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OLI uses AI to improve online learning

June 24, 2013

open learning initiative logoThe Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a grant-funded group at Carnegie Mellon that offers online courses to “anyone who wants to learn or teach.” I’m highlighting the program because these are not your average MOOCs; rather than simply building another way to push out content, the OLI offers artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can help students solve problems. They are also conducting original research on learning with the ultimate goal of transforming higher education!

The OLI takes a comprehensive approach to developing courses in technical areas as well as more surprising topics like “American English Speech.” They involve programmers, user interface experts, learning scientists, and subject matter experts. Courses track how students are learning, then feed that information back into the development process.

A key component of OLI courses is the use of Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools (CTAT), which help developers create interactive online “tutors” to support the strategies students draw on when solving problems. CTAT also logs students’ actions as they work through a tutor and provides context-sensitive help. There are two types of tutors:

  1. Example-tracing – problem-specific, created without programming.
  2. Cognitive – build a problem-solving model using AI, may be usable with several problems

I imagine the second type are far more difficult to create. A content expert has to work with technologists to conceptualize the problem, and then coders program the information into the model.

OLI alone may not revolutionize higher education, but the project appears to be making a significant contribution to the systematic improvement of technology-enhanced learning.

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