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Using Adaptive Release to Foster Flexibility for Online Students While Maintaining Rigor

Suffolk County Community College


Suffolk County Community College uses the Blackboard Learning Management System to deliver online education. Within Blackboard is a tool called Adaptive Release which allows professors to set parameters for students to progress through a course after achieving proficiency in the content in the given module or lesson. Using adaptive release, we empower students and encourage them to take control of their education.

Profs. Carlson and Wolfson are members of different academic departments, library and physical education, respectively, but Adaptive Release is a course design strategy that can be utilized in any asynchronous course regardless of discipline. We both teach online and have used the practice outlined herein for several semesters with great success. Both of our online courses are scaffolded with one skill building on the next. Students must master the information in the preceding module to be able to progress to the subsequent module. Benchmarks are established to ensure students demonstrate mastery of content. Proficiency is demonstrated with the modules through assessment: formal, authentic summative. For example, if a student were to complete the module assessment(s) in the form of a discussion board and quiz, and earned above a 70 average, the next module will automatically open.

Adaptive Release allows students to unlock content based upon established criteria set by the instructor (see Figure #1 in the attached SUNY pics document). Basic Adaptive Release allows the instructor to set one criterium while Advanced Adaptive Release allows multiple criteria to be set with “and” and “or” connectors for the criteria. For example, for a student to progress through a module you might set the proficiency standard as passing the module quiz or let the module open on the date stated in the syllabus (see figure #2). The criteria established demonstrating proficiency is controlled by the course instructor. It adds the opportunity for students to accelerate the learning process by ensuring students are mastering the content with a preset proficiency level that determines whether students are prepared to move forward (see figures #3, 4 and 5). Parameters can also be set for whole modules, individual assignments, content, quizzes, etc. Adaptive release provides faculty with the ability to control the release of material based upon various measurable criteria, in addition to by date. Adaptive release provides flexibility for students while maintaining high academic standards and rigor maintained, but autonomy is placed on the students.

Incorporating adaptive release parameters into our course design and pairing it with various teaching strategies, we empower students and encourage them to take control of their education. For example, we allow unlimited submissions of an assignment up until the due date which contributes to making the assessment both content-mastery oriented and student-effort oriented where student can revise their work based on instructor feedback and demonstrate extra effort to improve their grades.

Employing adaptive release ensures equitable opportunities by removing barriers making it a practice consistent with the new SUNY General Education requirements. It affords students opportunities to manage time, self-regulatory skills, schedule management, flexibility, ownership, goals, and allows more effectively for future thought processes. The choice to take advantage of the flexibility that adaptive release is with the students. Students can progress through the course at the standard one module per week or they can use adaptive release to move more quickly through a module if they master the content. Additionally, if a student chooses to move through a module and start a new module in less than a week, they are not locked into the quicker pace for the semester. Adaptive release provides flexibility from an individualized perspective while maintaining academic rigor.

Although the effective practice described in this application references Blackboard’s capabilities, similar tools are available in other LMS software. For example, in D2L Brightspace you would use the access release condition tool and in Canvas you add requirements to the locked content.

Supplemental Resources:


Additional Metrics:

Using quantitative analytics within Blackboard corroborating student completion data from Fall 2021, an estimated 12%-15% of students completed all their coursework at least 10 days prior to the due date of the final assignment for the course. This early completion rate does not include students who completed all work within 10 days of the final assignment, but still took advantage of the self-paced features built within the course. While an analysis of students accelerating their progress early in the semester to allow for time for other courses work is currently unavailable, anecdotally, we have students share stories explaining that they accelerate their progress in our courses knowing they have assignments in other courses and personal responsibilities to focus on. Getting ahead in our courses allows students to shift their focus to other responsibilities while still staying on track with the timeline in our courses. Once they have completed their other responsibilities, they re-engage and continue within our courses with the ability to complete the course successfully.

122 reviews of this entry
5.0 rating based on 121 ratings
5.0 rating based on 121 ratings

  1. Thank you for this important work, Professors Carlson and Wolfson! I know a lot about Blackboard, or so I thought- and didn’t realize that was the function of adaptive release. THANK YOU!