Cognitive Science is Key Behind Adaptive Learning Tools and Accelerating Student Achievement

White paper explains how tools that address the way human beings accept and process knowledge can help students' success

Dec 07, 2010, 09:00 ET from McGraw-Hill Education

NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- If humans are born to learn, creating order out of chaos from the time we first open our eyes, why do students' minds often shut down when they enter the classroom?  According to Dr. Andrea Pascarella, director of development for digital content and pedagogy at McGraw-Hill Education, and Dr. David Echevarria, assistant professor of experimental psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi, the reason is that the formal practice of education greatly differs from how human beings accept and process knowledge.

Today Pascarella and Echevarria released a position paper, "Born to Learn: Developments in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Inspire New Adaptive Learning Tools," which explores what we have come to understand about how human beings learn and how adaptive learning tools based on cognitive research and artificial intelligence can effectively drive student achievement in 21st century classrooms.

In the paper, the authors argue that while most students enjoy the process of learning, they often struggle in the classroom because:

  • They are being directly imparted with knowledge instead of gaining it through personal experience;
  • Their learning style differs from the manner in which the material is being taught, and
  • Educational tools have not sufficiently evolved to address students' need for greater stimulation to stay engaged.

As a solution to these problems, Pascarella and Echevarria describe a new generation of web-based, interactive educational tools based on the latest developments in cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

"[Adaptive learning tools] are beginning to fundamentally change the way instructors teach and students learn, particularly on the post-secondary level," the authors write. Pascarella and Echevarria assert that the programs are more effective because, "they are based on cognitive research into the ways in which the human mind actually learns and processes knowledge."

Studies show that the long-accepted idea of sequential thinking – the intuitive feeling we have that each individual thought is distinct and leads to the next – does not accurately represent how the human mind works. The mind is much faster and far more complex in its interactions and processes, coming pre-loaded with knowledge structures that help us make sense of the world from birth. As a result, Pascarella and Echevarria contend that we need to utilize educational tools that relate new information to knowledge that has already been acquired, allowing students to test and adapt the ideas.

"These new tools, such as ALEKS and LearnSmart – as well as others currently in development at McGraw-Hill Education – promise to usher in an era of greater achievement as students and instructors become more familiar with using them," Pascarella and Echevarria write. "This is particularly true for post-secondary education, as most colleges already possess the technical resources and infrastructure necessary to accommodate and deliver web-based courses and homework/study programs."

About McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill Education, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP), is a leading innovator in the development of teaching and learning solutions for the 21st century. Through a comprehensive range of traditional and digital education content and tools, McGraw-Hill Education empowers and prepares professionals and students of all ages to connect, learn and succeed in the global economy. McGraw-Hill Education has offices in 33 countries and publishes in more than 65 languages. Additional information is available at


Tom Stanton

McGraw-Hill Education


SOURCE McGraw-Hill Education