Wang, S., Christensen, C., Cui, W., Tong, R., Yarnall, L., Shear, L., & Feng, M. (2020). When adaptive learning is effective learning: comparison of an adaptive learning system to teacher-led instruction. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2020.1808794
Adaptive learning systems personalize instruction to students’ individual learning needs and abilities. Such systems have shown positive impacts on learning. Many schools in the United States have adopted adaptive learning systems, and the rate of adoption in China is accelerating, reaching almost 2 million unique users for one product alone in the past 3 years. Given such rapid adoption in China, it is useful to examine the efficacy of adaptive learning within that country’s educational system. This study aimed to compare the learning impacts of individualized adaptive learning courseware to two common instructional approaches in China: large-group and small-group classroom instruction. This paper describes the results of two efficacy studies of one of China’s first adaptive learning systems, Squirrel AI Learning. One study compares classroom-based individualized adaptive learning instruction to large-group instruction, and another to small-group instruction. Chinese eighth-grade students from two provinces randomly assigned to use Squirrel AI Learning showed greater gains on a mathematics test than those randomly assigned to whole-class or small-group instruction led by expert teachers. Findings provide a basis for further research into the selection, use, and impact of adaptive learning systems in Chinese education.