In the foreground, massive open online courses have caused academe to enter into somewhat of an existential crisis. But even the startups that championed the MOOC model are now warming up to adaptive learning as the reception toward their original product turns chilly.

Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, said, “A medium where only self-motivated, Web-savvy people sign up, and the success rate is 10 percent, doesn't strike me quite yet as a solution to the problems of higher education.”

Adaptive learning ushers technology into the academic experience in a less polarizing way. Students still receive instruction from an instructor in a classroom environment, but they complete coursework and periodic assessments online. The platform adjusts to each student’s individual aptitude, slowing down or skipping past sections as necessary to encourage learning and maximize comprehension.

The practice resonates better with students than static textbook exercises, and the wealth and immediacy of student performance data go a long way for faculty. Adaptive learning can act as the first line of defense against failure by helping instructors pinpoint where each student needs help before the opportunity to cultivate understanding passes.

No one knows adaptive learning better than Knewton. Its intricate data infrastructure platform has elicited partnerships from some of education’s heavy hitters, including Macmillan, Triumph Learning, and Wiley. These alliances have resulted in products such as Pearson’s MyLab & Mastering programs, which alone are used annually by over 11 million students.

Knewton’s founder, Jose Ferreira, is bullish about the future of his company and the digital revolution in which it plays a part.

“Ultimately, all learning materials will be digital and they will all be adaptive,” Ferreira said. “We hope to enable them, and can’t wait to see the amazing things people create.”

Among other universities, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas have reaped the benefits of adaptive math courses, with ASU reporting an 11 percent increase in pass rates from prior semesters and UNLV noticing a 19 percent uptick from traditional pass rates.

Whereas other innovations look to steal the show despite their dubious track records, adaptive learning willingly shares top billing with instructors nationwide in order to bridge the gap between teaching and technology while boosting student success.