With the assistance of a National Science Foundation (NSF) SBIR grant, IntellADAPT.com (formerly Synaptic Global Learning ) has developed a groundbreaking adaptive massive open online course (aMOOC) aimed at “Mastering Fundamentals of Physics.” This course will provide 100,000 to 150,000 students a year the preparation they need to sit the Advanced Placement (AP) exams in Physics completely free. This is the first of 20 aMOOCs under development in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, a product of collaboration between the private and public sectors, has spawned a plethora of new distance learning methods, the most recent phenomenon being MOOCs. Dr. Nish Sonwalkar, former Principal Educational Architect at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and current Principal Investigator on the NSF SBIR project “Adaptive Learning for STEM Education Using MOOCs,” has been involved in the online education and MOOC movement since its humble beginning. MOOCs continue to be hailed as a revolution in making quality education accessible to all on an unprecedented scale.
Taking it a step further, IntellADAPT and the University of Massachusetts Boston have conducted research providing numerous advances to the MOOC framework. In collaboration, IntellADAPT launched the first aMOOC, a course on Molecular Dynamics, at UMass Boston in 2013. The aMOOC differs significantly from the traditional MOOC in its ability to provide real-time assessment and dynamic adaptive content, charting a course that responds to the personal educational needs of each student.
Exactly how different is the aMOOC? The aMOOC innovation incorporates brain-based adaptive mobile learning technology that stimulates, creates, and strengthens the neural pathways essential for knowledge acquisition, retention, and recall. Participants in an aMOOC will enjoy an educational experience tailored to them and available from their online device of choice, breaking all their expectations surrounding traditional, inflexible courses. Research at IntellADAPT has infused this technology with a powerful statistical engine that provides cognitive behavior analytics that will shape the future design of aMOOCs.
As pundits debate how to combat the slipping global education rankings of American students, the aMOOC is poised to fill a notable void in leveling the field of educational achievement. The goal is to provide up to two million students free access to full AP courses, including the option to use the credit toward other secondary qualifications including International Baccalaureate (IB) exams and SAT II subject tests. Nationally, only 54 percent of public schools offer at least 4 AP programs. On an individual level, this lack of course options severely limits graduates from disadvantaged schools as they seek entrance into competitive institutions of higher education. Meanwhile, as demand outpaces our supply of professionally qualified workers, STEM-oriented corporations in the United States continue to outsource vacant positions.
Today, aMOOCs are the most robust tool available to address the limited adaptability of traditional institutionalized education to our society’s changing needs. Ensuring robust economic growth, a thriving middle class, and widespread prosperity will require a larger pipeline of STEM candidates. Major employers continue to report difficulty in finding the skilled workers they need. According to the results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012, the U.S. was below the international average in literacy and numeracy. Additionally, out of a reported 37 million low-skilled adults, fewer than 5 percent had received training services. Clearly, we need to prioritize reaching potential members of this population while they are still in their formative K-12 years, and the aMOOC can meet this demand.
As aMOOC technology proliferates, American students will enjoy expanded access to educational tools, regardless of their locale or socioeconomic status. Any individual will be able to transcend the barriers to success as they augment their foundational education, achieving advanced competency in essential subjects. Early adapters have seen tremendous success both individually and institutionally. This next step in adaptive distance learning courses provides a framework complementary to traditional institutions of education. Providing a personalized learning experience, aMOOCs will help the NSF and Department of Education re-skill America while decreasing the growing achievement gap of our students. To say the overall impact of aMOOCs will be broad would be an understatement—it has the potential to be a game changer for any student in America.