content The Blue Diamond Gallery 400pxSo you have decided you want to adapt a course and you are just beginning to learn more about the process and work involved.  In this blog post, I will share my personal experience of working through the adaptive process, focusing in on the content issues of working with vendors (adaptive learning platform providers) and publishers.  It is important to realize right away that no course can be adapted without a substantial amount of content.  Content is key.  

To begin, let’s briefly break down the key steps you must work through in preparation for adapting a course before we address content.  The first step in the process is to write out the overall goal for the course, that is, what one or two skills learners should know and be able to do at the end of the course or semester.  Next, you must write the 3-5 objectives learners need to accomplish in order to reach the overarching goal of the course.  The third step is to think through each objective individually and determine the skills or subskills learners must develop in order to achieve each objective so they can ultimately demonstrate proficiency of the overall goal for the course.  Now, you are ready to begin breaking down your entire course into small 10-15 minute chunks, or learning segments, that will become your learning map and eventually become individualized so learners can have their own pathway through the course.  

At this point in the design process, you are ready to begin scouring through the content for each 10-15 minute learning segment you have listed on your course map.  Before you dive into this time-consuming process, you must consider a couple of things with regards to content.  First, do you have your own content that you have developed or do you plan on using publisher content?  If you have your own content and are contracting a platform provider to do the heavy lifting of building out the course for you, you will simply provide the platform vendor the content and then get out of the way.  You are well on your way to moving right through the adaptive process.  If, however, you do not have your own content, you will need written permission from the publisher to access their content you need for the course, regardless of who authors, or builds out, the course – you or the platform vendor.

Publishers, at least the ones I have worked with, have not been willing to provide the amount of content needed to develop an adapted course.  For example, the course I am currently working to adapt, needs content from nearly 16 of the 30 chapters in the book (although not the entire chapter) – so close to half of their content.  Contrary to popular belief, professors do not have unlimited access and use of copyrighted material, or content, such as a textbook, regardless if you have adopted the text.  The 2002 Teach Act addresses this issue and guides professors in the legal use of copyrighted material.  Essentially, access to a high quantity of publisher content is not acceptable.  Written permission is required.  This is a big deal and one in which platform vendors are working hard to address by working with university professors to develop their own content and allowing them to own the IP or receive royalties.

I am a proponent of working with platform vendors and building out your own content for two main reasons.  First, from a pedagogical/andragogical perspective, textbooks are and should be supplements for your course and not the core of your course.  Far too long, educators have relied on the publisher’s textbooks as the core of their course and allowed the use of such to cripple the quality of their courses for their students.  Instead of working to develop current and relevant strategies to meet the needs of their learners, educators fall victim to the ease of use of textbooks and allow that use to dictate their instructional decisions.  For example, I could easily assign students to read a chapter, or chapters, of their required text and assign them to answer the questions located at the end of the chapter or a set of questions I have drafted myself.  That’s the lazy way of teaching and a very disconnected, unmeaningful way to learn.  Or, maybe I could assign students to read only a small section of the text (or better yet, a block of text freely found on the Internet), watch an appropriate video clip of a current event related to the topic (one that maybe I, through the use of free adaptive technologies, insert guiding questions or other interactions to ensure students actively engage with the content), and then further engage them in a debate or discussion on the topic in class where I ask them how they might apply this to a particular situation and why.  Obviously, the second option is more engaging and provides a better learning experience for my students.  But, this option also requires me to do more work on the front end to plan and prepare my lessons, whereas the first option is much easier and, quite frankly, ineffective.

My second reason for moving away from the use of publisher content is to reduce costs for students.  Honestly, how much of the textbook do you really use in your course?  If a student pays over $100 for a textbook and you use only half of it, and usually it is much less than that, can you really justify it?  It’s time to break the status quo of expecting students to purchase very expensive textbooks when there is so many free resources available for us to use.  According to The College Board, the average full time undergraduate student spends $1,200 on books and supplies each year.  Really??  If used as it should be used, as a supplement to a course, does it make sense to require students to spend so much money for a textbook that will be obsolete very likely by the end of the semester and when most, if not all, of the information can be found using online resources?  We no longer live in the Industrial Age of behavioralism and passive learning yet surprisingly we still use Industrial Age-practices and expect our students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills to compete and perform in an Information Age world that requires learners to use technology in meaningful ways to solve problems.

Eventually, the Industrial Age will die off and educators at every level will use Information Age strategies and practices, such as adapted learning, to create meaningful learning experiences for their students.  We will do so willingingly or, eventually, we will be forced to change.  If you are contemplating joining those of us who are already using instructional strategies and practices for the Information Age, I urge you to begin thinking about the importance of content and make the needed changes now to free yourself from the content permissions and costs of working with textbook publishers.  Do not get me wrong, I think textbooks are great – as supplements to a course, not as the core.

Want to learn more about adaptive learning? Be sure to check out the resources on our WCET adaptive learning issue page and follow along on our weekly adaptive learning twitter chats Thursday at 2pm MST (4pm EST/ 3pm CST/ 1pm PST) using #WCETAdaptive. 

photo of niki bray

Niki Bray

WCET Fellow, Adaptive Learning
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis


Content Photo Credit: Blue Diamond Gallery

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