Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Adaptive Learning Environments Model

What Is It?

The Adaptive Learning Environments Model (ALEM) is an innovative educational program designed to meet the diverse social and academic needs of students in regular classes. A product of over 2 decades of research, development and school-based implementation in a variety of communities, the model serves as an alternative approach to educational reform for schools striving to be responsive to the learning needs of individual students with varying abilities, experiences, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Underlying the model's design is the premise that students learn in different ways and at varying rates and require different amounts of instructional support. The Adaptive Learning Environments Model accommodates and builds upon these differences through adaptive instruction, in which a variety of instructional methods are adopted and tailored to the needs and the learning characteristics of individual students, and specific interventions are used to increase each student's ability to benefit from the learning environment.

Why Did It Get Started?

The call for programs that work for the educational success of each student, including those with special needs and those who are considered to be academically at risk, has become a central issue in school reform programs. There have been significant advances in theory and practical knowledge of effective instruction, and growing evidence suggests a great variability in the ways that students acquire, organize, retain, and generate knowledge and skills. The Adaptive Learning Environments Model was designed to cull from the knowledge base on what makes teaching and learning more effective and efficient.

How Does It Work?

The Adaptive Learning Environments Model's goal is to ensure achievement of basic academic skills and other valued educational outcomes, including students' positive self-perceptions of academic and social competence, sense of responsibility for their own education and the broader community and competencies for coping with the social and academic demands of schooling. In order to accomplish this, the model focuses on systematically integrating features that theory, research, and practice have shown to be instructionally effective and pedagogically meaningful.

Accordingly, implementation of the Adaptive Learning Environments Model is supported by three categories of program design dimensions: delivery of adaptive instruction in regular classroom settings; classroom management and program implementation; and school- and district-level interventions.

Effective implementation of the model requires teachers to use all forms of knowledge in implementing demonstrably effective classroom practices to accommodate students' diverse learning needs. Although adaptive instruction calls for individualized planning, teachers do not work with students on a one-on-one basis. Whole-class and small-group instruction and peer-based cooperative learning are incorporated when deemed particularly suited for achieving certain intended student outcomes or ways to improve instructional efficiency.

In the Adaptive Learning Environments classroom, individual differences are viewed as the norm rather than the exception. While differences in rates of progress are recognized by teachers, parents, and the students themselves, the acquisition of basic academic skills and the development of social competence and self-esteem are expected of each student. Under the Adaptive Learning Environments Model program, specialist teachers (e.g., reading specialists funded under the Title I program or special education teachers) and other related services professionals (e.g., speech pathologists or school psychologists) work with regular classroom teachers in a coordinated system of instructional and related service delivery.

What Are The Costs?

Implementation of the Adaptive Learning Environments Model does not require the purchase of specially designed curricula. In almost all cases, a school's current curricular resources can be modified and adapted for use in Adaptive Learning Environments classes. However, a careful analysis of a given school district's budget constraints is the first step in the needs assessment phase of designing an implementation plan. Cost figures vary with district budgets.

Districts interested in adopting the Adaptive Learning Environments Model as a core general education program need to allocate funds to cover the normal start-up costs of implementing an innovative program. Start-up costs tend to vary from district to district, depending on the nature of the district's curricular preparedness, training requirements, and ability to redeploy current resources.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

The Adaptive Learning Environments Model is designed to provide instruction that is responsive to student needs and to provide school staff with ongoing professional development and school-based program implementation support to achieve student success. Implementation features the following design elements.

Individualized Progress Plans consist of two components. The first is a highly structured prescriptive component for basic skills mastery. In addition, an exploratory component provides learning opportunities that foster student self-direction and problem-solving ability while fostering social and personal development to enhance student learning success.
A Diagnostic-Prescriptive Monitoring System incorporates a standards-based curriculum and assessment system to ensure student mastery of subject-matter knowledge and learning skills.
A Classroom Instruction-Management System provides implementation support that focuses on student self-responsibility and teacher teaming in implementing a coordinated approach to instructional and related service delivery.
A Data-Based Professional Development Program provides ongoing training and technical assistance support that is targeted to meet the implementation support needs of the individual staff.
A School-Based Restructuring Process provides school and classroom organizational support and redeployment of school resources and staff expertise to achieve and sustain a high degree of program implementation.
An active Family Involvement Program is targeted to support student learning success.

When a high degree of implementation is achieved, a unique classroom scenario is created. Students can be found working in virtually every area of the classroom, engaging in a variety of learning activities, including participating in small-group instruction, receiving one-to-one tutoring, or engaging in peer-based collaborative activities. Teachers circulate among the students, instructing and providing corrective feedback.

Instruction is based on diagnostic test results and informal assessments by the teacher. Every student is expected to make steady progress in meeting the curricular standards. Learning tasks are broken down into incremental steps, providing frequent opportunities for evaluation.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

In schools where the Adaptive Learning Environments Model components have been adopted, data are collected on degree of implementation, classroom processes, and student outcomes, such as student achievement and student attitudes about their schools and learning experience. Findings from over two decades of implementation of the model in a variety of school settings provide consistent evidence that effective implementation leads to positive changes in classroom process. These changes result in intended academic, attitudinal, and social competence outcomes.

In classrooms where a high degree of implementation is achieved, teachers tend to spend more time on instruction than on managing students and students tend to be highly task oriented. Steady and productive interaction between teachers and students, and among students, replaces the passive learning mode typically found in conventional classrooms. Interactions among students, for the most part, focus on sharing ideas and working together on learning tasks. Distracted behavior on the part of individual students is minimal and does not seem to interfere with the work of others.

Standardized achievement test scores in reading and math indicate that implementation of the model consistently leads to student achievement that meets or exceeds expected gains. Achievement results from various sites over the years have compared favorably with comparison sites in terms of national test norms, as well as district and population norms. Significant differences have been found with special education students who are integrated in regular Adaptive Learning Environments classes.

Where Can I See It?

The Laboratory for Student Success can provide a list of demonstration sites available for visitation.

Whom Do I Contact?

Dr. Margaret C. Wang, Professor and Director
Laboratory for Student Success at
Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education
1301 Cecil B. Moore Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122 - 6091
Telephone: 215-204-3000 or 800-892-5550; Fax: 215-204-5130
E-mail:; Website

The Research Base

Adaptive education approaches to improve student learning outcomes has been noted by researchers and practitioners as a promising alternative approach for accommodating the diverse learning needs of individual students, including those with exceptional talents and those with special needs. Implementing adaptive education strategies as an alternative approach to improving student outcomes can be traced back to the early 1900s as a part of the progressive education movement in this country. Changes in the conceptualization of individual differences and the growing research base in developmental and cognitive psychology have resulted in increasing attention to individual differences in how learning takes place and what influences learning. Individual differences in learning are no longer considered static, but capable of modification either before the instructional process begins or as a part of the process.

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