Area9: Redefining Adaptive Learning

Nick J. Howe, CLO
Every brain is different, which has made personalization the “holy grail” in education going back to the roots of online learning in the 1970’s. Since that time, many attempts have been made to deliver effective computer-based learning, with early forays that did little more than put static content online. But this failed to produce a truly effective, personalized experience for learners.

Against this backdrop, Area9 Lyceum has devoted more than 20 years to the pursuit of how people learn–and how to improve it–based on the latest in brain research. Area9, headquartered in Denmark with U.S. operations in Massachusetts, has systematically researched human factors, learning, product development, content development, and computer science to produce an adaptive learning model that treats each learner as an individual.

Adaptive learning is a computer-based teaching system that adapts in real-time to the needs of each learner. It seeks to create at scale and for low cost the experiences of the best classical tutor by accommodating learners’ experiences and attitudes in the moment. Just like a skilled tutor, an exceptional adaptive learning platform skips over what is unnecessary because a learner has already achieved mastery and assists where the learner struggles. The result is an efficient and effective learning experience.

In corporate learning, the adaptive learning approach allows employees to focus quickly (within minutes) on areas in which they are the least proficient or confident. Since the adaptive engine delivers teaching only in those areas that require development, time savings of 50 percent to achieve proficiency are common. “Our software behaves like a tutor, which enables us to understand exactly what individuals know and what they don’t; how they feel and how motivated they are. Our personalized, adaptive approach seeks to optimize the learning experience and achieve proficiency and mastery as quickly as possibly can,” explains Nick J. Howe, CLO, Area9.

Area9’s approach to adaptive learning–known as a “biological model”– provides a truly personalized learning experience wherein the system adapts and responds to the learner. It seeks to provide the optimal learning experience via its learning platform, which can operate completely standalone as an adaptive LMS, or can integrate with an existing LMS via SCORM, LTI or xAPI.

Rather than introducing elements such gamification into its learning strategy, Area9 delivers an adaptive learning experience through cutting-edge software, which responds to each learner’s needs with an engaging approach that doesn’t require animation and avatars.

Our personalized, adaptive approach seeks to optimize the learning experience and achieve proficiency and mastery as quickly as possible can

As Area9 has found, when learners are continuously challenged with content and exercises that are specifically relevant to each individual, they are most likely to stay engaged to completion. “Gamification attempts to improve a bad learning experience. However, if learning was good to begin with, gamification wouldn’t be necessary,” adds Howe.

Area9 challenges the thinking in the learning industry, which traditionally has approached learning the same way for each individual without sufficient personalization. Every learner, however, possesses different knowledge and backgrounds and learns at different speeds. While many learning companies focus on making training and content more accessible to users, Area9 seeks to produce better outcomes for learners. This is especially relevant in corporate training for which companies spend an estimated $360 billion annually on a global basis and with questionable results. “Only eight percent of business leaders see the value in most corporate training. The rest don’t,” Howe says. “Traditional corporate learning does not justify the dollars being spent because these programs fail to change behavior among people and within organizations to produce better business outcomes.”

Area9’s unique breakthrough is its adaptive learning platform that follows a “biological model” based on how the brain functions and humans actually learn. Using a question-based teaching technique (known as a formative assessment), the learning system assesses the current cognitive state of the learner and constantly adjusts and readjusts the lesson content and the teaching approach.

The biological model identifies and fills knowledge gaps, while also uncovering hidden learner misconceptions–that is, where they are “unconsciously incompetent” because they assume they know something which, in fact, they do not. “Besides building proficiency and competence, we also want to build confidence, making learners more confident so that they can apply what they have learned,” Howe explains.

Area9 is strengthening its presence in the US, European, and Middle Eastern markets. Recently, Area9 received the largest ever-equity investment of $30 million from the Danish Growth Fund, part of the Danish government. Currently, the Area9 team is working on their fourth generation adaptive and personalized learning platform, “Rhapsode.” This next-generation platform can develop knowledge, skills, character, and metacognitive skills to improve self-awareness and build new capabilities. “The focus on adaptive learning so far has been in the cognitive domain, building knowledge, but there is much more to be gained,” Howe adds. Driven by this philosophy, Area9 is leveraging the “ultimate personalization” to accelerate proficiency, hone skills, and promote true lifelong learning, beyond just imparting knowledge.