Careers in Adaptive Learning

Right now "Adaptive Learning" is mostly just a buzzphrase tossed around by academics, venture capitalists, and sagacious entrepreneurs -- but it will be coming to a web browser near you soon.

Its an elusive term, meaning many different things to different people. What almost everyone can agree on is that data mining will be brought to education. Just like Google uses historical data from past searches to provide better-targeted search results tomorrow, some company or companies (and dozens are currently duking it out, with many more sure to jump into the fray) will compile a vast library of information detailing how we know what we know - so people can learn even more efficiently in the future.

If and when the technology is fully realized, the system will be able to gauge what you do and do not know, and then respond by serving you the precise learning items youll need to master the concept at hand. Such insights will be possible by data mining the historical data and performances of other students in the system.

For example, you could be going through your American History textbook on the computer one day soon, taking quizzes after you read each section. At the end of the chapter, you could be told, based on your responses to the quizzes, exactly what you need to work before the test. You might be all set on the Revolutionary War, but need to bone up on your Benjamin Franklin knowledge. This could be, the thinking goes, a revolution in the way we learn.

Sounds enticing no? Here are some career opportunities within the budding adaptive learning industry.

Content developer. All these chapters and books arent going to write themselves. Plus humans need to tag the content to organize it, to break it down to bite-size levels so the data mining process can work its magic. Employers look for content editors with a strong record of academic success; this is a good first job for liberal arts majors.

Psychometricians and machine learning specialists. Obviously there arent a ton of machine learning specialists walking around, but the opportunities do speak to a larger trend of academics leaving the classroom and entering the private sector in the education space.

User experience professionals. One of the major challenges in designing elearning experiences is giving the user intuitive tools she can understand. Adaptive learning is complex stuff (see: machine learning specialists), and sometimes students have trouble navigating the experience. Enter UX specialists, who have backgrounds and design and know exactly how to operate in Adobe Photoshop.

Melissa Bullard earned a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, then a Master's Degree in Spanish Language and Literatures from the University of Nevada, Reno. She has taught writing, literature, and Spanish classes, and is currently working as a freelance writer, translator, and piano teacher.

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