Adaptive release - Best practice

What is adaptive release?

Adaptive Release functionality in the LMS allows granular control of content availability. Using criteria to allow/deny access to subject resources, teaching staff can provide flexible learning pathways for individuals or groups, and/or structure resource availability (e.g. lecture materials, tests, and discussion board forums) according to learning needs.

Examples of adaptive release include students in different groups accessing different assessment tasks; learning materials available only after completing a survey; and learning materials becoming available based on chronological progress through the semester.

Plan ahead

Before using adaptive release, it’s a good idea to first sketch out the desired pathways and outcomes on paper or a whiteboard. This way you can construct some quite complex scenarios, particularly in cases where you decide to use multiple criteria to control access to content. Visual maps and storyboards offer excellent support to ensure that your technical approach matches the intended learning outcomes. It’s also far easier to identify unnecessarily complex structures visually, compared to delving into the technical settings first. You can save a lot of time and effort later if you make a plan before you start manipulating content inside your subject site.

Communicate the intended goals to students

The most successful implementations of adaptive release generally share a common aspect – the learning process is clearly explained to students. This doesn’t mean advising students of what the precise outcome of each adaptive release criterion will be, but it does mean ensuring there’s information available to explain the goals of the exercise and to encourage the students to use the material as it was designed to be used. For example, if adaptive release is being used to support a role-play exercise, advising students that they will only see part of the overall information based on their group membership will dispel any possible confusion caused when students see content that differs from what their peers see.

Keep it simple

The beauty of adaptive release is that multiple criteria can be used to construct extremely elaborate content availability rules (e.g.: content is available immediately to students in one group, but students in a different group must achieve a certain grade for an assessment to view the same content). However, highly elaborate rules and content structures are generally not of benefit unless they meet specific pedagogical needs. Adaptive release can be used just as effectively for straightforward sequential progress through the subject, and the simplest structure to achieve your pedagogical goals will provide students with the best pathway. After all, if students must pass three tests to release learning materials when the same goal could be achieved by passing a single test, the additional activities could potentially be perceived as obstacles rather than a supportive learning process.

Note: any content available to some individuals is available to all

It is inevitable that, immediately a file is provided within the LMS, it can be shared among students through informal channels, including students who have not met the required adaptive release rules. There’s no technical solution which can prevent document sharing – but it can be almost eliminated through good communication (see above) so students understand the exercise’s purpose and participate in the learning activity. For this reason, it is best to avoid very high stakes scenarios (e.g. making the answers for the final subject exam available before all students have attempted it), and to encourage students to engage with the meaningful learning program you have set up.

Allow additional time for subject administration

Any subject administration takes time but if it’s well-planned and leads to improved student engagement, it’s satisfying and worth the effort. For example, if a subject is set up to automatically release content during the busiest teaching times, this frees up additional time for other teaching tasks. Planning your pathways and outcomes in advance can help you to decide whether investing in adaptive release will deliver benefits that substantially reward your efforts in terms of student learning.

This guide was last updated 06 Jan 2017.
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