ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) is an adaptive learning assistant developed by McGrawHill Education. This blogpost, however, is neither a recommendation nor a review. I came across ALEKS via an article in SLATE.
On the basis of adaptive questioning, ALEKS recommends students which steps to take next. The outcome: a classroom with students working individually, on different tasks and lessons. The teacher is their learning companion.
To quote a representative of McGraw-Hill:
“Unlike some younger tech startups, we don’t think the goal is to replace the teacher,” says Laster, the company’s chief digital officer. “We think education is inherently social, and that students need to learn from well-trained and well-versed teachers. But we also know that that time together, shoulder-to-shoulder, is more and more costly, and more and more precious.” (http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2015/10/adaptive_learning_software_is_replacing_textbooks_and_upending_american.html)
What ALEKS obviously cannot do yet, either, is to help the students to determine their own learning goals. As it looks to me, ALEKS recommends them learning units on the basis of the outcomes of a small test. Such tests are still better to assess knowledge than skills. And even if skills can be assessed (ATS2020 made an attempt to assess skills in its Pilot Evaluation, basing on the Estonian Testing System EIS), and tailormade lessons on the basis of such an assessment are displayed for every student, the process lacks an important milestone: the autonomous learning path of the student.
If the student is not actively involved into setting his/her learning goals, s/he will always wait for an algorithm to show her/him the way to a solution of a problem. Active learners who become lifelong learners have to be more self-directed when it comes to learning.
However, this doesn't mean that adaptive learning tools like ALEKS should be banned from the classroom. They could open spaces for individualised, learner-centered work in the classroom. And they can always give us ideas about what is possible when artificial intelligence serves as an assistant in the classroom.