Adaptive learning systems are designed to help students with a variety of learning needs to succeed in academic endeavors. Integrating these systems into a nursing or health professions curriculum can level the playing field for students with different aptitudes and learning styles, enhancing the likelihood that students will be successful in developing critical professional competencies. In September 2015, Elsevier introduced Sherpath — an innovative adaptive learning tool — to a number of nursing and medical assisting programs. The results of this pilot study highlight the many benefits that adaptive learning can bring to nursing and health professions education.
Three components of the Sherpath product use adaptive technology to improve learning. These include:
- Comprehensive digital lessons, written to core student learning objectives, that create a didactic experience with multimedia, confidence indicators, adaptive remediation, mini assessments throughout the lesson, and a final assessment to gauge understanding of the material.
- Virtual Simulations that offer fully immersive, state-of-the-art, case-based simulation scenarios that challenge students to apply their clinical competency within Sherpath.
- Quiz Coach, which personalizes quizzes based on each student’s performance, the program’s curriculum objectives, and what is on the next summative exam.
Elsevier Pilot Study
The Elsevier pilot study of Sherpath incorporated 1,138 students from 23 nursing and 6 medical assisting programs. The results of this pilot study provide some hints about the most effective ways to use adaptive learning. Consider these findings:
- Sherpath improves student performance, as measured by Quiz Coach scores. Students who took more questions in Quiz Coach have higher success rates than those who took fewer questions. Quiz coach scores increased between 5-14% (9% on overage) for every 1,000 questions taken.
- The results of a post-pilot evaluation of students found that:
- 33% of all students indicated that the use of Sherpath raised (or greatly raised) their course grades
- 45% agreed (or strongly agreed) that Sherpath helped them to better prepare for class
- 58% agreed (or strongly agreed) that Sherpath helped them to better understand strong or weak areas
- 46% agreed that the use of Sherpath made them more confident in understanding the course material
- 35% agreed that Sherpath helped them perform better on exams
- 41% agreed that Sherpath made learning more efficient
- The estimated amount of time students spent on reading with Sherpath was reduced from 15% to 8%, compared to time spent reading the material from texts.
- When the relationship between Quiz Coach scores and HESI Fundamentals Specialty Exam scores are considered, on average, for every 1% increase in a student’s Quiz Coach scores, there was a corresponding 3.6% increase in their HESI Fundamentals Specialty Exam score. Using Quiz Coach prepares students for success on the HESI exam!
As exciting as these findings are, the pilot study also gave educators some clues about the best approaches to using adaptive learning. For example, when nursing faculty assigned Sherpath lessons that corresponded to class content before the actual content was delivered, and when Sherpath was used as a graded assignment, students rated the product as more effective than when the assignments were not coordinated.
Suggested Best Practices:
- Thoughtfully integrate products into the curriculum to ensure consistency in students’ learning experiences.
- Provide an incentive for students, particularly through graded assignments, to ensure that they take advantage of the assessment components.
Interestingly, in the pilot study, only 1% of all students remediated their weak areas. This appears to be due to the large number of weak areas identified by Quiz Coach. While this may speak to the effectiveness of Quiz Coach in determining areas in which students haven’t conquered the content, this finding also points out that when students do not have a prescribed remediation plan, an awareness of their weaknesses is not necessarily helpful in improving their performance.
Suggested Best Practice:
- Faculty must provide a structured remediation plan to help students effectively use information about their weaknesses to improve performance.
New adaptive learning technology, such as Sherpath, provides an opportunity to help students develop identified competencies. The Sherpath pilot study gives us initial evidence for guiding effective integration of the product into nursing and health professions curricula. As students continue to use this educational tool, additional evidence is likely to emerge. However, regardless of the validation of the technical advantages of using adaptive learning in the classroom, one constant will remain — the extent to which faculty is involved in planning the student experience, evaluating their use of the technology, and assisting students to remediate when weaknesses are identified, remains critical to the consistent improvement of student outcomes. Faculty is the key to success!