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Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by peggy pang - Thursday, 19 March 2015, 4:26 AM

My understanding is that elearning with adaptive design is design with limited specific devices in mind, whereas responsive design aims for multiple devices.

Is this correct?






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Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by Oliver Foster - Thursday, 19 March 2015, 9:44 AM

Yep, that's pretty much right as far as I understand it. Although adaptive design can be for a limited specific set of features, such as screen sizes or a range of sensor sets. Responsive design is primarily about screen size.

Each theory has somewhat fuzzy and potentially overlapping boundaries with the other.

In Adapt we use a mixture of both for best effect. Adapt has three snap points which are used to distinguish between both adaptive and responsive areas, responsiveness is preferred as it is very simple to implement.

Components are responsive inside their blocks, i.e. they flow horizontally or vertically depending on the available screen area and the content of each element is responsive in that it must always resize into the device's width. Components such as the narrative or hotgraphic are adaptive in the sense that two separate designs are available, one for mobile and one for tablet & desktop. Using the two principles together it allows us to cover a huge variety of screen sizes with three distinct points available for adaptive changes.




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Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by peggy pang - Friday, 20 March 2015, 4:58 AM

Thanks Ollie for your explanation.

Indeed, it seems more practical to adopt the 'responsive' approach as learners are using a myriad of devices to access content.

Just to share a comment about showing content below the fold. We started using this approach about 10 years   when we designed and developed MBA subjects for an online business school. As it was something that was not the usual 'Click next to proceed' slide approach then, we needed to do a mini-change management to get buy-in from both management and the faculty. We felt that learner's flow of thoughts would be interrupted if we were to present content in 'artificially' created slides. In fact, it would also hinder good learning design. 

Vertical scrolling is now second nature and that's great for learning and learning design:)



Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by Sven Laux - Thursday, 19 March 2015, 12:40 PM

Hi Peggy,

thanks for your question!

In addition to Ollie's response, I thought I'd add some more high level thoughts:

For the less technical audience, I have often found the terms 'adaptive' and 'responsive' to be used interchangeably. This can lead to a good deal of confusion in terms of really understanding the capabilities of tools / solutions - so I thought it might be worth highlighting the different principles (without necessarily giving them a name).


Adapt implements a 'responsive' approach.

As per Ollie's post, this is mainly done by responding to the screen size of the device you are using to look at the content. This is fixed on smartphones and tablets and variable on a desktop / laptop. Adapt is truly responsive, which means it changes as and when the size of the browser window screen real estate changes. This means that by reducing the width of the browser window on a desktop / laptop, you can see how it would look and behave like on a smartphone and tablet. (There is some additional checking on device capabilities going on, too, btw - this is also a factor in determining behaviour).

  • The overall objective of this approach is to have an end result (e.g. an eLearning course/resource), which - in a single version - can be used on the widest variety of devices. This goal is often referred to as 'single-source'.

As mentioned, I have seen both terms (responsive, adaptive) used to describe this behaviour and approach.

The alternative to this approach is to have multiple versions of the course, which are optimised for a single or small range of devices. This could include publishing native apps for the various key OSs (e.g. iOS, Android etc.)


The principle of 'adaptive learning':

This is a fundamentally different thing as it applies to the learning content, rather than the technology. Briefly summarised, this means that the learning content presented to the learner varies according to their interaction with the content. In other words, the course tries to serve up the content, which is most suited to the learner's ability and the gaps in their knowledge.

A simple example of this would be as follows:

  • Let's say we have an English language course, which has three levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
  • This course initially serves up the questions for beginners, which the learner answers them competently
  • Rather than continuing to serve basic questions, the course automatically switches to the intermediate 'track' etc.

So, in summary, the course analyses and adapts to the the learner.

At this point, this functionality does not exist within Adapt - however, we know that this is a key trend in the industry and would be keen to engage with anyone who is interested in helping develop out this type of functionality. In the meantime, there are a few work-arounds (e.g. developing branching scenarios etc.), which go some way towards this.


Hopefully, this helpful and does not add to the confusion :-)


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Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by peggy pang - Friday, 20 March 2015, 5:19 AM

Thanks Sven for your response.

It would be great if we can have the 'adaptative learning' functionality in Adapt. It will make learning more efficient since learners are able to focus on gap areas, and not spend time on content that they already know.

Let me know if you are developing this functionality and I would be happy to provide inputs from an instructional design perspective :)





Paul Welch
Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by Paul Welch - Friday, 20 March 2015, 7:21 AM

HI Peggy,

Whilst not truly adaptive learning, we’ve developed a plugin which measures what questions have been failed within a final assessment and then draws up an interactive revision plan and takes the learner back through (previously visited) course content associated with these failed questions. I’m also exploring using this feature as a smart diagnostic so learners only go to the content they need after doing the guided revision assessment up front and this seems to be working well.

We’re still bottoming out a few things but does this sound like something which would be of interest to the community? I’ll post a video to help demonstrate the functionality.

For truly adaptive learning experience I think we’ll be looking at small chunks of highly focussed content, using Tin Can instead of SCORM and a back-end with some smart algorithms identifying what content is served up next.  Some of the members of the community are already dabbling in this area so I’m sure they can elaborate further.

Hope this is helpful,


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Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by x z - Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 5:32 PM

This plugin, if it could also be used (as you suggested) in a pre-assessment would be most helpful to direct learners to the parts of the module they need the most. I hope you will post the video when you have it working. Thx.

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Re: Responsive vs Adaptive Design
by james bates - Sunday, 26 November 2017, 5:38 PM

I know this thread is a bit dated, but can anyone provide information whether the plug-in that was discussed was ever developed?

I am working on a project for a client and the ability to make the course adaptive to the learner's existing knowledge level is exactly what they are looking for. They are looking to shorten training hours, especially as it applies to recurring compliancy courses, where there is a legal requirement to repeat the training on a specific interval, but where the actual content and objectives rarely change. The ability to test-out with a pre-assessment, or to review only those areas where the pre-assessment identifies gaps, is what they are trying to determine can be done.

If anyone knows of a method for doing this, I'd appreciate it if you would share. Thanks in advance.