The Adaptive Learning Technology One Company Depends On
by Jaxson Khan, Language Zen
Education is better when it is dynamic and adapts to you as a learner. Unfortunately, despite a recent wave of innovation in new technologies and applications which teach whatever your heart desires, most educational software and online courses still try to re-create a traditional, static learning experience. Often, learning software is similar to going through a course book – it is linear. Even with multimedia aids and integrated testing, or quality online courses that strive to recreate a top university lecture, we are seeing more of the same, just in a digital form. But what if we could do better?
Adaptive technology for education might be the answer. The software has the potential to be a private coach with a perfect memory, able to change its courses and teaching methods to what works for you. It can be a teacher’s aid, which can track the performance and learning style of a student. The best news is that this kind of software already exists, or at least, it is being developed right now. I recently had a chance to meet with the founders of Language Zen, a language learning software company that is bringing adaptive learning technology to market, and is the world’s first fully adaptive language learning software. Through an adaptive algorithm, data mining, and smart media integration, they are creating an entirely new approach to individualized language learning.
We had the chance to discuss the different ways this exciting new technology is progressing. “Most educational software makes the user adapt to its teaching method. We take the opposite approach” says Ofir Geller, Language Zen’s co-founder and lead developer. “Our goal is to create a course that adjusts itself to user abilities and interests and individualizes learning.”
Rather than having a set course, Language Zen uses an adaptive algorithm to detect which specific words, phrases, and grammatical concepts are giving a student trouble. These items then show up more frequently in future lessons, so that students can practice what they find difficult. “We are trying to make learning as efficient and personal as possible” says co-founder Micah Greenberg. “Our courses are designed so that you are constantly being challenged but never are in over your head. Moreover, every user can adjust how much new content they want to be exposed to.”
Adaptive courses like this have an added appeal for intermediates who may be advanced in some aspects of a subject or language, but significantly less so in others. For them, adaptive courses mean that they are not stuck reviewing content they already know, and also that they do not miss out on material they might have forgotten.
Personalized learning is not only about choosing the right material to introduce or review but also about being able to change the way it is taught. There is content, and then there is delivery. “We always approach learning from several angles. We allow users to switch between experiential and traditional learning so they can understand concepts deeply and from many perspectives,” says Geller. “Beyond the main course which introduces content in order of real world usage, we also enable users to explore specific modules and areas of interest,” says Greenberg. “This lets users acquire good general vocabulary through the main course while promoting fluency in areas they really want to have deep conversations about.”
Adaptive technology also bridges the gap between digital courses and relevant popular culture. Language Zen, for example, tracks which words and phrases users know and introduces them to foreign language pop songs which cover the same vocabulary. Geller notes, “we try to keep learning fun and personalized – that’s our motto.”
Another example of a company engaged in adaptive learning is Knewton. The focal point of their website, they cite that nearly 3,000,000 personalized ‘recommendations’ have been provided to students worldwide due to their applications. From the site: “Knewton recommendations help students work more effectively both in and out of class. With personalized guidance, students are better prepared for upcoming tests, quizzes, and homework assignments. Instructors benefit too.
Knewton continues to designate student assignments and grading structure, with the added assurance that students are spending time out of class as efficiently as possible.” The software applications, often integrated by various partners, including Pearson, enhance classes in reading, writing and math. They even have an implementation for hopeful test-takers of the GMAT, which guarantees you will “increase your best GMAT score by at least 50 points—or get a full refund.” The huge potential and faith in adaptive learning and teaching is evident, and companies seem willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Yet, there are no adaptive programs for language learning currently on the market and it seems to be the next big step. For Language Zen, it was an obvious target. Greenberg remarks, “every member of the team has a deep passion for language learning. The thing that makes us so excited about Language Zen is that it’s the tool we wish we had when learning our second and third languages. We think that in an industry that relies on static lessons, it will have a big impact across the entire space.”
If Language Zen and companies like it achieve their goals, adaptive software might very well be the next big progression in educational technology. It would revolutionize self-instruction through its personalization and range of teaching methods and it could play a big role in aiding educators. Teachers who use adaptive software for homework would be able to track the progress of every student in the class and know what areas need further explanation. We live in a world where data is now used to predict everything from your shopping habits to the best route home.
Beyond our daily errands, it is about time we personalized how we learn. Adaptive tech is about more than giving us some ‘zen’; it is about giving every learner the chance to learn and grow in an environment that doesn’t get mad at them for failure – or frustrated for going too fast – but actually gets better, and better. Sounds like better learning happens when our software learns too.
Language Zen is running an Indiegogo campaign to showcase their software and raise final development funds. It ends August 18th, and you can check it out here.
Image attribution flickr user dgrayxplane