Reshaping the education paradigm with cognitive science | #GuestOfTheWeek


There is a large readiness gap for U.S. high school seniors preparing to go to college. Nearly 70 percent of students entering a community college need to participate in a remediation class for math or English. However, one company is using technology to reshape the one-size-fits-all approach to education.

McGraw-Hill Education, the 150-year-old textbook publisher we all grew up with, is transforming education, as well as its business model, by reinventing itself as a learning science company.

“What that means is we try to understand: How do people learn and how they can learn better? There are a number of domains — cognitive science, brain science, data science — and we begin to understand what are the ‘known-knowns’ and apply it to education,” revealed Alfred Essa (pictured), vice president of analytics and research and development at McGraw-Hill Education.

Essa spoke with Dave Vellante (@dvellante) and George Gilbert (@ggilbert41), co-hosts of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, at Spark Summit East 2017 in Boston about how the company is using software and analytics to improve teaching and learning models. (* Disclosure below.)

This week, theCUBE features Alfred Essa as our Guest of the Week.

The right data sparks new learning methods

Essa views the education readiness gap as a national tragedy. In the new paradigm of education, today’s students are energetic about digital learning. According to the McGraw-Hill 2016 Digital Study Trends report, four out of five students found that digital learning positively impacts their grades.

The study offered other interesting findings indicating 89 percent of students believe digital learning tech should respond and adapt to their unique way of learning, 84 percent of students report that the use of technology improves their education and 81 percent said that their grades improved using digital learning technology.

Well known for its expertise in educational content, McGraw-Hill will remain in the textbook printing business, but the company is now tackling new “frontiers of knowledge and cognitive sciences and brain sciences” using data and analytics based on student performance to create new software and algorithms to enhance the educational process.

Essa believes smart data is what fuels a smart digital company, so data is the underlying factor in everything the company does “to strengthen learners and provide them with the optimal pathway, as well as instructors. … We need to provide immediate real-time data to students and instructors,” he explained.

By providing predictive models, McGraw-Hill’s solutions can offer insight into whether a student is doing well or if other teaching methods may be better. Machine learning and real-time data are essential in augmenting the pathway for student and teacher.

Real-time data assists StudyWise app

According to Essa, the use of Apache Spark has helped McGraw-Hill innovate. Spark not only offers the technology the company needs, but it is part of a broader ecosystem that enables the orchestration of different technologies into one workflow.

As the data and learning science teams build out models, it is critical that there is ease of use for the IT team, he explained. Standardization is also important for the learning company, which complies with IMS Global specifications that regulate interoperability standards.

Recently, McGraw-Hill released the StudyWise app on iTunes, and Spark has become an essential part of the latest product. “Now we are creating data in real-time as learners are interacting with our products. The results of the interactions are coming into our research environment, and we’re analyzing that data as a way of updating our models and re-tuning the models,” Essa described.

For the software and applications to be useful for students and instructors, the data needs to be in real-time and at scale. Spark offers the ability to add parallel processing and send those updates to the instructor quickly to enable module adjustments.

“To take it to the next stage for the master practitioners is if they are armed with the right data they can begin to compare practices,” Essa noted. With the right data, educators can help individuals learn in their way and at their pace.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the Spark Summit East 2017 Boston(* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a media partner at the conference. Neither Databricks nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo by SiliconANGLE