Adaptive Learning


Adaptive Teaching


Self-directed supplementation of school-based learning

Principal Metaphors

Adaptive Learning is not explicit about or aligned with any theory of learning – and, consequently, direct references to learning are most often suggestive of Folk Theories:
  • Knowledge is … material
  • Knowing is … mastery of knowledge
  • Learner is … a recipient (individual)
  • Learning is … acquiring
  • Teaching is … N/A




Adaptive Learning refers principally to on-screen learning experiences in which computers are used to monitor the learner (i.e., successes and patterns of engagement) and customize content and presentation accordingly.


While the basic rationale of Adaptive Learning – that is, of optimizing learning by customizing experiences to each individual – seems sound and just, the model involves no interrogation of the curriculum emphases and power structures of traditional schooling. That is, the model can be construed as perpetuation of entrenched practices that is perpetrated until the banner of learner-centered practice.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Adaptive Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Adaptive of Learning is a perspective on teaching – albeit one in which the human teacher is replaced by computer algorithms.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Models of Adaptive Learning have been around since the 1970s, but it has only been since about 2000 that real progress has been made on technologies with the breadth and flexibility to support individual learning in any profound way. Evidence around Adaptive Learning is accumulating, with both positives (e.g., improved achievement, generally) and negatives (e.g., attitudinal challenges rooted in social isolation). Significantly, proponents of Adaptive Learning do not appear to be at all attentive to the metaphors and other theoretical commitments that drive the discourse. As such, despite its reliance on advanced technologies, it cannot yet be described as a scientific theory according to our criteria.

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Adaptive Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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