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Bolton College: Adaptive Learning

The ERA Licence is a crucial element underpinning an innovative personalised and adaptive learning environment developed by Bolton College.

Male teacher with glasses smiles in the hallway

Making it personal is something they really believe in at Bolton College. And that’s why students enrolled there have an entirely customised learning experience, aided by the ERA licence.

Strategic ILT leader Aftab Hussain is enthusiastic about Bolton’s approach and has even bigger plans for the future.   We don’t just have a virtual learning environment – it’s a personalised learning environment, tailor-made for our students”, he points out. “The content they see when they log in is based on their own preferences and interests – and geared to their aspirations too.”

How does it work?

When a student enrols at the college, he or she provides information about what they are interested in and what they would like to do. This is updated and combined with their curriculum choices to ensure that the content they see has been curated for them and is regularly refreshed. So someone on an IT course who wants to go to university will have a homepage featuring audio-visual licensed material such as The Life Scientific and Girls Can Code, information on university entrance, events preparing students for this, and so on, as well as reminders when assignments are due and course-related resources. This personalised experience is made possible by the College’s suite of adaptive algorithms.

Customisation is consistently applied, so that audio-visual material created by college staff can be similarly personalised. An online course on Employability may start with the same slides but will then seamlessly segue into different ones, depending on whether a student is enrolled on a Hair and Beauty course or a Catering programme.

The ERA-licensed material students see on their homepages has been selected by their tutors and is on a carousel-style feed, which acts almost as a subliminal educational input. They can choose whether to view it or not, but the very presence of clips from programmes such as Girls Can Code along with targeted college-created materials has an effect.

What are the benefits?

The benefit of using the college’s personalised and adaptive learning environment over the past two years has been significant and measurable.

“We have doubled the number of UCAS applications, for one thing,” enthuses Aftab. “This is an indication that we have raised the aspirations of students and stimulated their interest in progressing to higher education.”

The next stage is to make the system even more responsive and to fine-tune student profiles to enable an even greater level of customisation and personalisation of the learner experience.
“We can adjust the interaction between the student and the adaptive learning environment on many levels. For instance, a student who is not coping well with an online tutorial is provided with additional feedback and guidance, and those who are coping better are stretched and challenged further,” explains Aftab. “The system is gradually behaving more intelligently as we improve its ability to process complex information about each student – it means that we now perceive relationships in the college as a partnership between the student ,the teacher, and the Adaptive Learning Environment as the third agent. “

The possibilities are boundless – and so is Aftab’s enthusiasm. At Bolton College, they really do take it personally…