Innovation: Mindspark: Digital Adaptive Learning Solution for Kids
July 2008

Innovation: Mindspark: Digital Adaptive Learning Solution for Kids

Views: 935

Suchismita Srinivas

Vice President
Adaptive Learning Solutions, Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd.
suchi@ei-india.co

Educational Initiatives, a private limited company, has developed a learning programme to allow students to engage in enhancing their understanding of different subjects through a series of interactive content, replete with rich animation and visuals, within the comfort of home by using their PC.

This learning programme, called Mindspark, allows students to construct his or her own learning pace. It is an interactive system, where the student is not learning passively by listening to someone or viewing ready-made solutions, but by answering questions of increasing complexity levels.

At the heart of Mindspark is the theory that students learn best when they control the pace of learning. There have been several successful experiments worldwide on this. Mindspark is a genesis of various such experiments.

A key advantage of Mindspark is the fact that it successfully harnesses the power of new technologies to bolster learning. An intelligent computer system uses a complex adaptive logic to decide what problem to serve up to a student next, based on his response to the current problem and problems answered earlier. The system is also able to identify when a student needs help to understand a concept, and proceeds to give her explanations that will help her move ahead.

Foundational Principles of Mindspark

  • Every child learns at her own pace – there is no “ideal” learning rate for a given age group
  • Effective learning takes place if the material presents a challenge that is just above the cognitive level of the student
  • Frequent exposure to appropriate learning material enhances learning
  • Learning through drill alone – without understanding – is not learning
  • Though individual variations exist, there are universal patterns in learning

Key Features

Focus on understanding

One of the most unique features of the Mindspark programme is its focus on understanding and analytical thinking. This is one of the key factors that really distinguishes the Mindspark programme from any other learning programme. For instance, most Maths learning programmes available today use games to create learning. But the quality of learning being aimed at is suspect, since the focus is entirely on procedural fluency – with a lot of drill in +, -, × and ÷, rather than conceptual understanding or application. But today, what any student really needs to move ahead in life is real understanding, and analytical abilities – and that is what the Mindspark programme aims to foster.

Adaptive logic

Mindspark has a built in adaptive logic that allows a student to move at her own pace. This complex logic determines where to take the student after each question – based on her answer to the current one, and also taking into account how she has answered previous questions on that concept.

Typically, a student would select a topic, and start with fundamental questions based on the topic. This is to ascertain that the student has a strong grounding in the topic. A student with a deeper understanding of that topic automatically moves ahead quickly to more advanced levels, while those who need to spend more time on the basics will be served up more questions of the basic level. This feature also ensures that the child does not have trouble in higher classes due to a problem with the basics.

An intelligent computer system uses a complex adaptive logic to decide what problem to serve up to a student next, based on his response to the current problem and problems answered earlier

In Mindspark, the topics are not encumbered with artificial barriers like classes and grade levels. This allows a student strong in a content area to go to advanced problems in that, while a less confident student might get remedial questions from a more basic level. For instance, for a student currently in grade 8 who has not had a strong foundation in Algebra, the system will automatically serve up fundamental algebra questions that would help him clear his basics. On the other hand, a student who is gifted could even attempt advanced problems and topics beyond the prescribed curriculum for her grade level.

Addressing common errors and misconceptions

Many students have misunderstanding of basic concepts that they carry forward from an early age. It is important to identify those and help the child overcome them. Most often, a child does not try to clear these misconceptions due to a lack of opportunity or fear of embarrassment. Research through detailed student assessments provides insights on exactly where students are likely to have difficulties, and why. Mindspark questions are designed on the basis of detailed classroom studies and research in student learning – to specifically target common student errors and misconceptions.

In-depth explanations

Whenever a student goes wrong in a particular type of question, a detailed, concept based explanation is provided for it. Often, the explanations are visual or animated rather than just textual, to facilitate quick grasping. This system of providing explanations allows the student to revisit the concept, and quickly figure out how to tackle subsequent problems on the concept.

Finely graded questions

A special feature of the Mindspark programme is the way in which the questions are graded. The extremely fine gradation of questions allows the system to make sure that a child is truly thorough with a subconcept, before moving on to the next. Also, it helps in pinpointing exactly where the child is having difficulties.

A question from Basic Algebra, to develop the ability to observe and generalize patterns – an important, but often ignored skill to be developed in Algebra

Child friendly features

In addition to the innovative use of visuals and animations to motivate students and foster learning, the programme makes use of other child friendly motivating techniques to encourage students. One of those features is a system of reward points using ‘Sparky’ – the animated light bulb, the Mindspark icon. Sparkies are awarded based on how consistently well the student is doing.

Detailed feedback and reports

In order to help parents and educators track a student’s progress at any time, Mindspark has a system of providing detailed weekly reports. For a parent, the report provides details of how her kid is doing in different topics and concepts. For a teacher, the report not only provides a summary of the progress made by her class, but also details of how each student is progressing different topics and concepts.

The Mindspark advantage

In a real classroom situation, the challenges a teacher faces are manifold. While classroom teaching has its own place, it is near impossible for her to focus on the learning of each individual child – plus our current examination-based assessment system also does not help provide that focused attention.  Mindspark works as a complement to regular classroom teaching and exams by helping each child learn and work on the concept in an self-paced, interactive manner.

Suchismita Srinivas is a graduate in Maths and in Education from Delhi University and also has a Diploma in Child Guidance from IGNOU. Her passion for Maths led her to teaching assignments at primary and secondary levels in various schools for over 14 years. Her main motive was to help children develop a long term interest in the subject. At Educational Initiatives Pvt Ltd, based in Mumbai, she leads the Digital Adaptive Learning content development team

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