The ability of CBT programs to adapt to the learning preferences of users could be transformed thanks to a new £1.25m EU-funded artificial intelligence project. By Alison Thomas
The trouble with human beings is that no two people or groups of people are the same. This can present problems in a training situation, although a sensitive and resourceful tutor will find ways of resolving them by changing the pace of instruction or adopting a different style of presentation.
Such versatility is generally absent in CBT, yet if it is to be educationally effective, it needs to become more sensitive to the needs of the user and find ways of catering for different preferred learning styles.
This was the thinking behind the launch in January 1998 of a £1.25m EU-funded project involving three organisations from the UK and three from Italy. The outcome is a highly adaptable multi-media program, which provides training on the European CENELEC wiring regulations. Although TEST (Training in Electrical Systems), has been designed to fulfil this very specific training need, the consortium that created it believes the resulting infrastructure could be used to imbue any piece of CBT with learning styles flexibility.
Start of a journey
"The TEST project is the start of a journey that will ultimately lead to more flexible, intelligent systems that deal with people on their own terms," says Adrian Snook, a consultant with bespoke e-learning specialist VEGA Skillchange, one of the consortium members
"In the past, the best that courseware designers could hope for was to tailor materials to the middle ground. Adaptive training is less restrictive and allows you to reach people nearer the edges of the normal distribution curve."
This flexibility is made possible by an artificial intelligence engine which makes deductions from interactions with the student and responds accordingly.
"If a student is not making progress along a pre-determined path, it will begin to shift the presentation mix," he explains.
"It might start throwing in more video, more text or more graphics. It will then ask the question, ‘Have things improved?’ If the answer is no, it will try a different approach."
The artificial intelligence was developed by Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh and the project has been managed by Giunti Multimedia of Milan.
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