Building the bridge to practical knowledge

Students finishing their academic curriculum often notice a gap between what they have learned at school, and the reality of what is required from them in the real world. 

Building workplace skills requires practice and ongoing, personalised feedback to fuel improvement, which is difficult to manage equitably in large classrooms. With distance learning becoming the new norm, this is proving even more difficult.

How can instructors ensure that students get the right support, exactly when and where it’s most needed? How can students get help outside of the classroom when they are learning on their own?

Adaptive learning* technologies are unlocking this possibility.

*Adaptive Learning: a computer-based system in which evidence of students’ prior knowledge, skills, and abilities is used to determine their next activity

Cisco engineers, learning scientists, and teachers collaborating to blaze new Adaptive Learning trails

At Cisco, we believe that large-scale, technology-mediated learning environments coupled with expert instruction offer great potential to truly transform education experiences. That is, if they can be designed to foster and assess more active forms of learning that will empower students in a distance learning environment and prepare them for the future of work. 

In academic papers presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences 2020 and Learning@Scale 2020, Cisco has shared prototyping work around integrating adaptive learning into the pioneering networking simulation microworld, Cisco Packet Tracer

Hundreds of thousands of Cisco Networking Academy students use Packet Tracer each year to practice essential networking skills such as configuring devices and troubleshooting network issues.

With adaptive learning built in, Cisco is creating learning experiences where students can practice and be guided – based on what they are doing in the simulation – to next-level challenges.

This new learning capability helps students get unstuck, and advance. Adaptive hinting systems are scaffolding them to success – starting with a simple reminder of the principles involved, down to the next action needed in the problem-solving task. Meanwhile, adaptivity across levels guides students to next steps or next activities based on what they are currently doing and what the system knows they’ve already done.

Taking place in the microworld, the logs of adaptive support with Packet Tracer’s deep assessment engine are leveraged to give instructors a precise view of the skills students are actually using and which ones they haven’t yet developed.

Adaptive Learning Intelligent Tutoring session: Hint shown scaffolds a problem-solving approach to try

Games, VR and more: empowering students and educators

In our prototype user testing, instructors have shown great interest in bringing adaptive learning to their classes, in particular when it comes to game-driven learning approaches that offer new ways for students to be engaged and practice their skills.

The Cisco Networking Academy team has recreated part of the educational-simulation game, Aspire. Players are positioned as networking professionals taking on small contracts, choosing which contracts to complete and how to solve them.

The powerhouse behind the scenes is Cisco’s unique Activity Sequencer editor based on a Finite State Machine (FSM) architecture, much like the logic that video game designers use to create in-game adaptivity. This logic works by defining states of the experience and triggers for transitions between the states; it maps the student’s current level of proficiency (the state), and based on what they are doing (trigger), directs them to the next appropriate action, choice, or activity (transition).

The FSM editor is proving highly generative for prototyping new learning experiences:

  • Four different adaptive learning contexts – our prototypes include Intelligent Tutors, Educational Games, Computer Adaptive Testing, and Virtual Reality
  • Different timescales for intervention – adaptive learning help can be offered immediately on a second-by-second basis while working in a single activity, all the way up to guiding students across hours of networking activities
  • Single and Multiplayer instances – students can learn on their own, work together with a partner or team, or even compete against them!

Challenging students to think in new ways

Cisco Networking Academy students have the potential to build more than just strong IT knowledge and skills. 

Our hint and level systems help students develop the agency they need to apply their networking knowledge to new and more challenging problems. This is what’s needed in today’s workplace, as success increasingly lies in solving complex tasks and being able to continue learning throughout one’s career. 

From individual homework practice to collaborative learning in person or via distance learning, the use cases for adaptive learning are broad. This design approach has the potential to empower 2.3 million Cisco Networking Academy students and their instructors. Cisco will continue intentionally designing for empowerment and agency to give Networking Academy students and instructors the most effective learning tools and experiences.

Cisco is the leader in networking technology, and educators who partner with us can benefit from our expertise and global recognition. Partner with us to be on the cutting edge of industry breakthroughs on knowledge and network.

explore how Cisco is transforming education

Learn more about teaching with Cisco Networking Academy or learn more about the courses we offer.


Muffie Wiebe

Learning Scientist

Corporate Affairs