Advantages of automated tutors

I’ve previously written about the coming transition to software-based tutors. Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, apparently gave a recent talk at TED at Bill Gate’s invitation. Khan goes further than my previous blog post in citing some of the real educational advantages of software-based tutors over human tutors. Khan began his website as a way to tutor his cousins from near and far, but he soon realized that the advantages went far beyond cost and scale. Excerpt from a Wired article about the talk:

“[The cousins] were saying something very profound,” Khan said. “They were saying that they preferred the automated version of their cousin to their cousin.”

What this meant, essentially, was that having a video lesson that they could pause and repeat at will, made it easier to learn without tiring their tutor.

“In a traditional classroom you have homework, lecture, homework then you have a snapshot exam,” he said. “And whether you pass or not, the class moves on to the next lesson.”

Even the ones who get 95 percent of the lesson correct, still have 5 percent they didn’t grasp, and with each subsequent lesson, the percentage they don’t understand increases.

“The traditional model penalizes the student for experimentation and failure but does not expect mastery,” he said. “We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

All of this is possible because students can cost-effectively learn at their own pace. And of course, Khan has really only scratched the surface of what is possible. For example, it’s easy to imagine branching videos that let students delve deeper into certain topics if they didn’t fully understand the explanations given in previous videos.

I think that eventually, the idea of a mathematics “lecture class” will be considered hopelessly outdated.

Technology alone is not enough

Steve Jobs, concluding the March 2, 2011 iPad 2 media event:

I’ve said this before, and I thought it was worth repeating. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts — married with the humanities — that yields us a result that makes our hearts sing.

And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in, and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies, and they’re talking about speeds and feeds, just like they did with PCs. Our experience, and every bone in our body, says that that is not the right approach to this; that these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC; that need to be even more intuitive than a PC; and where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

And we think we’re on the right track with this. We think we have the right architecture — not just in silicon, but in the organization — to build these kinds of products. And so I think we stand a pretty good chance of being pretty competitive in this market, and I hope that what you’ve seen today gives you a good feel for that.

Words for the wise.