Adaptive Learning: Who are we adapting for?

Earlier this evening I met with a good friend of mine after a day of meetings to put the world of educational technology to rights. The caveat of this post is that most thought provoking discussions I know have taken place in the presence of either caffeine or alcohol. In this case the latter as ironically it’s caffeine I’m unable to handle. 
Midst the discussion that moved from recommendation engines (a given with his role), MOOCs  (a given with my role), mobile learning and OER (a given in both our roles), we moved to the subject of adaptive learning.

In education we are often thinking in the mindset of putting the learner at the centre of their own learning. With SocialLearn I worked on exactly that, and now with MOOCs I’m researching how a variety of learning designs can be adapted for a particular demographic of learners most likely to take that MOOC to provide positive engagement. A number of academics I know would advocate whole heartedly to this approach of adaptive learning.

However, my esteemed colleague-from-another-company played the role of devil’s advocate and asked: 

“What is it that we are adapting them for?” 

He proceeded to explain that if we concentrate our entire efforts to providing learner-centred learning that though we are adapting the learning to them we aren’t actually adapting the learners themselves to the outside world. And isn’t that what education  is for?

What if we adapt our learning to be delivered for example in mobile format and podcast as their learning preference, but when they reach the outside world their in-workplace learning is a printed/pdf manual or training workshop – where are the learner’s adaptive learning skills now? How will they engage? 

It poses a question that I haven’t considered much before, and frankly don’t have the full answer to yet, but I’m more than happy to open the debate to the wider community. No doubt we will broach this topic once more when I’m next in town. 

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