ARTICLE: New Breed of Digital Tutors Yielding Learning Gains

Describing the work of the LearnLab Science of Learning Center, here's an interesting article on the scaling of cognitive tutors out into school instruction... more»
Educators are finding that "intelligent tutors" are an effective supplement to classroom instruction, thanks to their ability to understand a student's shortcomings, customize instruction, and provide instant tracking of behavior. Developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, Cognitive Tutor programs are currently in use in 1,500 school districts nationwide, and are either available on the market or in development for instruction in chemistry, foreign language, reading, and computer science, among other subjects. "What distinguishes intelligent tutors from integrated learning systems or skill-building software is that the tutors sort of both scaffold and support more complex cognitive processes," said Center for Children and Technology director Margaret Honey. "Well-designed tutors are smart enough to know there's not a single way to solve a problem, and that's what makes them 'intelligent.'" The NSF, the pentagon, and the Department of Education have supported intelligent-tutoring systems since the 1970s, but in a 2004 What Works Clearinghouse study, Cognitive Tutor Algebra was one of only two middle school math programs to receive a "positive" rating for effectiveness. Studies have shown that Cognitive Tutor can improve a student's performance by a single letter grade, while one-on-one human instruction has been found to increase performance by two letter grades. The "goal is not to replace teaching," explains CMU human-computer interaction professor Kenneth R. Koedinger. "It's to give teachers more time to do what they do best ... The contrast to use might be a textbook. With textbooks, students don't get feedback on solutions."