As a pioneer in adaptive learning technologies, McGraw-Hill’s education division has been able to gather data from a decade of usage to create LearnSmart, an online learning platform application that is on pace to embrace nearly 1 million students by the end of the year.
“What’s great about LearnSmart is that it naturally gets better with use,” Jay Chakrapani, general manager of the Digital Group at McGraw-Hill Higher Education, said. “We have terabytes and terabytes of data. We’re able to offer 750 billion learning items to students with all of them getting back student data. It determines how effective [the item was] in a sequence. The fact that we have so much data allows us to offer the most efficient data. It’s because of our data that we can do it the fastest and the most adaptive.”
Like its mathematics-based predecessor Aleks, LearnSmart, launched in 2009, is an adaptive learning platform. Building on the success of Aleks, McGraw-Hill has expanded LearnSmart to include over 60 courses and can gauge a student’s learning progress up to 12 times a minute. The more students interact with the system through course material and test preps the more it will customize the individual’s experience.
The goal for LearnSmart is to achieve a system of one-on-one learning, according to Chakrapani. After starting with only a handful of editorial staff members, the company now boasts nearly 100 editorial teams on staff, which has allowed for the creation of more subjects and topics.
There are approximately 1,200 domestic universities along with hundreds of instructors utilizing LearnSmart.
“It’s the snowball effect of the success of LearnSmart,” Chakrapani said. “We see competitors just getting started and learning, but we have a fairly significant head start to provide a variety to a maximum amount of students.”
The company has recently become involved in the development of e-textbooks by working with textbook authors and subject experts. According to Chakrapani, the traditional textbook only has a three-year cycle, but LearnSmart’s real-time feedback enables it to continually update.
He said the education division continues to tune content and learning paths in the app to create the best experience for the student and is ahead of its competitors like Knewton, 2Tor, and Grockit in reaching the smaller education markets including sociology, arts, and history.
He said case studies have shown to give more than 50% of students an increase of at least a letter grade.
“It’s a system that is real and works,” he said. “Without LearnSmart, students have to study around homework, quizzes and tests. LearnSmart scaffolds a student’s study time – it walks students through the course. It’s delivering results.”
As vital as the editorial teams are to the company, the students who use the application are nearly equal in importance. A student’s passing and failing of course material allows the application to monitor and update a student’s learning and provides various algorithms to verify the student’s knowledge base.
LearnSmart will only get better, according to Chakrapani, as long as students continue to use it. He said the app must continue to be engaging in order to keep the user interested, which is why each student is offered more than 500 items to learn from.
“Our level of engagement is unprecedented,” Chakrapani said. “Great teachers are what inspire students and we’re providing access to world class education to everyone.”
Follow Dustin Bass on Twitter @dbass_cmn
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that LeanSmart had recently been expanded in the high school arena, including AP courses and test preps. Though McGraw-Hill offers AP courses and test preps for the high school level, these are not adaptive learning applications. The company also offers the Power of U, an adaptive learning program for middle school.