2022 Eduventures Tech Landscape: Personalizing the Learning Experience

Many commentators have suggested that higher education’s response to the pandemic will result in permanent changes in teaching and learning. For example, our upcoming report, The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE), suggests that online leaders expect significant proportion of students will study at least 50% online by 2025.

As part of our work to produce this year’s Higher Education Tech Landscape, we not only categorized the many technology vendors serving higher education, but we also reviewed how institutions arrange their teaching and learning ecosystems. Our work raised an interesting question: are institutional leaders organizing their technology ecosystems to support these kinds of potential changes in teaching and learning?

In this week’s Wake-Up Call, we will explore one area—the personalization of the learning experience—that leaders should consider when arranging their technology ecosystems.

What is Personalization and Why Does It Matter?

People use the word “personalization” in many different ways. One type of personalization commonly appearing in social media websites is where the user’s profile determines what is seen when first interacting with the technology. Another type is where the user’s behavior determines what content is seen, like when Amazon suggests items to buy based on past purchases.

In the context of a teaching and learning technology ecosystem, “personalization” has a different meaning. As shown in Figure 1, the essential aspect of this type of personalization is bidirectionality—where the user interacts with the technology and the technology uses that interaction to recommend, suggest, and adapt to the user’s needs.

Bidirectionality and PersonalizationFigure 1: Bidirectionality and Personalization

 

Why does this type of personalization matter? The short answer is that it improves the learning experience for students. Rather than engaging with the same learning environment, such as through a Learning Management System (LMS), each student instead interacts with a system that adapts to their needs, assessment performance, and abilities. Also, research indicates that providing a personalized learning environment helps institutions support students of many different types, such as traditional and non-traditional students, those from different socio-economic backgrounds, those with varying levels of self-efficacy, and other factors.

How Does an Ecosystem Provide Personalization?

Most teaching and learning ecosystems in higher education center around the Learning Management System (LMS). Yet, the LMS was never intended to offer a personalized learning experience. As we have written before, the LMS initially focused on storing and managing learning content and was originally designed to be more instructor-focused than student-focused. Over time, LMS vendors extended the functionality of their solutions to provide a learning platform for students, where students can engage with learning content, but in a “one-size-fits-all” manner.

Another technology, however, specializes in personalizing the learning experience. This is the Learning Experience Platform (LXP). More commonly used in the corporate learning space, LXP solutions store and manage a wide range of learning content, such as webcam recordings and videos. Likewise, unlike the LMS, LXP solutions are designed to support all types of users by enabling both instructors and students to create content. LXP solutions also look to improve student interactions with learning content, through gamification and social learning, in contrast with the LMS, where students passively receive content.

The critical difference between the LMS and LXP lies in how the latter provides a personalized learning experience. As founder of Bersin & Associates who coined the term “learning experience platform,” Josh Bersin wrote, “the LXP provides personalization similar to Netflix or Spotify, where students can see content recommended for them or receive suggestions about which content they should engage with next. It aims to increase engagement and sharing between users rather than function as a content depository or one-way content delivery system, like the LMS. In essence, vendors of these solutions, such as Aula and ActiveClass, allow learners to personalize their learning experiences and move between sections as they wish.”

For institutions considering whether to implement an LXP vs. an LMS, the key decision point seems to be between focusing on improving the learning experience for students and managing course materials. In many cases, the LXP does not enable faculty to store and manage course content and assessments, which the LMS does very well. On the other hand, as mentioned above, the LMS is not as strong in delivering a personalized learning experience as the LXP.

Most institutions use more traditional Learning Management Systems (Blackboard Learn, for example) as their course delivery platforms. Among the minority of schools that have implemented an LXP, we see institutional leaders trying to balance the need for an improved learning experience with the need to manage course content. Denison University, for example, has replaced its LMS for an LXP through the vendor (Notebowl), which it believes can offer the right amount of functionality to do both well. On the other hand, Madison Area Technical College decided to address both needs by adding an LXP (Aula) to sit alongside its LMS, which indicates that it decided that there was no one solution to provide an engaging learning experience for students and the functionality to manage course content and assessments well.

The Bottom Line

Many have discussed the need for personalization in teaching and learning and many technologies have promised to deliver it, such as adaptive learning solutions. Yet, implementation of these technologies has not taken off in higher education, perhaps due to the challenges in gaining faculty acceptance or of leveraging interoperability standards to bring together different technologies (student information system, LMS, etc.) to deliver the correct data to support adaptive learning.

Yet, past failures and current challenges should not deter us from attempting to provide personalized learning experiences for all students. Vendors of teaching and learning solutions should focus more attention on the quality of the experience students have when interacting with their products. Likewise, institutional leaders who want to ensure that their ecosystems can address the different needs of disparate types of students should consider making personalization a part of their ecosystems.

This Wake-Up Call is only a preview of the 2022 Landscape Report. Our forthcoming 2022 Higher Education Technology Landscape Report will dive more deeply into the new segments, standout vendors, and how other trends impact the Landscape.

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James Wiley

Eduventures Principal Analyst at Encoura
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Eduventures 2022 Higher Education Technology Landscape (Landscape) visualizes 367 vendors and their products, organized into over 44 separate market segments rolled up into four major categories aligned to the student lifecycle.

Throughout the year, we analyze these vendors and products and make that content available to clients. Several vendors have multiple products in their education technology portfolios.

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