Adaptive e-learning materials can help teachers to educate heterogeneous student groups. This study provides empirical data about the way academic students differ in their learning when using adaptive e-learning materials. Ninety-four students participated in the study. We determined characteristics in a heterogeneous student group by collecting demographic data and measuring motivation and prior knowledge. We also measured the learning paths students followed and learning strategies they used when working with adaptive e-learning material in a molecular biology course. We then combined these data to study if and how student characteristics relate to the learning paths and strategies they used. We observed that students did follow different learning paths. Gender did not have an effect, but (mainly Dutch) BSc students differed from (international) MSc students in the intrinsic motivation they had and the learning paths and strategies they followed when using the adaptive e-learning material. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.