Adaptive learning technology comes to STEM courses

The education giant Pearson and the adaptive learning company Knewton have been working together for nearly two years, launching a product powered by Knewton’s technology in the fall of 2012 to help college students in math, reading, and writing courses.

Pearson and Knewton are expanding their adaptive learning courses to include biology and other science courses.

The focus on foundational courses was no accident, and reflects the use of adaptive learning technology as a whole. Now the two companies are pushing the technology in a new direction.

They’re expanding their MyLab and Mastering products to include courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, finance, and accounting. The expansion marks a noted shift toward courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“We’re branching out from the college readiness courses into these pre-professional courses,” said Paul Corey, Pearson Higher Ed’s president of science, business and technology.  “They’re the gateway courses for pre-med, pre-engineering, pre-nursing, pre-business.”

Knewton collects millions of data points from the more than 11 million college students using My Lab and Mastering to inform models that can be broken down to help with individual learning.

If a student is struggling at biology, maybe it’s not because the student is inherently bad at science, but because he never really learned algebra, the data could find.

The software can then recommend additional assignments in that area.

Take our poll on Page 2 and see why Pearson and Knewton are branching out to more advanced courses.

The more students using the technology, the more data it can pull from.

The more data it can pull from, the more knowledgeable and accurate the recommendations become. Knewton’s Chief Operating Officer, David Liu, said that’s exactly what’s happening with the recommendations in My Lab’s and Mastering’s foundational courses.

By targeting accurate areas of weakness, the suggestions are starting to become trusted by both students and faculty, he said. So why branch out from the kinds of courses that seem the best suited for adaptive learning technology?

Liu said part of the reason is to show that the technology can be used just as well in more advanced courses, and with more advanced students.

“We’ve always believed and known that if you have a rubric around what is right and what is wrong, then we can make it adaptive,” he said. “All students can be positively affected by adaptive learning, not just those in remedial courses. Kids doing really well are often bored in class, and so how do we keep those kids engaged? Adaptive learning is helping students at both ends of the spectrum, and certainly kids in the middle.”

When deciding which advanced courses to test out with adaptive learning, Pearson and Knewton chose to focus on STEM courses specifically. By 2018, more than 8.65 million people are expected to be working in STEM fields in the United States.

Corey said this area was an obvious, and important, place to take adaptive learning technology next.

“Like those college readiness courses, it’s clear that too many students are being left behind in STEM courses,” he said.


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