adaptive loop of death

Adaptive Learning 3.0: Defeating the Adaptive Loop of Death

Fulcrum Labs
138 posts

Remember Groundhog Day? In the movie, Bill Murray is stuck on a recurring loop – repeating the same day (Groundhog Day) again and again. For Bill’s character, escape is only possible after he accumulates enough knowledge that he finally learns the lesson he needs to know.

For some learners, adaptive systems can feel a bit like Groundhog Day.

That’s because, in many adaptive systems, if a learner is unable to answer the assessments correctly, they begin to see the same questions over and over and over again. We call this “the adaptive loop of death” and it disproportionately affects an organization’s most vulnerable learners – struggling learners or those who have little prior experience/knowledge in a topic.


The strength of adaptive methodology


One of the hallmarks of adaptive learning – and one of its biggest benefits – is that it helps everyone reach mastery, and do so at their own pace. Learners who develop a better grasp of the material and/or have more experience/knowledge can speed through a course and demonstrate mastery quickly. Learners who are struggling or who have less experience/knowledge can spend the time to fully understand the content before moving on. The technology supports them as they work to achieve mastery – helping them learn at a pace that’s appropriate to them. Regardless of where they start, the end result is the same – mastery of the content.


A weakness of adaptive methodology


This experience can start to create an adversarial relationship, where the learner perceives the learning platform as something antagonistic, which kills learning momentum, trust and motivation. In fact, this learning path can be incredibly detrimental to a learner’s mindset. Research shows that repeated failure, like that in the adaptive loop of death, can:

  • Lead to increased anxiety levels
  • Make goals seem unattainable
  • Alter people’s perceptions of their own intellect and abilities
  • Reduce confidence
  • Cause people to become averse to future training and view learning in a negative light


Adaptive 3.0 – Defeating the Adaptive Loop of Death


The adaptive loop of death is a weakness inherent in many Adaptive systems. As the industry moves into the new era – Adaptive 3.0 – a greater investment in AI and deeper insights into learner behavior patterns will help us overcome the adaptive loop of death.

For example, within our platform, we prevent the adaptive loop of death in four distinct ways:


1. Adaptive Hints 

Hints are a helpful way to prevent adaptive loop of death. In our system, when learners choose an incorrect answer, the platform presents them with a hint — specific to that incorrect answer — to help them master the material, like a good one-on-one tutor would. In this way, practice assessments in our platform serve as learning “content.” This hint could be a small piece of information or a quick memory jogger. It could even point the learner back to the relevant read or watch section, or link to some supplemental material.  The hint feature gives learners an incremental bit of knowledge – the most relevant bit of information or next step – to help them advance and come to the correct answer on their own. For example, a security training course might ask a fill-in-the-blank question like:

“A customer can present a government-issued photo ID or ________________”

If the learner chooses an incorrect answer, as demonstrated in the screen shot below, our intelligent system would prompt them with a hint specific to that wrong answer choice. In the example question above, a hint might say something like: “Without a government-issued photo ID, the customer will need two others forms of ID.”

adaptive hint


These hints help learners reason through the answer choices and rule out wrong choices more effectively in subsequent passes, based on a deeper understanding of the learning objective and common mistakes.


2. Deeper Stack


Another way to defeat the adaptive loop of death is to deepen the adaptive assessment stack. Sometimes information “clicks” when we see it or hear it presented in a different way. That’s why we recommend that clients have a stack full enough to support learners by:

  • Cloning questions to make them slightly different – by either altering the information, the phrasing, the visuals or the assessment type
  • Writing entirely new questions around established learning objectives

We recommend that clients focus the depth at the lower end of the stack to give struggling learners more opportunities to progress through the fundamentals without getting stuck.

Deepening the stack doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it’s something we help our partners with as part of our standard professional services. We use a variety of expert, cost-effective resources that help create effective new assessments around established learning objectives and clone existing questions to provide a new “spin” on the content. It’s a simple process and can greatly improve the efficacy of course and the learner experience.


3. Review Prompts

We also help learners avoid the adaptive loop of death is by directing them to review the content. When people are missing a lot questions in a row, our technology prompts them to go back and re-read or re-watch specific sections of the material. We find that this simple redirection helps learners refocus their efforts. Once they find a few of the missing answers in the text, video or learning material, they gain a whole new level of confidence and commitment.


4. Microlearning

Finally, our adaptive platform uses a microlearning framework to combat the adaptive loop of death. Our platform divides content into small, un-intimidating sections of 2-4 learning objectives. This makes it easier for learners to go back to the content, review a few paragraphs of text or a video clip and quickly find the solution. They don’t have to wade through long pages of text or lengthy videos to find the information they’re looking for. And because it’s so easy to dive back into the content and find the exact information they need, learners are able to deeply learn the content and advance through the course more quickly.

Learn more about our microlearning framework here.


Tweaking content and including intelligent hints and redirections within the adaptive learning system can help learners avoid the feeling that they’re stuck in the learning version of Groundhog Day with Punxsutawney Phil poking he head out again and again.


For more information abut how Fulcrum Labs is pioneering new techniques for the next era of adaptive learning or to see how our technology helps learners avoid the adaptive loop of death, let’s connect.


Adaptive Learning 3.0: Beyond Branching & Algorithms

Adaptive Learning 3.0: Finding the Right Learning Pathway for ALL Learners

Adaptive 3.0: Using AI to rework Confidence in Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning 3.0: Death, Taxes and Predictive AI