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Adaptive eLearning: looking beyond MOOCs - Dr Dror Ben Naim

I'm interested in learning, education, and tech, so last week I attended a talk by Dr Dror Ben Naim about Adaptive eLearning and what they’ve done at Smart Sparrow. The talk was part of the ongoing series provided by the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. Below are my brief notes.

There are lots of challenges for online teaching. Students expect personalisation at the levels that Amazon and Facebook provide. Many academics don’t know online tech well, have no access to learning data (not just test scores), and have no incentive to innovate. Current online content is pretty much just multiple choice questions.

MOOCs tend to be one size fits all, and there’s not much focus on learning by doing. Worksheets, tutorials, labs, and private lessons don’t have good online equivalents yet. This demonstrates the need for an intelligent tutoring system. There has been a lot of work and research done around this, but it’s stayed in the labs, and hasn’t gone to the market.

We’re still anchored in old ways of thinking like “we need a website for every course”: We’re not really considering the new medium. We need to make education smart and promote learning by doing; we need to focus on interactive rich media and simulative content. A method of feedback that has worked well is, when a student gets stuck, to provide a video snippet of the relevant part of the lecture. The error statistics of students can be very useful. Dror mentioned an example of a virtual patient for medical students. You can see who keeps killing patients!

Smart Sparrow works on a cycle of: create (academics and developers working together); deploy; analyse; improve. The adaptive learning of the system focuses on feedback and sequence. The teacher can set paths through the material based on student responses. Some examples of learnings systems built using Smart Sparrow:

  • stars, planets, Earth, life, intelligence, technological civilizations and the challenges facing our own inhabited world
  • The BEST network: Biomedical Educators Sharing Next-Generation Educational Content and Technology.
  • Adaptive Mechanics: Community of Practice for Mechanics in Engineering.