Summary: Professor Harden discusses the development of adaptive learning, potential areas for growth and development within the field and the role of technology in all facets of life. Description: Adaptive learning has been defined by some workers in the field as the student receiving personal guidance from computer software about what they should learn next, with the student learning more effectively and at a pace that matches their knowledge needs, ensuring that they master the main concepts. The aim is that the software adapts the content to the needs of each student. The approach has, however, received varied success as highlighted in the recent Gates report. Some commentaries have criticised the approach as emphasising low level memorisable knowledge and robbing “learners of the development of the key attributes needed for continual learning – metacognitive, goal setting, and self-regulation – because it makes those decisions on behalf of the learner” ( This is, however, a criticism of adaptive learning based on the adaptive software developed rather than of an adaptive approach to the curriculum. There are many reasons why we need to personalise the student’s learning experience in an “adaptive curriculum” where the student has more choice through electives and where they can acquire the required learning outcomes by the most appropriate approach for them, including the time it takes them to do so.

This issue of tailoring learning to meet students’ needs was picked up by Michael Horn in his blog of 24th May ( His theme was “Reinventing Research”. He argues that too much value has been placed in educational research on the randomised control trial. He refers to a white paper for the Clayton Christensen Institute titled “A blueprint for breakthroughs: Federally funded education research in 2016 and beyond” in which he and a co-author, Julia Freeland Fisher, lay out a path for educational research that requires the researcher to: • Observe educational interventions; • Categorise and test hypotheses about what factors may cause changes in student outcomes; • Report the results of these tests; • Observe anomalies to the findings – either within studies or from other studies – and dig into a series of small “n of 1” studies to understand what conditions or circumstances were different in the outliers that caused the outcomes to be different; • Refine the theory of causation accordingly.
Such an approach he argues would inform further use of personalised learning.

We need to think more imaginatively too about how we use technology in education. The case was made by Tim O’Reilly, as noted in Doug Belshaw’s blog “Thought Shrapnel” 24th July, “Those weavers who smashed machine looms in Ned Ludd’s rebellion of 1811 didn’t realize that descendants of those machines would make unbelievable things possible. We’d tunnel through mountains and under the sea, we’d fly through the air, crossing continents in hours, we’d build cities in the desert with buildings half a mile high, we’d more than double average human lifespan, we’d put spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter, we’d smash the atom itself! What is impossible today, but will become possible with the technology we are now afraid of?”

I have noticed, creeping into the educational literature, the use of the term “heutagogical approach”. This refers to an approach where learners are required to decide upon what to learn and how to learn and where they control the learning process. It is a further development of pedagogy and andragogy. Heutagogy places the learner at the centre of his or her educational transformation. It was introduced in academic literature by Hase and Kenyon (2001 14. Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2001). From andragogy to heutagogy. Its application among underprivileged learners in Rwanda was described in a paper “The outcome of constructive alignment between open educational services and learners’ needs, employability and capabilities development: Heutagogy and transformative migration among underprivileged learners in Rwanda” (Nkuyubwatsi, B. 2016. The paper describes how individuals as trainee teachers learned on their own and managed to pass national exams leading to a successful career as teachers.

I have just returned from a meeting in Toronto, Canada and we are in the final stages of preparation for the AMEE 2016 Conference. To date over 3,400 participants have registered.