Introducing SCALE: The Student-Centered Adaptive Learning Environment

Discussing Student-Centered Adaptive Learning (SCALE)

The LMS has become a staple in almost all instructional environments and provides a valuable function in storing content, making that content accessible to learners, and connecting with class rosters and grade books. But, as most instructors know, there is a big difference between delivering instructional content and actually teaching it, and this is precisely the gap that SCALE tries to fill. It provides a highly interactive User Experience using adaptive learning techniques to provide instruction that can potentially rival the gold standard of instruction: one-on-one personal tutoring.

How SCALE Works

The instructor identifies existing instructional elements and organizes them into a course. This can include resources such as videos, audio, images, documents, simulations, and other highly interactive web applications. The instructor uses Student-Centered Adaptive Learning’s easy authoring tool to create a learning experience that weaves these diverse instructional resources into compelling instructional content for the learner.

The instructor creates an outline that defines the relationships between the content items, and their most effective order. SCALE uses that mapping to provide resources to the learner in an adaptive, interactive way, based on a series of instructor-defined rules to provide "just-in-time" experience that takes advantage of today’s web-enabled world.

Adaptive Learning

SCALE uses adaptive learning techniques to guide learners individually through instructional content by assessing and continually adjusting their learning path to walk that fine line between what they do and do not yet understand.

All learners come to instruction with some pre-existing knowledge about the topic being taught. They are initially assessed, and a model of that knowledge is created. SCALE then compares that idealization of what the learner knows with the content map to guide them through the most appropriate content elements to learn next.

Intuitive Interface

SCALE uses a highly interactive User Interface that makes it easy for learners to work with the instructional content. The instructor creates learning panes, with different content in each. Each pane can include a wide range of web-based resources, including images, video, audio, text documents, websites, web-apps, graphical data visualizations, and 3D simulations.

The learning path determines what the student sees next by clicking the green "next" button. This path is updated constantly to reflect what the student knows, so already-encountered resources are flagged as seen, and requisite ones are presented in the appropriate order.

LTI Integration

SCALE is not an LMS, but works within them through an industry standard interface supported by all the major LMS providers, including Blackboard, Instructure (Canvas), Sakai, and Moodle, known as Learning Tools Interoperability, or LTI. This makes it easy for institutions to seamlessly use SCALE without students leaving the LMS.

SCALE Design Philosophy

SCALE is an HTML5 progressive web application designed to take advantage of the state of the art browser and mobile web experience.

  • Small parts, loosely joined
    Learning Management Systems have failed to embrace the networked nature of the Web, which has made directly "owning" the software elements that comprise the functionality less relevant. Instead of building monolithic software systems that exhibit the "Jack of all trades, master of none" mentality, it is now possible to seamlessly weave a collection of smaller, finely targeted parts together.
  • Modern technology base
    SCALE is a state of the art, HTML5-based web application that runs on all devices, from smartphones to desktops. It requires no plug-ins to be downloaded to accommodate the typical locked-down school environment. It is an open platform that uses a standardized messaging system to support instant communication between the elements in the various panes and allows for easy addition of new pane types without extensive programming.
  • Extensible
    SCALE is easily extended to do things that are specific to your needs. We use a messaging system that allows external modules on other servers to communicate with SCALE and control the learning path.

SCALE Interactive Media Integration

You can easily add a wide variety of interactive media elements into your course. Although almost any web app can be added, Student-Centered Adaptive Learning includes a number of useful built-in elements:

  • Video and audio
    We provide a tool for embedding content from YouTube, Vimeo, Kaltura, HTML5 video, or any open media resource into a page. Videos can start and stop at particular times, contain graphical overlays, subtitles, and have assessment embedded within them.
  • Maps
    Highly interactive maps with historic images and maps embedded in them, along with popups and markers are easily added. The SHIVA tools provide easy ways to create these maps. The results of this interaction, such as selecting places, are sent to SCALE's rule system.
  • Digital simulations
    There is a wide amount of digital simulations that can be seamlessly used in SCALE, like those by PhET, GitHub, and others. Most of these are not set up to communicate their data back to SCALE, but the process is quite simple and can be easily added by the original author.
  • Graphs and visualizations
    A rich suite of data graphing and visualization provided by the SHIVA tools provide cutting-edge graphical visualization with feedback back to SCALE about what the learner clicked on, perhaps in response to an instructor’s question.
  • 3D models
    SCALE can display WebGL-based 3D models that can be animated, rotated, and explored in real time.
  • High-res zoomable images
    An internal pan and zoom tool makes it easy to pan and zoom through high-resolution images, such as historical documents and artwork.
  • Video and Slides
    You can trigger slides from a Google Slides presentation at specific times using a video or audio source.
  • Active Media Skins
    These are overlays that can be attached to some media, typically a video, to provide an interactive layer to the content. The skins can be triggered to appear at specific times in the video. A skin can overlay graphics, provide buttons, and respond to clicks and drags by the learner.


Assessment is an important part of the online instruction process. The results are stored on a per-student basis, and rules can be applied to whole tests and/or individual questions to modify the instruction and/or learning path. There are a number of assessment questions available:

  • Radio
    This is the typical prompt and response sequence, where a question is asked and the person responds by picking among a series of choices.
  • Checkbox
    Similar to Radio, but checkbox will support multiple choices.
  • Cloze (fill in the blank)
    A text is presented and the person is asked to fill in the blanks.
  • Written
    The person is asked to write a response to the prompt.
  • Slider
    A slider that makes it easy to pick a number between 0-100.
  • Sort
    A number of options are presented and the person is asked to put them in order.
  • Match
    A number of options are presented and the person is asked to line them up.

Action Rules

Action Rules are used to define what happens at each step of the student’s progress. This can trigger things like setting the learning path or showing particular learning panes when actions, such as clicks and assessment answers, are completed. A learning path object can have any number of rules assigned to it. Rules take the form of a declarative sentence: If this happens, do that.

Authoring SCALE courses

Student-Centered Adaptive Learning courses are created using a simple authoring tool that can be stored on a spreadsheet on your own personal Google account. This makes it very easy to share and group edit courses with multiple authors.

A simple tree editor makes it easy to rearrange the student's starting learning path. You can add new panes at any level, change their order, and what place in the course hierarchy they sit. A built-in HTML editor makes it easy to create content for learning panes.

SCALE is open source and freely available from the University of Virginia. More information and a demonstration course can be found at