Knewton’s Alta and Thinkster Math are two examples of adaptive learning. The former is an adaptive courseware system that uses AI to create personalized learning experiences in college-level math, science and economics. As students complete assignments inside the system, AI automatically recognizes knowledge gaps and retrieves content to address them. Students who understand the material can breeze through and move on, while those who don’t will receive extra, targeted instruction. All the while, the system feeds data to instructors to inform subsequent instruction.
“The technology accelerates students through pieces where they don’t need help and spends more time with them in areas where they do,” explains Matthew Leavy, executive vice president and general manager of education publishing at Wiley, Knewton’s parent company. “And for instructors looking over large classrooms, it helps them understand where they should focus their teaching and where they don’t need to spend as much time.”
Thinkster Math is a tutoring platform for K-12 students. First, learners take an online assessment that determines their knowledge in a given domain. Then, the system builds a personalized learning plan and assigns custom worksheets to complete. AI captures students’ work, provides video tutorials when learners get stuck and isolates learning opportunities that human instructors can focus on during subsequent live tutoring sessions.
“We’ve married man with machine,” says Thinkster Math founder and CEO Raj Valli, who likens the technology to a swimming coach who watches his swimmers’ every stroke. “If you tell me to jump in the pool and swim back and forth, I’m never going to be a good swimmer. But if you jump in the pool with me and point out that I’m not kicking my right leg or using my left arm, then you can make me better. That’s the kind of observations our tutors are able to make using our technology.”
Reading Progress, a brand-new tool from Microsoft, applies AI and speech recognition to reading fluency. Teachers assign reading level-appropriate passages that students read on camera and submit for review; with the help of AI, instructors can then assess performance and identify reading errors.
“Everything Reading Progress does, a teacher could do if they were able to sit next to each of their students all day and coach them on every single word they read. But in a classroom of 20 or 30 students that’s often not possible,” says Anthony Salcito, Microsoft vice president of worldwide education. “Reading Progress helps teachers quickly assess how students are progressing so they can coach them where they need help.”
AI in the future might optimize not only individual curriculums, but also entire classrooms. For example, Goel says AI could be used for “matchmaking” — pairing students with the teachers and schools that are best suited to them based on their learning style.
Meanwhile, Sean Ryan, president of the School Group at McGraw-Hill, says there’s an opportunity to organize students into classes based on aptitude instead of age. “For the most part, today we sort students chronologically no matter what. But AI gives us the ability to group students based on what they’re ready to learn next,” says Ryan.
McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS adaptive learning program uses AI to create personalized learning paths for students in kindergarten through college. “That can be hard to embrace because of social components. But with more education taking place in hybrid and online environments, there’s no reason not to put an eighth grader in a pre-calculus class if they’re cognitively ready,” Ryan says.
It’s the beginning of a new era wherein learning is a journey instead of a destination. That makes teachers navigators — which is precisely what most of them want to be.
“Teachers become teachers to help children maximize their potential,” Ryan concludes. “By allowing them to focus more on the social components of learning, technology helps them have the kind of impact they got into the profession to have.”