learning process. Assessment process in such personalized learning also starts to consider the wide variety of contexts individual student operates on daily basis, and the variety of prior experiences and backgrounds of individual students.


The richness of individually customized learning process through adaptivity and personalization does not mean additional workload on the part of the teachers. In fact, teachers enjoy better technological support for identifying which students need what kind of specific help during different phases of learning. They are able to better focus their teaching efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness of learning process, and ensure optimal instruction process for each individual student’s needs and strengths.



Dr. Kinshuk

Professor and Associate Dean

Faculty of Science and Technology

Athabasca University