Constructing a Design Framework and Pedagogical Approach for Adaptive Learning in Higher Education: A Practitioner's Perspective


  • Thomas Cavanagh University of Central Florida
  • Baiyun Chen University of Central Florida
  • Rachid Ait Maalem Lahcen University of Central Florida
  • James Paradiso University of Central Florida



adaptive courseware, adaptive learning, course design, higher education, instructional design, learning analytics, mastery learning, personalized learning


While adaptive learning is emerging as a promising technology to promote access and quality at a large scale in higher education (Becker et al., 2018), the implementation of adaptive learning in teaching and learning is still sporadic, and it is unclear how to best design and teach an adaptive learning course in a higher education context. As early adopters, a team of instructors, instructional designers, and administrators at the University of Central Florida (UCF) identified five key design features as an adaptive learning design framework to guide the unique course design process. These five features involve deliberate design and development efforts that could bring significant benefits to student learning. The purpose of this field note is to present a design framework and best practices for teaching from both a systems and a pedagogical approach in the context of implementation at UCF. We also share the rationale and classification framework UCF has adopted to ensure the term “adaptive learning” is universally understood across campus. This paper offers insights into the design, delivery, and implications of utilizing adaptive learning systems in higher education courses at a public research university and attempts to capture the intimacy of lessons learned and best practices gathered since the project’s inception in 2014.

Author Biographies

Thomas Cavanagh, University of Central Florida

Thomas B. Cavanagh, Ph.D. is the Vice Provost for Digital Learning at the University of Central Florida (UCF). In this role, he oversees the distance learning strategy, policies, and practices of one of the largest universities in the nation, including program and course design, development, and assessment. In his career, Tom has administered e-learning development for both academic (public and private) and industrial (Fortune 500, government/military) audiences. A regular presenter at academic and industry conferences, he is an award-winning instructional designer, program manager, faculty member, and administrator. Blended learning is a frequent presentation topic and he has spoken both domestically and internationally on its design and implementation.

In 2014, he was named an Online Learning Consortium Fellow. Some of his service highlights include: the 2015 EDUCAUSE Annual Meeting program committee, 2012 EDUCAUSE Southeast Regional Conference program committee, chair of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Advisory Board, Instructure Canvas Advisory Board, WCET Steering Committee, Florida Distance Learning Association Advisory Board, Chair of the Distance Learning and Student Services Members’ Council of the Florida Virtual Campus, and as a track chair for the Sloan-C Conference on Blended Learning. Tom’s research interests include e-learning, technical communication, and the societal influence of technology on education, training, culture, and commerce. He is also an award-winning author of several mystery novels.

Baiyun Chen, University of Central Florida

Dr. Baiyun Chen is a Senior Instructional Designer at the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. She leads the Personalized Adaptive Learning team, designs and delivers faculty professional development programs, and teaches graduate courses on Instructional Systems Design. Her team works in close collaboration with teaching faculty members to design and develop adaptive learning courses by utilizing digital courseware to personalize instruction that maximizes student learning. Her research interests focus on using instructional strategies in online and blended teaching in the STEM disciplines, professional development for teaching online, and application of adaptive technologies in education. She has served as the Co-Managing Editor of the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. In 2016 and 2017, Dr. Chen co-facilitated BlendKit, a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Becoming a Blended Learning Designer. As an Online Learning Consortium Institute faculty, she has also designed, developed and taught the Blended Learning Mastery Series: Research into Practice.

Rachid Ait Maalem Lahcen, University of Central Florida

Rachid Ait Maalem Lahcen is a Mathematics Instructor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Orlando, Florida. He holds a Master of Sciences in Mechanical Engineering, a Master of Sciences in Modeling & Simulation, a graduate certificate in Mathematics, and a graduate certificate in Modeling and Simulation of Behavioral Cybersecurity. All from UCF. His research interests are students' learning, cybersecurity, graph network, and inverse problems.

James Paradiso, University of Central Florida

James R. Paradiso is an Assistant Instructional Designer on the Personalized Adaptive Learning team and the Program Coordinator of Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) for the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. 

His research interests and professional duties focus on adaptive learning / intelligent tutoring systems, open educational practice(s), the cognitive science of teaching and learning (principally memory, attention, and motivation), project management, instructional design, and how complex dynamic(al) systems theory applies to them all. 



How to Cite

Cavanagh, T., Chen, B., Lahcen, R. A. M., & Paradiso, J. (2020). Constructing a Design Framework and Pedagogical Approach for Adaptive Learning in Higher Education: A Practitioner’s Perspective. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 173–197.



Notes From the Field