The classroom will learn you

Cognitive systems will provide decision support for teachers

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Since the days of the one room schoolhouse, both K-12 and higher education classrooms have been focused on a one-to-many interaction between a teacher and a group of students. All students receive the same material from a teacher in a lecture setting because individual attention for 30 or more is nearly impossible. But IBM and its education partners think the classroom of the future will shift from a one-size-fits-all model to a truly personalized environment.

The challenge of providing a quality education to all students is a global one. Two out of every three adults have not received the equivalent of a high school education.


Meet the researcher

  • Chalapathy Neti

    Chalapathy Neti

    Director, Education Transformation,
    Thomas J. Watson Research Center


The rapid digitization of the education industry and the emergence of cognitive systems is already happening in parallel. Over the next five years, the two concepts will link, and personalized classrooms will motivate and engage learners at all levels: from a kindergartener studying the alphabet to a physics PhD candidate studying the finer points of String Theory.

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The rise of the smart classroom

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have made educational content widely available to anyone with an internet connection. Their publishers are also making the content more engaging and adaptive for classroom use, while mobile devices make it possible to learn anytime and anywhere. All of this digital education creates a tremendous amount of data about all aspects of teaching and learning. And it's not only test scores, but also information about student behavior on digital learning platforms, attendance, and more.

IBM envisions educational institutions adopting cloud-based cognitive systems to collect and analyze all of this data over a long period of time — creating longitudinal student records that would give teachers the information they need to provide personalized learning experiences for their students. These systems would also help teachers identify students who are most at risk, why they are struggling, as well as insight into the interventions needed to overcome those challenges.

The system could also couple a student's goals and interests with data on their learning styles so that teachers can determine what type of content to give the student, and the best way to present it. Imagine an eighth grader who dreams of working in finance but struggles with quadratic and linear equations. The teacher would use this cognitive system to find out the students learning style and develop a plan that addresses their knowledge gaps.

In addition to the personalized syllabus, the content the student receives would be interactive with deep question and answering capability , for example. The content would also be automatically tagged so that the student would spend more time consuming the information they need, rather than trying to search for it. Depending on how the student is motivated, gamification elements could be incorporated so that student has a deep understanding of the concepts they are being taught, and have fun doing it. If the student wants to work in finance, the teacher could seek input from partnering financial services companies to ensure the student is developing skills that would be relevant in the workforce.

Working with clients: Gwinnett County Public Schools

IBM is working with the state of Georgia's Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the U.S., to use big data analytics and cognitive technologies for population analysis of longitudinal student records. By identifying similarities in how students learn and predicting performance and learning needs, specific content and teaching techniques can be aligned to each of the district’s 170,000 students to ensure the best learning experience.

Learn how IBM is helping to make education systems smarter

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