The Adaptive Advantage: How E-Learning Will Change Higher Ed

(Forbes, 2nd December 2014) Higher education has seen a proliferation of new models in response to growing market demands. For-profit universities, massive open online courses, and competency-based pedagogies have all vied for a piece of the pie. Adaptive learning – a personalized, technology- and data-driven approach which responds and adapts to both teachers and learners – could provide the answer, and Smart Sparrow, an Australia-based adaptive “eLearning” platform, is leading the way.

Smart Sparrow enables institutions and academics to author unique and adaptive tutorials within existing coursework. Led by founder and CEO Dror Ben-Naim, the platform focuses on supporting teachers by advancing and accelerating student learning.

As each student possesses different levels of knowledge, course content adapts to student responses and creates “adaptive pathways” for students to follow. More advanced learners can skip through content while those less knowledgeable can be directed to additional resources to help them better understand course material. When wrong answers are given, instructors can respond with detailed feedback and explanations of what mistakes students had made along the way.

Within Smart Sparrow’s eLearning Platform, analytic dashboards are provided to help instructors evaluate student performance and progress. Knowledge Analytics, as it is called, gives instructors the opportunity to identify difficult concepts through specific data points.


Although primarily situated in Australia, Smart Sparrow has since tapped the U.S. market, partnering with instructors such as Ariel Anbar of Arizona State University to provide adaptive learning to large groups of students. In collaboration with Anbar, Smart Sparrow launched the universally acclaimed Habitable Worlds, a course which guided non-science majors through space and the search for extraterrestrial life. More recently, Smart Sparrow was one of seven finalists in a $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help low income and disadvantaged students succeed in general courses. In the coming months, Smart Sparrow plans to leverage its technology to improve student learning in high-enrollment courses.



The results of Smart Sparrow’s adaptive learning technology are likewise encouraging. In a 2011 study conducted by engineering faculty at the University of New South Wales, fail rates among 1st year Engineering Mechanics students dropped from 31 percent in 2006 to around 9 percent in 2010 using adaptive eLearning technology.


However, as with all progressive forms of technology, there are some limitations to Smart Sparrow. Poorly informed or acquainted instructors might deliver subpar student performances, effectively deterring institutions from adopting such technology. Limited utility in introductory and remedial coursework could likewise present a concern for scalability.

Nonetheless, Smart Sparrow has generated waves in the higher education industry. By empowering educators and cultivating a more interactive and adaptive learning environment, it has spawned a new era of learning which might just change the face of postsecondary pedagogy. One by one, institutions are welcoming its Adaptive eLearning Platform – and the results are promising. As more students continue to enjoy its personalized content, Smart Sparrow will likely continue to attract institutions and organizations of prominence. As a result, the potential of this pioneering startup is substantial, making higher education – or any type of education for that matter – an exciting and inspiring field to study.