Using Ed-Tech for Personalized, Adaptive, and Differentiated Learning

By guest blogger Sidharth Kakkar, co-founder and CEO of Front Row Education, Inc.


The world of education has transformed in recent years, and along with this transformation has come a new vernacular for how to describe it. One confusing aspect of this new language is the difference between adaptive, personalized, and differentiated learning. While these terms sound similar, there are some key distinctions between the three.

Personalized is the broadest category. It entails anything a teacher or program does to adjust to the student. When a teacher assigns a student The Giver to read because she knows the student is really into dystopian novels, that’s personalized.

Differentiated entails the teacher customizing the type of instruction provided based on what they know about a student’s abilities. Adaptive is similar, but it refers specifically to software making those decisions. When a teacher assigns an article from Time to one student, and an article from Time for Kids to another, she is differentiating instruction. When a computer program assigns a higher level problem to a student based on their previous answer, it’s adapting to the student.

Helping Personalize Instruction With Ed-Tech

The best way to understand the power of differentiated and adaptive instruction is to consider a classroom of 30 third-grade students. In a typical class, the majority of students’ skill levels will not actually be at the grade they are in. It is much more likely they will either fall below their grade level, or fall into a higher level—4th grade or beyond. With so few students’ abilities at the level in which a curriculum is designed, teachers are put in a difficult position determining how to best teach to varying degrees of understanding.

Most teachers will focus primarily on the third grade material—it’s the grade they teach, and it’s nearly impossible to know exactly where each student is stuck. Even if they could determine two students are at the second-grade level, skills within that grade vary. This is where adaptive teaching can be so critical. Most teachers with 30 students don’t have the luxury of taking the time to pinpoint where each student is struggling either above or below their grade level.

Adaptive technology for the classroom is changing all of this, and making it easier than ever to not only personalize learning for students, but to differentiate and adapt what students are learning hyper-specifically to each individual.

 As my co-founder and I began developing Front Row, we spent a month in classrooms with the goal of pinpointing the obstacles teachers face in helping students learn, and how technology could help solve some of those. The fact that teachers were not able to differentiate their teaching was the most glaring barrier we saw first-hand, and also where we learned they struggled the most. This is due almost entirely to the amount of time it takes to develop this very specific understanding for each student, before the learning can even begin.

Creating Adaptive Tools for Learning

Technology is an incredibly valuable classroom tool, which we knew when we initially set out to build education software. What was eye opening was the need to help teachers determine automatically where a student was on a given topic, and from there how best to help their students’ progress. Not having to spend the time digging into where each of their student’s abilities lie frees up a teacher to focus on what they do best—teaching.

At Front Row, our adaptive program helps teachers differentiate effectively. It gives the student a diagnostic assessment, which itself is adaptive, and uses the results to determine the level of the student. When the student begins to use the program, the lessons adapt in real time, providing problems to practice with, and videos and hints to guide learning.

In all disciplines, the first big way technology changes an industry is by making it easier to do the things people were already doing. For salespeople, it was taking a Rolodex and making it easier to work with, using customer relationship management software. For writers, it provided the ability to edit and improve text quickly using a word processor. For teachers, it’s the ability to reach each student where they need help most. I’m excited to see what the future of technology in education brings.

See also:

For more information on Front Row Education Inc., an adaptive, gamified math program for K-8 students, follow @FrontRow on Twitter

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