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Adaptive teaching


Content Reviewers:

Rishi Desai, MD, MPH

Adaptive teaching is a way of teaching that addresses the needs of learners that have different levels of knowledge and backgrounds, rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

In medicine, it’s used to teach adaptive learners who learn through real-world problems - usually a clinical issue affecting a patient.

To show how this works, let’s say there’s clinical instructor named Dr. Michael who loves teaching endocrinology.

He might have learning objectives listed in his course syllabus; things like “Recognize the most common symptoms of endocrine disorders” or “Differentiate between primary and secondary endocrine disorders”.

The syllabus might list out specific “flipped classroom” segments in his course, like one in which he provides his students with his notes and PowerPoint slides so that they can review beforehand, and come prepared to discuss a case about precocious puberty.

Altogether, this makes up the declared curriculum which is basically everything that a teacher expects to teach in a course, and also what they plan to draw from in a final exam or assessment.

Often times, though, there ends up being a difference between what a teacher expects to teach and what is actually taught.

In our example, it’s totally possible that Dr. Michael’s students don’t remember normal endocrine physiology and are therefore struggling to understand the diseases.

To adapt to this situation, Dr. Michael might spontaneously include a ‘team learning’ exercise, where he breaks the students into groups to answer multiple choice questions about various hormones using audience response ‘clickers.’

The time spent on this topic might mean that the class won’t ever get a chance to discuss some of the more rare endocrine diseases, and this is where the declared and taught curriculum diverge.

Now, let’s say that Dr. Michael also likes to work with his students outside the classroom through a web-based learning platform.

He might review questions and flashcards that have been written by one student for their peers, and Dr. Michael might even add some of his own to help his students remember important information.

This process lets a teacher get insight into how the students are learning as well as where they may have gaps in their understanding.

By doing this, Dr. Michael is exploring the parallel curriculum, which is all of the learning that happens in parallel to or “outside” what a teacher teaches in the classroom.

That includes all of the supplemental materials that each student uses to help them learn.

This ranges from online notes and question banks, to mobile apps to review books.